How to Make Sweep Picking Musical

Sweep picking is an incredibly fun skill on guitar… but once you can blast up and down a few arpeggios… what do you do next? If you feel like you are stuck with your sweep picking sounding robotic and pointless, and you want your sweep picking to sound melodic, musical and badass, then read on…

So now you can sweep pick! Awesome!! It’s a great skill and one that is difficult to master. But once you master the mechanics behind sweep picking on guitar, what do you do next? Are you going to play the same arpeggio 30 times in a row… or do you want to do something else with it?

In this guitar lesson, we’ll look at a few different ways to make your sweep picking sound more musical, interesting… and badass!!

Sweep Picking Fix 1: Add Ornamentation to the First and Last Notes in Your Arpeggio

The first thing to do, is to start thinking of your sweep picking as being part of a phrase, rather than as an isolated technique.

Sweep picking should always be used to serve the music, not as a technique that we use for the sake of it.

Try out some of the following ideas. Take a basic 3 string arpeggio, create a short sweep picking idea, and put some note ornamentation (bends, slides, vibrato etc) on the first and last note of your sweep picking idea.

Examples

Say we were using the following C major arpeggio with a root on the second string (we will use this C major arpeggio for all the examples)

3 string C major arpeggio with root on the second string

We can make it more musically interesting by adding some ornamentation ideas at the start and the end.

For example, we could start with a pre bend, and end with a slide and a vibrato:

Sweep picking lick with pre bend and vibrato ideas at the start and end

Or, we could put a slide and a vibrato at the start, and pre-bend and vibrato at the end:

Alternative ornamentation ideas for C major arpeggio

Have a go at the examples, but don’t worry too much about playing them exactly – take the principle and make your own variations.

What ornamentation ideas can you put at the start and end of the arpeggio?

Sweep Picking Fix 2: Add Pedal Points into Your Arpeggios

This idea involves using pedal points in your guitar playing. The idea here is that we transition from one approach to playing the arpeggio (sweep picking) to another (pedal points) and vice versa.

So we can sweep the arpeggio, then play it using a pedal point. It introduces some nice variety, still using the same set of notes.

Take a look at the following examples, then take some 3 string arpeggios that you’re familiar with and have a go at writing and playing some examples of your own.

Here is the C major arpeggio we start with:

and here we have put a pedal point lick in the middle of the sweep picking:

Idea incorporating sweep picking and a pedal point style lick

Breaking the lick down

Again, don’t worry about playing this lick exactly (although it is pretty fun!), but try and get the idea behind it, and make some variations of your own.

You could try putting the pedal point at the start and the end, rather than in the middle.

Bonus Check out this example of Bach using pedal points and learn how he did it here.

Read More You can find some other examples of neoclassical sounding pedal points here.

Sweep Picking Fix 3: Add Some Tremolo Picking to the Start of the Sweep Picking

With this technique, we add a simple tremolo picking section before the sweep picking, anything from 1 beat to a whole bar. This adds a nice bit of tension and “sets up” the sweep picking that is about to come.

So, starting with that C major arpeggio again:

We add a short tremolo picking section before hand like this:

Sweep Picking Fix 4: Add Some Legato Onto Your Arpeggios

Another really fun way to spice up your sweep picking is to add some legato ideas on the top string. I love this one!! It is quite easy to let rip and develop some serious speed with this.

Create a simple legato lick along the top string of your arpeggio, adding in some notes from an appropriate scale.

If we start again with a C major arpeggio:

3 string C major arpeggio

We break the sweep picking section up by putting some legato licks in between the sweeps:

C major sweep picking lick with legato

You can create a ton of variations with this one, I love using it myself in solos.

Bonus Try adding some of these neoclassical scales into your arpeggio legato runs!

Conclusion

The main idea to take away from this, is that you want to think about combining the sweep picking with other musical ideas and techniques.

A “musical” or “melodic” sound in your soloing and improvising comes from smoothly transitioning between a series of techniques and rhythms.

If you want to get more awesome melodic sweep picking ideas, try the following:

  • Use the above licks with different C major inversions
  • Use the above licks with a C minor arpeggio
  • Combine the above ideas together… can you write a lick that uses all four techniques.. ?

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