A common technique used in metal and shred playing is sweep picking. This where instead of using down/up alternate picking, the one single pick stroke is used across multiple strings. Sweep picking is primarily used to play arpeggios (the notes of a chord played separately). Using sweep arpeggios allows you to write cool licks that outline chord changes, and although it’s sometimes perceived as being too flashy, sweep picking is really just one of many tools to use for creative soloing.

There are three basic rules for sweep picking:

  1. Use one continuous pick stroke – the picking should be the one fluid motion down or up the strings (as if you were strumming a chord), not separate pick strokes for each string.

  2. Don’t change your pick hand – Whether sweeping down or up, your wrist shouldn’t rotate and your pick and thumb position should remain unchanged.

  3. Release your fret hand fingers – To stop the notes from ringing together, slightly release your finger from the note with your left hand as soon as you have picked the same note with your right.


This is a basic minor arpeggio ‘shape’, written here in B minor (B-D-F#). For now just play through the pattern with normal downstrokes - releasing each finger after you’ve played the note - until it’s comfortable for your left hand. Once you’ve got it down in B minor, move it around to other root notes on the fifth string to practice it in different keys.

Hear Exercise 1


Rather than trying to start off sweep picking the full five string shape in exercise 1, it’s much easier to break it down into a smaller three string arpeggio. Still in B minor, exercise 2 is a very common way of sweeping arpeggios using triplets (three notes-per-beat) across the top three strings. Begin with an upstroke on the first string followed by a left hand pull-off, and then continue sweeping upwards to the second string. Slightly lift the pick to jump over onto the third string and begin a downstroke sweep until you’re back to the first. Sweep arpeggios like this are usually played in groups of two or more to create a fluid and cyclical sound.

Hear Exercise 2


Now we want to sweep pick the five string minor pattern. Starting on the fifth string root note, pick downwards with your right hand using the one continuous motion and releasing each note with your left hand as soon as it’s picked. When you reach the first string, change to an upstroke, pull-off to your first finger and then keep sweeping upwards till you’re back to the root.

Hear Exercise 3a


Once you have the minor shape down, it’s very easy to change it to a major arpeggio by just raising the minor third (D in this case) one fret up to a major third (D#). The right hand sweeping will remain the same.

Hear Exercise 3b


Having learnt the minor and major shapes of this arpeggio form, we can use them with a chord progression to create something a bit musical. Employing the same three string triplet idea from exercise 2, this lick uses both shapes to outline a basic E minor chord progression: Em-C-D-Bm. A lick like this involves quite a bit of jumping up and down the fretboard, so work on it slowly to build the accuracy of the left hand while keeping the right hand sweeping technique consistent.

Hear Exercise 4

There are actually three basic shapes each to use for sweep picking minor and major arpeggios. I’ve shown you the easiest one here to get you started.