Friday, August 19, 2005

Guitar: A Sweep Picking Epiphany

WOW! Sweep picking has opened up a whole new world for me. Forever I have worked my butt off trying to get the technique and speed I wanted for my lead playing using alternate picking, hammer-ons/pull-offs, etc. but this, this is a total revelation in my book!

The only time I recall being exposed to sweep picking was back in the late '80s when I saw a section tabbed for the song One by Metallica. It was just a couple of instances in one passage, as I recall. I thought it sounded cool when I was learning it, but I didn't grasp the relevance this technique could have in other areas of playing. Did I ever miss the boat on this one. I think I'm not the only one I'm sorry to say...

Most of the time I see the sweep picked phrases in this song tabbed as follows--you can see right off the bat the technique is not even indicated:


It totally misses the coolness of the phrasing in this passage of the song, which is really unfortunate. It should be something like this (if memory serves me right):


Sweep ....... Sweep ..... Sweep

(Tabs for instructional purposes only. Please, no one sue me! Internet Explorer users click this link to see the tablature rendered properly.)

It's a strange tale on how I came upon this "secret". On a whim, I ordered an "eBook" on improving lead playing (promising secrets of all the greats, etc. etc.). It wasn't well written, and my initial thoughts on the book were that I had wasted my money. I already knew most of this, what a waste. Well, the basics needed were in there to bring you up to speed with standard picking, and then I read the section on sweep picking and that got me to thinking (how dangerous).

This reminded of a brief instructional video I had recently viewed. It was some basic information on using a metronome to working on timing. At the end of it, the instructor was playing an A minor scale using 16th notes over a click of 120bpm. I was curious as to why my alternate picking wasn't getting me the same results. It looked so easy. What was I doing wrong? So I played it back a few more times, paying closer attention to his pick hand. Aha! There it was! He was NOT alternate picking when crossing strings, he was using sweep picking!

Now I know how the shredders are doing it! Amazing. Why didn't I pick up on this a looong time ago. You can apply this to all kinds of things: scales, arpeggios, etc. The key is obvious, play cleanly. If not, slow down until you are and then speed up. And, learn to employ sweep picking. Here is a nice quick lesson on using this method for playing arpeggio style runs. Google has a bazillion more links to check out as well.

Guess I should have payed more attention to those old guitar mags in the '80s when shredding ruled the world, but I was more interested in learning songs and rhythm playing at that time. Working on melodic leads and better soloing technique is a relatively recent interest I've acquired. I can write riffs and cord progressions all day but I would like to improve in other areas these days as well.

Let the shredding begin! :-)

PS If you want to really be amazed, check out this guy. Unbelieveable! Perfectly clean playing, no wasted motion. Outrageous technique, and if you watch his pick hand, guess what--yep, sweep picking. ;-) Michael Angelo Batio. I remember him too, from back in the '80s again. He had this guitar with two necks shooting out: one to the left & to the right. He could play them both at the same time. It was white back then, this new one sports a different theme...

[Updated 25 August 2005: I forgot a high D in my tab rendition above. It's been bugging me...]

[Updated 25 August 2005: Argh!!! I just found out that the tabs do not display properly in Internet Explorer at all!! I am updating with a png image of the text for IE users. In the meantime, I recommend they download/Install FireFox! It is the very rare occasion that it has problems rendering any page.
Safer, Faster, Better as they say.]

[Updated 17 October 2005: Fix tablature notation for new blogger template.]

[Updated 03 November 2005: Fixed the link to the Batio video.]

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