Sweep Picking Technique for Guitar – Part 3

By Rob Thorpe

Here we are at part three! (Refresh part two here) We’ve already looked at down and upstroke based licks and then combined the two to execute larger flowing arpeggio sequences with the sweep picking technique. Now we will mix things up with some more modern stylistic rock licks that combine sweep picking with more legato, creating more interesting musical ideas to incorporate into your soloing vocabulary.

We will look at linking together different arpeggios and scale fragments in less formulaic ways than the streams of arpeggio sequences that we focussed last week’s lesson on.

When thinking of what you can play for a solo, you have to know the accompanying chords. When discovering arpeggios players think they have to match the arpeggio to the chord. (playing Bm over Bm, A over A etc) While this a very valid option and will give your solo great structure and outline the chords perfectly, it can be a little bland. So long as you are careful to land on a good note you are able to arpeggiate any chord from the parent key. Without getting bogged down in theory, this is known as superimposition and opens the door to much wider options when soloing with arpeggios. Experiment, and always let your ears be the judge of whether something works!

Example 1

Straight out of the gates we have a dramatic Yngwie Malmsteen G minor phrase that develops the 5 string sweep shape by leading into an F# diminished arpeggio before using scale notes from G harmonic minor to get back to the root note, G. Be careful on the ending notes to ensure you use the most efficient pick strokes. Don’t forget to really wring the neck out to achieve an authentically outrageous Yngwie vibrato on the last note!

Example 2

Continuing with an lick inspired by the creative and idiosyncratic style of Marty Friedman. As well as his trademark ‘eastern’ string bends, Marty has a melodically engaging style, even when playing at great speed. Here we link together Gmaj7, A major, D major, C#dim and B minor apreggios without allowing the contour (melodic shape) of the line become boring and repetitive. This lack of repetition naturally makes life difficult for your picking hand so take it slowly and carefully. Notice the same upstroke pattern from last week’s Ex 1 used both at the start and end of the lick. Experiment with interpersing more legato with the sweep picking technique than I’ve written in, but remain conscious of playing the notes evenly.

Example 3

Finally we involve a bit of rhythmical interest! This idea shows how little bursts of fast notes can create a much more attention grabbing lick than long formless lines of notes with no interruption. Listen out for modern sweep picking tehnique ideas like this in the playing of Frank Gambale, John Petrucci or Guthrie Govan. We then change from the b7 based Aeolian/Dorian sound of bar 1 to ascend with an F#7b9 arpeggio that really outlines a B harmonic minor tonality. Be careful again with the mixture of legato and sweep picking and take to time to make sure your hands are well primed before trying to play it at speed!

Join me next week for our final selection of juicy sweep picking licks to get your fingers round! In the meantime, practice creating your own versions of these licks, transpose them and make my suggestions the springboard to your own musical vocabulary!

Recommended listening for creative use of sweep picking would include guitarists like Buckethead, Steve Vai, Chris Broderick (Megadeth/Nevermore) and Rusty Cooley on top of the players mentioned earlier.