Guitar World Year in Review: The Top 10 Guitar Lessons of 2013
From John Petrucci to Jimmy Page, here are GW's most popular lessons of the year!
08. Big Strokes: A Beginner's Guide to Sweep Picking by Charlie Griffiths
Although often regarded as a “shredder’s” technique, the notion of sweeping (or raking) the pick across the strings to produce a quick succession of notes has been around since the invention of the pick itself.
Jazz players from the Fifties, such as Les Paul, Barney Kessel and Tal Farlow, would use the approach in their improvisations, and country guitar genius Chet Atkins was known to eschew his signature fingerstyle hybrid-picking technique from time to time and rip out sweep-picked arpeggios, proving that the technique is not genre specific.
Within rock, Ritchie Blackmore used sweep picking to play arpeggios in Deep Purple’s “April” and Rainbow’s “Kill the King.”
Fusion maestro Frank Gambale is widely considered to be the most versatile and innovative sweep picker and the first artist to fully integrate the technique into his style, applying sweeping to arpeggios, pentatonics, heptatonic (seven-note) scales and modes, and beyond.
Gambale explains his approach wonderfully in his instructional video, Monster Licks and Speed Picking. Originally released in 1988, it remains a must-watch video for anyone interested in developing a smooth sweep-picking technique.
It was Stockholm, Sweden, however that would produce the name most synonymous with sweeping in a rock context, one that gave rise to a guitar movement known as neoclassical heavy metal.
Swedish guitar virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen was influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore and Uli Jon Roth but was also equally enthralled by 19th-century virtuoso violinist Niccolò Paganini. Attempting to emulate on his Fender Stratocaster the fluid, breathtaking passages Paganini would compose and play on violin, Malmsteen concluded that sweep picking was the perfect way to travel quickly from string to string with a smooth, fluid sound much like what a violinist can create with his bow.
Malmsteen’s style has since influenced two generations of guitarists, including Tony MacAlpine, Jason Becker, Steve Vai, Mattias “IA” Eklundh, Ritchie Kotzen, Marty Friedman, John Petrucci, Vinnie Moore, Jeff Loomis, Synyster Gates, Alexi Laiho and Tosin Abasi, to name but a few.
The first five exercises in this lesson are designed to give you a systematic approach to practicing the component movements of sweep picking: from two-string sweeps to six-string sweeps, and everything in between. Practicing each exercise with a metronome for just two minutes every day will improve your coordination and your confidence to use the technique in your own playing.
Work from two strings up to six, keeping your metronome at the same tempo. This means starting with eighth notes, and while this will feel very slow, the technique will become trickier with each successive note grouping: eighth-note triplets, 16th notes, quintuplets and, most difficult of all, 16th-note triplets and their equivalent sextuplets. Focus on synchronizing your hands so that your pick and fretting fingers make contact with the string at exactly the same moment. Only one string should be fretted at any time (this is key!), and any idle strings should be diligently muted with your remaining fingers.
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