Short Description: There are many stories doing the rounds since ages about this method of picking. Some are true while some are absolute figments of imagination. This article tries to put things in proper perspective. The arguments never seem to stop on whether sweep picking is indeed a desirable technique or it simply distorts the rhythm and precision that can be achieved through alternate picking.
But before we take sides and try to shoot down those on the other side of the fence let's try to understand what sweep picking actually is. Let's begin with a scenario where you're playing a major scale having three notes per string. If you use alternate picking technique you would go down/up/down right through the scale, right? But if you sweep pick, you'll pick down/up/down on the first string followed by DOWN/up/down on the lower string and DOWN/up/down on the lowermost string while ascending the scale. You haven't missed the fact that there will be two consecutive down strokes when strings are changed, have you? And when you sweep pick while descending the scale, you will pick up/down/up, UP/down/up, UP/down/up. Again you must have noticed that you perform two same pick strokes consecutively while changing strings.
This is what sweep picking is all about. You must have learnt in school that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The technique of sweep picking uses this elementary mathematical axiom and hence is the most logical way to pick.
The guitarist goes directly to the string that needs to be picked without getting restricted by the strict down/up/down regimen of alternate picking style. But some players tend to feel more comfortable while remaining in the predetermined pattern of alternate picking. They say it leaves them with more free time when they are improvising since the picking motion becomes almost automatic.
I feel this to be more a matter of perception than any real problem. This doesn't however mean that sweep picking is free from all problems. There are indeed certain rough edges to it and let's try to smooth them out one by one.
Sweep picking if done very fast without properly mastering the technique might cause the sound to be sloppy. Be patient when you start off and practice slowly. You'll automatically gain speed as you go along. Sometimes it becomes difficult to mute the notes that are not played. This distortion can easily be overcome by pressing your palm or thumb on strings that are not played. The biggest problem in my opinion is not to sound as if you are strumming while your pick bounces across the strings.
Each note should have a definition and though the arm moves in a continuous motion across the strings you should be able to play the arpeggio slowly and in time while each note is distinctly heard.
Before you go spending a ton on 1-on-1 guitar lessons, make sure you check out Crazy Dave's review of the #1 "how to" video guitar lessons on the net - learn and master guitar. Dave's site provides over 35 free guitar licks!