Many of my students and YouTube fans have asked me "How do I get faster?" and "What are the secrets?". I used to tell people: "Stand in front of the mirror with a glass of Tomato juice, close your eyes and say "Christopher Lambert" 10 times. He will appear in full Highlander attire and sprinkle you with magic dust and you will play like Yngwie Malmsteen in a few weeks..." and when I realised that took too long to say I started saying "Just practice real hard with a metronome and build up your speed slowly," but unfortunately that was too vague and people just kept asking me the same question over and over again. Today I want to give you my 2 cents and a couple of tips, tricks and misconceptions I'd like to politely smash into the ground. SO... Here's my top 5 shredding tips to increase speed and efficiency.
Tip 1: The Radius of Your Picking MotionThe "Radius" picking motion is referring to how far you swing your pick back and forth between alternate picks. The larger the radius of this pendulum like moment, the longer time you'll have between picks which will ultimate reduce your speed. Let's play through a simple 10 note shred lick in "A" minor (see diagram below).
This isn't a particularly complex shred lick, but if your picking hand is doing lengthy superfluous movements then this will greatly decrease your chances at shredding like a mofo. Try looping this 10 note lick and really concentrate on how far your pick is going back and forth between notes (you my just want to look at your fretting hand the whole time). Make a conscious effort to reduce how far past the string you pick in both directions and reduce the size/length of the radius on your picking motion pendulum.
Tip 2: Shredding With Chromatics + PentatonicsOne of the main problems in the early shredding stages is that people generally want to shred diatonic 3 note per string scales and patterns. This would all be well and good but that often involves triplets and changing pick directions on string changes. Let me show you a typical alternate picked shred pattern in "A" minor with picking directions (see diagram below).
You'll notice that there's a triplet of quavers per string and on each string change we change direction. In the early stages of alternate picking (leading to shredding) this can cause a lot of problems, one of which is getting used to the sensation of an up pick on a string change, or a big slow down mid shred to do a really shabby economy pick* (if you are unfamiliar with the term I'll explain it in tip 3). In the early stages I recommend people practice 2 note per string pentatonics and 4 note per string chromatic scales. This means that every string will be play an even number of notes and every string will start with a down stroke. Let's take a look at a simple pentatonic run in "A" minor (see diagram below).
As you can see each string change starts with a down stroke. You can just concentrate on your shredding and speed building as the starting on a new string with a down pick should feel quite natural. I dare say this would've been the Zakk Wylde method to building speed in the early stages and he still shreds pretty hard using 2 note per string pentatonic licks. I want to try the same idea with a descending chromatic lick starting and ending on an "E" note (see diagram below).
Once again the string change starts with a down stroke and we have an even number of picks per string before we change to a new string. Keep playing both of these types of scales and get comfortable building a good picking pace. I would urge you guys to get very well acquainted with these concepts before attempting any tricky triplets, groups of 5 or 7s!
Tip 3: Avoid Economy Picking (In the Early Stages)DISCLAIMER: This is tip is merely my personal opinion/advice... It's isn't right, wrong or gospel. If this causes you to get a sand butt crack/vagina please just have a shower before getting on a personal attack high horse. Any unjust comments or attacks will be retorted in petty manner... It is most likely I will resort predominantly to using childish name calling.
Firstly what is economy picking? It's basically like a mini sweep to help transition between strings. For example if we ended a string on a downstroke the next string you'd play would also start on a downstroke. Let me show you a note per string "G" major scale using economy picking (see diagram below).
You'll notice every string picks down, up, down. We end a string on a down and start the next string on a down. This is a great technique when used correctly, however I have found that it greatly confuses young shredders in the early stages and can really stifle their progress and initial speed goals. If we avoid economy picking in the early stages we're going to have to get used to doing an up pick on string changes when we use 3 note per string patterns. Take a look at the 3 most common 3 note per string formations with a string change (see diagram below).
Practice all of these to make sure you are confident with string changing with an up pick. This kind of drilling is very stylistically similar to Paul Gilbert's shredding style, and I assume he would've put many hours practice in drilling these concepts over and over to get to his magnificent god like shred ability! I find his alternate picking technical, evenly dynamic, majestic and manly (kind of like Antonio Banderas' sword fighting style in "The Mask of Zorro").
Tip 4: Finding the Pulse When Practicing With a MetronomeMost students when learning to shred will be told by someone they look up to to "practice with a metronome," which is essentially great advice. It's also pretty vague as there's multiple kinds of pulses we might find ourselves trying to shred or play at. You could have 3 different shred exercises varying in a different amount of notes per second, but be practicing all of them at the same BPM (beats per minute) on your metronome... Confused? You should be! For the next part of the article get out a metronome and play through these exercises at the pace I recommend or slower!
"A" Minor Pentatonic w/ Quaver pulse 80BPM
Keep the metronome at 80BPM or slower. For each click play 2 notes (2 quavers per click). The key word here is PULSE. Make sure you are locking in with the pulse and playing the appropriate amount of notes per click. Let's a try a similar idea and practice a semiquaver pulse over the chromatic lick from earlier.
"E" Minor Chromatic w/ Semiquaver pulse 80BPM
Once again keep the metronome at 80BPM and if you're struggling slow it down. For each click play 4 notes (4 semiquavers per click). Once again make sure you are locking in with the pulse and playing the appropriate amount of notes per click. Let's a try a similar idea and practice a triplet quaver pulse over a common rock triplet pentatonic lick.
"A" Minor Pentatonic lick w/ Triplet quaver pulse 80BPM
We'll still want to keep the metronome at 80BPM or slower. We're now going to play 3 notes (3 triplet quaver notes or a PINE-AP-PLE pulse) per click. This is the trickiest emphasis to get your head around as counting in 3s does feel a bit strange. If you can't make sense of it put down your guitar and turn on the metronome and try and say "Pineapple" every click. Once you get used to evenly distributing the 3 syllable word (PINE-AP-PLE) over every click, you're ready to start playing licks and scales with a triplet pulse. Once again, we can be thankful for the awesome power of sweet and delicious summer fruit.
Tip 5: Pick ChoiceThis one might seem obvious but you might find you have a specific pick you use to help you with scale practice. This is entirely related to your comfort and preference as a guitarist. You'll need to mess around with the variables of size, whether it be the standard or mini jazz style pick and you'll also want to try multiple different kinds of thickness (which will vary the firmness or flimsiness of the pick). Try multiple combinations and variables till you find the right pick for you… And if you're a rare breed like me and it works for you, you can always file a finger nail into a pick.
Bonus Tip!: Tone and ContextLastly, I want to talk about tone and distortion. This is often talked about. I've heard people say "Always practice scales/runs clean!" which has some merit but I would suggest getting a feel for practicing with both settings... However if you're trying to emulate an aggressive technical metal solo and the original recording is drenched in distortion, it's likely you'll want to emulate the player in the band's tone to get as close to covering the original as possible... Thus I think it can be detrimental practicing a solo clean/dry when it's needs to be played with distortion and it's important for guitarists to practice tidying up excess noise and sloppiness when playing with distortion.
It's all about context really. It's the same reason I never practice jazz with distortion. I'm usually listening to a player with mild over drive or a clean reverb setting and I will try emulate that to be stylistically accurate with the piece I'm learning. Have the right tone won't necessarily grant you magic speed, however it's a more accurate way to build towards the speeds and sounds you desire.
I hope this has been informative and entertaining. Peace out.
By Chris Zoupa