When you’re trying to learn guitar and improve your guitar playing, you could be forgiven for thinking that going straight to the source would be a pretty safe bet.
After all, what better advice to follow and who better to learn things from than the original person who did it?
The truth is that interviews with famous guitar players very often end up sending out confusing and, at worst, straight-up incorrect messages when it comes to learning guitar.
A great player does not automatically equal a great teacher, and this is a very important thing that people who want to learn music need to start understanding.
Let me give you a good example of the kind of thing I mean.
I just saw an instructional video with Marty Friedman the former guitarist of Megadeth, produced by Guitar World magazine, titled “How To Play Fast Arpeggios Without Sweep Picking”.
And I thought, huh, “without Sweep Picking?” That’s a weird title, ‘cause I know for a fact Marty Friedman plays fast arpeggios with sweep picking.
Even so, here is what Marty himself says about it at the start of the instructional video:
“Today I’m going to talk about a misconception. People talk about me with “Sweep Picking” and – – what are the other pickings? Hybrid Picking, Legato Pic… All these names of pickings – I have absolutely no idea what any of it is, and for the most part, when I’ve heard of Sweep Picking, none of that stuff appeals to me – the stuff that sounds like ‘bloop bloop’ ‘bloop bloop’ ‘bloop bloop’. It’s just going up and down. It’s like some kind of technique that you learn, that it just allows you to play these fast long sweeping arpeggios which is like, wonderful, I guess, if that’s the sound you want. If you listen to my music, sometimes there’s some insane fast arpeggio playing, but it’s never up and down [scales] like that.”
Taken at face value (if you knew absolutely nothing about his playing) then of course your conclusion would be that Marty Friedman doesn’t use sweep picking, and can’t stand the sound of it. That is what he just said. It’s just not how he does things, despite what other people might say or what you may have heard.
I can just see it now:
“Marty Friedman sweep picks? Haha, no that’s a misconception dude. He said so himself!”
This has been interpreted by lots of people in exactly this way, just as I knew it would be the moment I saw its title and heard the opening remarks.
For a perfect example of the chinese whispers way this kind of bullshit passes from person to person, here’s an excerpt of how it was spun a few days later on another guitar site:
“You see, Marty Friedman doesn’t do economy picking. He thinks sweeps are lame…”
No, no, and no. 100% WRONG. Whoever wrote that has absolutely no idea what they’re talking about and, frankly, should not be giving out guitar advice.
Economy Picking is EXACTLY what Marty Friedman does. And it’s more than just something he does now and again. His entire picking style is based on it.
Let no one be in any doubt – Marty Friedman definitely uses sweep picking.
So what the hell’s going on? Let’s cut through the fog of people stirring up controversy where none exists, and playing fast and loose with facts in order to get clicks, and get to the truth:
Great players don’t always know “what” (in a formal sense) they are doing.
That is what is going on here, and Marty gave us a big clue to this himself in one of the very first things he said:
“Sweep Picking, and – – what are the other pickings?… All these names of pickings – I have absolutely no idea what any of it is.”
Perhaps you’re wondering, how can it be that a famous player does something himself (and does it very well) without knowing what it is, or the correct terminology for it? Quite easily.
In this case, players like Marty Friedman were at the cutting edge of guitar technique in the mid-80’s, and players like him (and his friend Jason Becker) were among the first to use and develop techniques like Sweep Picking. Guitar players 30 years ago simply didn’t use all the modern terms in the way we do today.
What Marty was really talking about in the video is how he tries to use arpeggios and sweep picking creatively, and how he doesn’t like when players just sweep pick straight up and down and up and down in a boring and predictable way. This is what he pictures when he hears people talk about “Sweep Picking”, and I relate because I used to think the same.
I was put off learning sweep picking for many years because I didn’t like the way I heard it being used by other people. It sounded to me like a computer game going “bloop, bloop” — what Marty said. This is what I too thought “Sweep Picking” was, and I thought; “Why would I ever want to do that?”. I didn’t, so I completely avoided and ignored it.
But here’s the thing I wish I had understood: Sweep Picking is just a technical ability, and an extremely useful one to have under your command.
How you use a technique is a separate thing from the technique itself
If you follow the wrong line of thinking you could easily conclude that if you don’t like the style of Zakk Wylde, then you don’t like Pinch Harmonics. Or you don’t like Tapping because you never got Van Halen. Or thinking, you know, I don’t like the sound of picking, because I don’t like Dream Theater. Or deciding you never ever want to use the Harmonic Minor Scale because you’ve never cared for Yngwie Malmsteen.
Don't confuse a musical tool or a technique with subjective examples of how it can be used
The problem with doing this is that you could reach the same conclusion about literally any technique (or even technique in general). You can find examples of every technique being overused and/or used badly, in someone’s opinion.
For instance, in my opinion, I find a lot of players use Legato technique in a predictable and unmusical way (at least to me). So, not liking a lot of what I hear, does this mean I should not bother developing my Legato? No, because Legato is an essential technique to master in order to reach my goals. It’s not the fault of the technique itself but in how some guitarists use it, and it’s the same here:
Sweep Picking is an essential technique if you want to play advanced Rock and Metal.
The MASSIVE contradiction at the heart of this is that if you want to be able to play any of Marty Friedman’s stuff, then there’s no two ways about it — your sweep picking needs to be good… really good.
So what we have here is someone who sweeps in virtually all his solos, broadcasting to the world that he doesn’t sweep pick… And although the video contains several good tips later on, you need to be able to Sweep Pick to play any of the licks… because they’re all examples of Sweep Picking!
It’s like we have an article called:
“Cristiano Ronaldo addresses the misconception that he kicks the football at the goal”…
“Mike Tyson on the persistent myth that he punches his opponents in the face”…
“Usain Bolt reveals his secrets of success: “Running? Running is lame. That’s not what I do”…
It’s really, really stupid.
The lesson here is a very simple one – you can’t take the word of great players to be 100% valid or correct. Always use your own brain, and get a second opinion if something seems off.
So remember, when you hear something being said (and especially when someone is telling you something they “heard somewhere”), make sure that you try to understand what’s really going on.
For another example of a related issue, see The Myth Of The Self-Taught Rock Musician.