Sweep Picking for Jazz Guitar

Play Arpeggios Efficiently

The goal of this series is to actually put a lick under your fingers. Here, there’s no more searching for ideas in the sea of jazz theory information. We’ll give stuff you need to play and be creative. In this sweep picking for jazz guitar lesson, we will be discussing how you can use the sweep picking technique to play arpeggios across the strings. 

Hands-On 11: Sweep Picking for Jazz Guitar

Origin & Original Example

Today’s idea is taken from the June 2016 Tune of the Month Club for the tune, “Girl from Ipanema”. We are going to discuss how you can use what is known as “sweep picking” for jazz guitar.

Hands-On 11: Sweep Picking for Jazz Guitar - Original Example

In many jazz phrases and licks, you might have noticed the need to get across three or more strings very quickly. If you’re anything like me, you want to get this done with the least work possible, right? 😉

This kind of thing is really difficult to do with only alternate picking. You’ll be sweating bullets by the end of this two bar lick if you try to alternate pick it! Sweeping makes things easy.

Oh! One more thing. Make sure you’re looking at the symbols above the tablature staff. The downstroke symbol is shaped like a box with no bottom, and the upstroke is the V-shaped symbol.

How It Works

The trick to this technique is difficult to explain, but basically, you have to let the pick fall onto the next string while unfretting the note so as to avoid note-ringing. You want to be able to differentiate each note. Here, we are taking this technique and applying it over a ii V I progression in Eb major. The first sweep is a standard F minor arpeggio followed by a nice C augmented arpeggio to lead us into the Bb7.

Download ALL of the licks here: “Sweep Picking for Jazz Guitar” PDF (includes TAB)

Pretty hip sound, right? If you’re able to get the hang of this technique, you can play some really flashy stuff and impress all your friends. It’ll be our little secret. 😉

More Examples

Now let’s go over a few different licks using this technique.

Example A

Here is example A. In this example, we have a ii V I progression in C. We are doing an ascending sweep on D minor then approaching the B from G7 chromatically from below and ending on the 3rd of C which is E.

Hands-On 11: Sweep Picking for Jazz Guitar - Example A

Example B

Here is Example B. Here, we are using a common lick over F minor and going into a nice B diminished arpeggio sequence over the Bb7, giving us a Bb7b9 sound.

Hands-On 11: Sweep Picking for Jazz Guitar - Example B

Example C

Here is Example C. In this example, we have a ii V I progression in the key of G. Here, we are building arpeggios from the 3rd of each of these chords. In other words, we are using a Cmaj7 arpeggio over A minor, F#m7b5 arpeggio over D7 and then simply finishing off the lick on the 3rd of G which is B.  

Hands-On 11: Sweep Picking for Jazz Guitar - Example C

Jump In

Ok, let’s try it now. In the video linked above, I play for a bit, then comp so you can try!

Download ALL of the licks here: “Sweep Picking for Jazz Guitar” PDF (includes TAB)

Once again, remember that if you need help understanding terminology such as ii V I, relative major/minor, etc. we’ve got you covered with our Improv 101 course.

Jazz Improv 101 Course

Thanks for joining us for Hands-On Jazz Guitar, Volume 11. Hopefully now you can make use of this technique and be able to play some of these arpeggiated phrases with ease.

Please, ask us questions and give us feedback. We’re here for you. And if you liked this lesson, please subscribe to our YouTube channel where you can find many more like this!


Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.

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