Sweep picking problems


I’ve been practicing sweep picking for the last few weeks and am making some progress, however my upward sweeps (high notes to low notes) remain a problem.

I find it very difficult to get this motion smooth and even. It doesn’t feel to me like I have proper control over the pick and I just don’t know how I can fix it as I’ve tried different techniques but nothing is working.

I am looking advice as to what I can do to improve my technique. Maybe I am doing something wrong or just need to practice more? Downward sweeps don’t seem to be a problem and feel natural.

The lick I’m playing is this:

The video is here:


Honestly this looks totally fine. I’d just point out that you’re using shoulder motion / arm tracking for the actual sweeping motion. You can also try elbow motion, wrist motion, or any combination of the two. Batio using the blend. Frank Gambale uses mostly wrist motion, and of course the famous Gambale upward pickslant where he flattens out the arm on the body a little. Since he is anchored, he maintains the edge pick and pickslant by increasing the bend in his thumb as he goes to the lower strings. You can get a nice look at all that in action here:


Thanks, Troy. Maybe the shoulder / arm tracking is my problem. It’s always good to have a fresh pair of eyes because I had no idea I was doing this.

I also realised that I’m not doing as much edge picking as I thought, maybe I need to experiment with adding a bit of an angle.

Frank’s sweeping is ridiculously smooth. It’s like his pick isn’t even touching the strings!


totally unrelated to the question…but with those crazy long fingers, have you tried string skipping arpeggios a’la Paul Gilbert?


Yeah I’ve tried and string skipping and hammer on / pull offs are no problem for me. They have their own sound though. After seeing the Frank Gambale interview I want to try and at least get semi-decent at sweeping because of the sound.


Am I right that Gambale is using trail edge picking?


No, leading. But I can see the confusion! Leading edge is when the headstock-facing edge hits the string on the downstroke. Trailing is when the bridge-facing edge hits the string on the downstroke.


A lot of pickslant does that. It’s surprising that more of the “economy” crowd doesn’t try to play the way Frank does, with the agressive two-way slanting. Maybe they just don’t notice what he’s doing? It’s worth trying because it’s comfortable.

“Uwps mode” is Frank’s favorite and he uses it way more often. You just plant the whole hand and arm on the strings/body, and flatten it out so the whole underside of the forearm contacts, and the hand rides the strings. You also pronate the arm slightly. In concert with the grip, the pronation gives you the pickslant.

The amount of pick sticking out past the thumb becomes small, and again thanks to the whole hand just sitting on the strings, you have constant depth as you slide across the strings. It’s like setting the depth of your bit on a router, or on a planer, for the woodshop-inclined.

Someone posted a question here once about something called the Runbarr which is a smooth block you install on the body, under the strings between the pickups. You just pick whatever depth you want and thing stops the pick at the same height on all strings. Make sweeping easier, apparently. Well, Frank does that from above, and he uses his hand. We all can too!


runbarr sounds like those ramps that bass player use.


How familiar are you with sweeping in general?


I’m more familiar with downward sweeps and have been doing these on and off for a number of years. I’ve never really worked on it properly though.


I see, well I wanted to say that the sweeps you cited are fairly tricky, and so I don’t think you should be too hard on yourself for lack of progress haha

I would say focus on the difficulty of the sweep for a couple practice sessions. Really isolate the problem and hammer away at that. That’s what I do anyway, may not work for all but that’s my 2 cents.


Ive been working on sweeping for a while now and have enjoyed watching the Gambale video which persuaded me to subscribe again. I love what Frank does with 4ths and it has been great to see some of his key licks analysed. I really struggle with starting those 3 string 4th licks that cascade down the neck starting on an upstroke for each group of notes. I have always struggled with upstrokes for some reason. Is this normal?


You hear people complain about this sometimes. Not so much with upstrokes as a pickstroke, but particularly with sweeping. You’ll notice again that Frank seems to prefer upward pickslanting in general — it’s super obvious when watching his hands up close. That’s why he’s always using the descending version of these phrases, which start on upstrokes.

I think Frank finds this form comfortable at a fundamental level. So if you feel like descending uwps-mode sweeping doesn’t feel smooth, I highly recommend copping Frank’s form, even just as an experiment. Frank’s setup is designed to make descending upstroke sweeping work smoothly.

If you try this, use the same grip, same bend in the thumb, same arm position resting on the strings as I described above, same degree of pickslant, same motion mostly from the wrist. Reference the video until it looks as close you can get it to his form.

This may look or feel different from the way you typically play at first, and you may not want to do this forever. But that’s ok. It’s good to try these kinds of experiments to break out of a rut.


Thanks Troy, I will definitely try this. Much appreciated for your prompt and detailed response.


I’m gonna try and copy his setup too, thanks!