Skip to main content

A Guide to Low-Down Sweep Picking Blues

Usually when you think of sweep picking, you think of high-gain shred guitar. That's is all well and good, but there's also a place in blues for sweep picking.

In this lesson, I’ll show you two types of sweep picking exercises that cater to a bluesy tonality and feel, as opposed to the more shred-tastic diminished sweep arpeggios of the metal variety. Articulation plays a big role in successfully executing these techniques in a convincing way.

If you’ve followed any of my other lessons, you know I'm an advocate of breaking out of scale boxes, but for this lesson, we’re going to forget about that and confine ourselves to those comfortable minor pentatonic box shapes we know and love.

EXERCISE 1

In EXERCISE1, you’ll learn the nuts and bolts of this bluesy sweep picking move. It’s somewhat of a hybrid between raking and sweeping, but the nature of how it should be performed lends itself to a sweep picking mindset. You’ll start the first note with a down stroke, followed by an upstroke that traverses each string, and finish off the pattern with a down stroke. As you’ll see in the video below, this pattern can then be repeated on subsequent strings—all you have to do is stay within that minor pentatonic scale box.

EXERCISE 2

EXERCISE 2 gets a bit more technical as it utilizes multiple positions of the minor pentatonic scale to create a fusion of alternate picking and sweep picking. On paper, this might not seem like anything special, but it’s important to understand the essential element of blues guitar—feel. The phrase begins with a standard blues approach; alternate picking and slides; but then transforms by sweep picking an array of notes between the third and fourth positions of the minor pentatonic Scale.

Sandwiching this conventional sweep picking technique between two bluesy phrases allows for a fluid run that will add an exclamation mark to your melodic statements. Don’t worry too much about each note ringing out perfectly; instead, concentrate on playing the lick with conviction, as Jimmy Page might do.

Tyler Larson is the founder of the guitar-centric brand Music is Win. His insightful, uncomplicated guitar lessons and gear demonstrations along with entertaining, satirical content about life as a musician receive tens of millions of video views per month across social media. Tyler is also the creator of the extremely popular online guitar learning platform, Guitar Super System. A graduate of Berklee College of Music, Tyler has been teaching guitar for over a decade and operates a production studio in Nashville, TN.