I am looking to expand my playing flexibility and was looking to apply this to sweep picking. In order to do this I was interested in applying musical theory to this exercise.

For background, as a beginner and someone who never studied music, I recently discovered that "box shapes" and "solos" are based on specific musical scales which where their shapes come from. (Most tutorials just tell you "play this". Same can be said for chords for example. No one generally tells you why a G-chord [or whatever] looks the way it does unless you know a bit of music or you randomly come across it.)

Surely there is musical theory applied to sweep picking. What scale is used if any? Which notes in the scale do you play or can it be anything? Can you use any scale? What about minor and major?

2 Answers 2


Sweep picking is essentially picking out notes consecutively, one string after another, say, strings 4-3-2-1 and/or backwards, as 1-2-3-4.

For this, generally, scale notes won't work in order, on guitar, as they won't allow one note per string. So, chords work well. Think of a chord shape, for now, top four strings. Strum them quickly, and it's the good old chord. Strum slowly, and it's an arpeggio. Play them quickly but dampen each as soon as it's played, and you have sweep picking. It's pretty straightforward to add the next note in the arp. onto the top string, either picking or hammering on, then pulling off to get to the original top string note, then sweep down the rest of the chord.

The 'D' shape works well, albeit on top 4. As does E and A shapes. Minors, major sevenths and minor sevenths also. Try ninths as well.

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    So it follows chords. I take it I can use any chord I can physically play as long as I can maintain technique? I'll give this a go. Thank you for your answer! Feb 9, 2018 at 16:44
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    With hammer ons and pulloffs you can sweep pick scales. If you're fast enough. Feb 9, 2018 at 17:30

Sweep picking is a way of playing a lot of notes quickly and smoothly.The notes can come from scales, arpeggios or other patterns. Here is a simple exercise to get you started on sweep picking.

Play a very, very, very slow downstroke across all strings from 6th string to first string. As the pick strikes the 6th string, play A (5th fret)and quickly hammer on to B (7th fret). You must play those two notes before the pick reaches the 5th string. When the pick hits the 5th string, play D (5th fret) and hammer on to E (7th fret) before the pick reaches the 4th string.

Continue this pattern on the 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 1st strings. Do not hesitate with your picking; keep it sweeping slowly, but inexorably across the strings to the first string. You need to do it slowly enough that you can finger the two notes on each string before the pick lands on the next string.

Next, try three notes per string.Look up three-notes-per-string fingerings for scales and work on sweeping the scales. That's got you started on the technique. Turning it into music will take a little longer.

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