Marty Friedman's Guitar Technique Analysis

Here I will make an analysis of a very famous guitarist with maybe the most unusual technique. His name is Marty Friedman.

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Marty Friedman's Guitar Technique Analysis

Here I will make an analysis of a very famous guitarist with maybe the most unusual technique. His name is Marty Friedman.

Marty Friedman is one of my personal favorite guitarists, I love his instrumental music with his unique phrasings, signature style. He is a unique musician.

Here I would like to talk about his weird hands position and advantages and disadvantages of his technique. I want to discuss this in way for young guitarists, beginners, who were inspired by Marty’s music and playing, not to copy everything from him, but for them to understand what are Marty’s reasons to use this weird position, what is easier with it and what troubles and difficulties it may cause if you decide to use it yourself.

If you saw a video of Marty playing, you may have noticed, that he bends his right hand a lot:

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Basically, so much, that he is picking strings from under them. It is very untypical for electric guitar players, especially, who play in genres like rock or metal. Let’s remember, how a usual position looks like: you grab your pick with thumb and index finger in way for them to form an “O”. Then you put the edge of your hand onto the bridge.

A position, when a the pick hand is flying in the air, you may see in Eddie Van Hallen’s or Zakk Wild’s fast performances:

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So it is very interesting, why Friedman uses his strange technique almost constantly in his performances. In one of his interviews, the musician said, that he more likes the sound, that he gets with this technique, rather than with any other. In another video, he mentioned, that he doesn’t like the muted sound of the strings, that you get on lower strings, while playing in a usual position:

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So he’s way to play leaves all the strings open.

Well, let’s get to business. This position has two strong disadvantages:

1. Unwanted noise is very hard to control

Marty himself admits it. He says, that on a studio recordings he uses some cheating with this:

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Like putting paper under the strings, or wiping the neck with something. He says, that when he understands, that he is going to do a great take, he really asks someone to come and put a finger onto the open strings to mute the noise, because without it, there is a big chance to mess up the whole thing. if you hit the guitar by accident, or if you touched the wrong string, it all will appear on the tape as a pretty loud buzz.

So, studio recordings are very clear, and there is no point for us to search for the mistakes there. We better will have a look at his live performances and master classes. Here we can notice, that notes are frequently sound sloppy or merge together:

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For example, we may compare him to another legendary guitarist – Jimmy Hendrix. He also used to play solos almost with strumming motions, but he used to mute all the unwanted stuff with his thumb on a neck hand and with the index finger, so, his solos were clean and sounded cool, when he strummed through the muted strings, this was his personal style.

Of course, this won’t work with Marty Freedman, as he does some passages, that demand a lot of stretching, so he isn’t able to put the thumb above the neck – it’s impossible. Also, we may notice in his videos, that when he ends playing, or doing a pause, he puts his forearm onto the strings to mute them. But when playing, his lower strings are left open, and make it sound sloppy sometimes. I personally don’t understand, why he wouldn’t mute the strings with the right thumb. Some guitar players use it. It's pretty easy to mute every string above the pick and feels really natural when you get used to it:

Right Thumb Muting Example

Here is I play a lick from Marty's "Valley of Eternity", using thumb muting:

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It sounds cool too and he can avoid this “metal shred sound” that he doesn’t like and mute only those strings, that don’t sound.

2. This position can cause injuries

I don’t know how long Marty can play in this position, but it is very unnatural, so for guitarists, who are very inspired, and who play lots of hours, there is a big risk to hurt the hand by damaging nerves ( tunnel syndrome ) or bundles from stretching them in the wrist.

This problem is similar to the one, which appears after a long sitting behind a computer. When your hands stuck in an unusual position for a long time and after you get up you can’t bend the wrists without discomfort feelings. I war my students a lot about this: you should understand, that if you play a lot in some position and it becomes uncomfortable, or painful, you just can get an injury. So, when you practice at home, watch for your hands to be in maximally natural position, that is closest to relax position without any overbends, kinks, tension and so on. This will make your playing much tougher as you will be forced to pay more energy for every motion, and so, you won’t be able to play or practice for a long time. And another thing, your playing will become uncomfortable and if you leave it like this, it will eventually lead you to an injury. I don’t keep a point to scare you, but there really were cases, when guitarists played through tension, or even pain and ended up with a surgery on the wrist, after which he wasn’t able to play anymore. So always keep your head on, while playing. It is better to go to a guitar teacher for him to just say if you are doing things correct or not. Is your position correct, or do you have a mistake that will remind of itself later, when you will be trying to speed up or something.

If you want to know if your position is correct, you are doing it right, you won’t get hurt, if nothing can stop you from getting faster, you are welcome to our guitar lessons in Moscow, so I could help you and give instant feedback about your playing and mistakes.

If you know any guitarists with an unusual technique, write his or her name in comments below, and I will do more analyses in the future.

About the author:

Pasha Bocharov - professional musician and guitar instructor in his city Moscow. Visit his lessons to improve your guitar playing skills.

30 comments sorted by best / new / date

    very interesting article. another one with aquite strange way of holding the pick is George Lynch. he streches his fingers so much that I cannot understando how he won't hurt his nerves playing this way.  take a look:
    That kind of stretch just increases tension in the hand, so you will be tired much quickly. Don't think it will hurt you. But it's better to keep fingers as much as possible close to natural relaxed position
    i play like that, the reason i do so was to prevent my hand from tensing up, so let free the other 3 finger
    I don't think it's that uncommon to stretch the fingers while holding the pick. I'm pretty sure I've seen Chris Impellitteri doing that often, though I've not been able to find any proof of this right now. I like to hold the pick with three finger, closing the ring finger, and resting my pinky on the pickguard, pretty much Jason Becker's style:
    That's not that weird. I played like that for my first few years, practicing up to 8 hours a day and there was never any pain or damage. Later I learned hybrid picking so my fingers started naturally curling up, but there was no difference otherwise.
    I couldn't find a better pic, but sometimes his fingers look really streched and the way way he holds the pick, with only the tip of his fingers, make it look pretty uncormfortable. 
    Honestly, I can't enjoy watching him just because of this. It's so awkward and weird looking. It just doesn't feel right. I'm kinda like that guy with the cross in the first picture lol. it reminds me of... THE CLAAAAAW!!
    russian punctuation. when you writing in english, but put commas as in russian 
    Marty is truly a black sheep in the world of guitar... I've attempted to play with his technique just to get the feel for it, but it has been a total disaster! I really can't tell why he chose to learn that way... BTW, nice analysis you did. Congrats, mate!
    " I personally don’t understand, why he wouldn’t mute the strings with the right thumb. " I personally don't understand why someone would mute strings using the side of his thumb. Don't most shredders and technical guys mute strings using the lower side of the palm of the hand, lightly resting on the bridge?
    That is a palm mute, a technique that only partially mutes the strings for a chunky sound. Resting the bottom of the thumb on the strings that you aren't intending to play results in 0 vibrations and unwanted sound.
    You are supposed to mute the strings you are not playing, not mute the strings you are in fact playing (palm muting).
    Yes most do that But it was invented as technique for rhythm playing It's harder to mute unwanted sounds on solos this way But it's the most popular way Thumb muting 100 times easier for solos
    Yngwie doesn't do it. Eric Johnson doesn't do it. I frankly can't imagine playing fast and muting using my thumb. 
    In the end I think that it's most important to hold your hand in a way that feels natural to you. I actually kinda have the same picking technique as Marty Friedman. Right from the beginning when I picked up guitar, this hand position always felt very natural for me. I would say that the biggest advantage for me is that this hand position caused me to be an economy picker right from the start.  The thing about unwanted noises is very true tho...
    I'be relearned a lot of things that feeled natural for me as a beginner When I relearned many of them became even more natural ) So the technique developing through experience And not everything you want to do from beginning is natural because you don't have enough experience to judge I've seen many students who wanted to hold guitar in other hand nevertheless they were not left handed