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Default Speed Picking - shred like a demon!
by Superhuman 28-08-2009, 00:29 AM

Speed Picking - shred like a demon!

Every rock/metal guitarist wants to be able to play fast(er!). Whether itís for brief runs or licks thrown into a melodic Gilmour solo or non stop Yngwie style shred, speed is an important part of any guitaristís arsenal. The biggest pitfall that beginners and slow tempo players encounter is that they will jump in too quickly and mess up their technique. Remember, bad technique can be picked up in a few hours but it can take months to retrain yourself to do something properly Ė trust me, Iíve been there!

Firstly, start slowly Ė only play at the fastest speed you can while still sounding 100% clean,
Secondly, relax both hands wrists and arms when you play, tensing up will make things sloppy, increase potential injury (carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis) and stifle your ability to improve.
Thirdly, approach speed training scientifically Ė donít rush in, take your time and stick to the guidelines in this tutorial and you will be shredding in no time

Plectrum myths:

There is a lot of hokum spouted off in guitar forums about pick size and shape and its effect of speed playing. Trying to break things down to the width of the pick versus the drag coefficient as the pick passes over a string of a certain gauge just isn't realistic. Pick size and shape is entirely down to personal preference, as is the way you actually hold the pick itself. Everyoneís hand is a different size and shape, has stronger and weaker fingers and tendons with varying degrees of flexibility. Go with what feels right at the start and you can change it down the line when you know what you want.

Back when I started out I was so broke after getting my first guitar that I couldnít afford the bus fare to get into town to buy a pick so I used the corner of my video card. In fact I got so used to that credit card sized piece of plastic that I even used it to play live once!

Now that I can afford the 50 cents for a pick I use hard Dunlop .6mm exclusively:-)

Maximum Picking Velocity:

Letís get started. The following approach is what got me from sloppy playing snot nosed kid to clean picking snot nosed adult in the space of a few months. As far as picking fast goes its not about being able to move your right hand up and down that is the problem or being able to move your left hand fast enough, it's getting the two synchronised that's will get you from 50bpm to 200bpm over night.

The following exercise was developed by Michael Angelo Battio (one of the fastest guitarists of all time) to determine how fast you can realistically expect to get in a short space of time. It worked for me and there is no reason why it wonít work for you.
  • Pick an open string up/down/up/down (alternate picking)
  • Start slowly then gradually build up over a minute or so to the fastest you can possibly go without losing rhythm or accuracy
    This speed is your current 'maximum picking velocity (MPV)' - so now you know how fast you can go all you have to do is get your left hand to move in tandem with your right! Easier said than done I agree, but you will realise from this exercise just how fast you can actually pick and itís probably faster than you could have imagined.
  • IMPORTANT - once you hit your MPV look at how you are holding your pick and the picking hand position. Make sure that you hold both of these elements exactly this way all of the time - even when you play slowly. This may change slightly over time but if you are beginning and you want to get from A - Z in the shortest space of time then you should try this for a while.

Picking arm Position

I would say 99% of sloppy players are sloppy because they practice playing fast and are 'ok', practice playing slow and are 'ok' but they can't switch from fast to slow in the same piece because they hold their picks, guitars and fretting hands in different positions depending on the tempo. When you become an advanced player you will start playing around more with your pick position and picking hand angle etc. When you get to the stage that you can match your left and right hands at MPV then you will be advanced enough to start experimenting, until that time though, try sticking to the same pick/hand/wrist/arm and guitar position.
Bottom line: don't worry about switching picking position until you have matched your left and right hands at your MPV.

Guitar position:

Look at the way you hold your guitar and the way you sit. A lot of shredders put the guitar between their legs resting on their left knee with the head stock pointing up somewhere between rib and shoulder height - simply because this takes the pressure off the wrist and is a comfortable way to sit for hours on end while doing mindless speed drills!

What about the left hand?

If you think your left hand can't move fast enough then try a basic legato run to see how fast you can get right now (this can get a lot faster with a little practice unlike the 'MPV' which takes longer to increase).
Anchor your first finger (1), then simply drum your fingers 123123123123123123 or 134134134134134 etc as fast as you can Ė just like the MPV with the right hand, you will quickly realise you can do this a lot faster than you have ever played before.

At this point it is important to note that beginners need not get too hung up on scales etc. You will have enough on your plate trying to play cleanly while synchronizing your left and rights hands at top speed. Thatís why I advocate combining the picking drills with some chromatic exercises.

Try combinations of chromatic 3 and 4 note per string exercises and you should notice some solid gains in speed and accuracy. I find chromatic runs best when starting because you don't have to worry about scale positions etc. Start out extremely slowly and focus 100% on the movement and honing your technique down to something that is comfortable and gradually build up speed. Get this right and you will have a firm grounding to improve on.

Maintaining technique = Faster cleaner playing

If you lose the rhythm then don't try to play any faster and ALWAYS play with a metronome or drum machine. Set yourself goals and move the speed up in 5bpm increments - even after 1 week of this at 15-30 mins practice per day you should notice considerable improvements in speed and accuracy.

The above will help you with the raw mechanics of alternate picking - it's not about playing something that sounds 'good' or cool. Give it a go and it will help you to see the potential speeds you can achieve over the next few weeks/months.

Hope this helps someone out there!

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Last edited by Superhuman; 03-09-2009 at 12:48 PM.
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Old 28-08-2009, 01:02 AM

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Excellent tutorial this...bravo
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Old 05-11-2009, 16:55 PM

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I shredded on my mates guitar once at 8am after a decent party
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demon, picking, shred, speed

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