Shredding Tips & Tricks to Improve Speed with Chris Zoupa

Hey guys. Here is my first attempt to answer the age old FAQ "How do I get faster?". I hope these tips and tricks help you all find the shredder within.

Ultimate Guitar
Since the dawn of time man has yearned for speed... The invention of the wheel, jetpacks, roller-skates and laxatives just to name a few. Since the '70s guitar speed is on most guitarists mind's as if it's the be all and end all of existence, the safe guard in all life or death situations and directly corresponds with the length and breadth of man's genitalia.  

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 Motion

The "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 + Pentatonics

One 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 Metronome

Most 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 Choice

This 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 Context

Lastly, 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.

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By Chris Zoupa

28 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Nice tips, however I think that the first and foremost tip should always be to practice rhythm and timing. Speed is, in the end, only a byproduct of accuracy. And I've been into economy picking as long as I've played guitar, and really getting it right at the start has helped me a lot. So, I guess my version of tip #3 would be that you should work on economy picking as soon as possible instead of being afraid of it. Just my two cents. You had some great tips, good job.
    Chris Zoupa
    I think economy picking works for some but it has confused a lot of my students. However if you started early and it made sense to you there must be a way to teach or correct it so that beginner's can use it effectively. Shit man now you've got me thinking! Thanks for the comments and feedback man. Maybe I'll try and work on economy picking and usage in a vid!
    I would agree with Chris here, economy picking is really pretty useless at the beginning. You can achieve same speed doing alternate picking more easily. Economy picking is only good when you are at the limit of speed of alternate picking which will happen probably never
    To each his own I guess The correct way to learn and practice is different for everyone. To me, economy picking has been way worth it.
    The progression of your speed will certainly plateau if you only use alternate picking. My playing got a lot faster once I started implementing economy picking.
    absolutely agree trying to learn economy picking from the start is like wearing concrete shoes to go swimming it's gonna defeat you.
    very good fundementals i always look forward to your video lessons and insight! Keep killing it bro!
    Chris, I think you should come out with a Book/DVD combo. I'd buy it.
    Awesome Chris, it was repeatedly playing simple stuff like this and licks from both of Paul Gilbert's Intense Rock videos that really transformed my playing. This stuff does work if you put the time in. One element that would have helped me back in the day is to let your wrist rotate, as opposed to staying neutral and then raising the pick over strings for string changes. I read an article years ago in some guitar magazine where he said never angle your pick towards the floor or ceiling because it would make one stroke direction easier and the other much harder. So I wanted to ask you what you thought about it. If you've seen what Troy Grady is doing with his Cracking the Code series, the gist of it is when you leave the strings on an upstroke, like you would on every string of the pentatonic exercise you have there, you angle the ass end of your pick towards the floor. Then after the upstroke your pick is in the air away from the strings and ready to strike anywhere without having to raise the pick up and over any string. For strings you leave on downstrokes you'd just do the opposite and angle towards the ceiling. I watched some of his slo mo footage of guys like Batio, Morse, Stern, and Cooley and I slowed it down even further. They ALL are doing this! If you go back and watch John McLaughlin his wrist is rotating constantly and angling the pick depending on what strokes he's leaving strings on. Paul Gilbert. Everybody. It's freaking me out and is taking my playing to a new place where I'm more relaxed, and I was wondering since you use your nail if you find yourself doing the same motions?
    Great video, Chris. I'd like to add that speed is relative. Playing a chromatic scale upwards is easier than downwards. Playing a string-skipping lick, leaving out 2 strings or more, becomes impossible after a certain speed.
    Crazy Redd
    Nice lesson Chris, I can play a lot of solo's because of your solo lessons. Though I like these lessons more because they let you practice the technique involvind in the solos I say: MORE!
    I found that the best chromatic exercise is actually playing The Flight of the Bumblebee. Starting slow and going up to the 170bpm and then up even more if you want to, always playing it clean and picking every note.
    Cool lesson, as always. I don't really have a need to play super fast, but I checked this lesson out anyway, since your lessons are usually great. Keep it up!
    i have a question... this is one that is rarely answered... i hold my pick, well as some say "wrong" some say "different", i say... ****in weird! i pinch it between a combination of my pointer and middle fingers and my thumb... its simpily how i learned. this makes it a lot harder to do pinch harmonics ive noticed... so i have been working on holding it differently... but its a royal pain in the ass... so... does holding the pick like this effect my speed any?
    Sir Zoupa, ive been learning from your videos for a long time and jus recently noticed your tips (etc.) on this site. ive gotta say youve got a definate PIZAZZ for teaching guitar. im so thankful that youve decided to share your knowledge with us. THANK YOU, SIR!!