Tips for Speed Picking

This is a small guide to make life a little easier when tackling high speed alternate picking.

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Ultimate Guitar
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DISCLAIMER: I don't claim to be a guitar teacher, nor am I an expert on the mechanics behind alternate picking. I am just a regular guy sharing some stuff I've figured out to help out those who are interested in faster picking.

Hello and thank you for taking the time to check out this lesson. This is by no means a definitive guide. It is also not a "do this and you'll get faster" lesson, but tips to help you out, if you have trouble with fast alternate picking.

Hope you enjoy!

The Pick

Here it is important that we choose the right tool for the job, as the right hand is what makes it all happen. Pick choice is largely a matter of personal preference. However, for speed picking, I would recommend avoiding picks thinner than 1mm, as these are a little too flexible, which can throw off your hand coordination. I personally find picks in the 1mm-2mm range work best. A sharp tip can also help minimise the force you need to apply. Again, use whatever you're most comfortable with.

The Grip

Things do not change much here. A classic thumb-index pick grip will do - with a twist: leave some of your thumb (about halfway into the nail) sticking out. You will get better leverage this way.

The Pick Attack

Here's an exercise I do to warm up my right hand: I take a note, any note, and I start picking slowly, gradually increasing the speed, with unaltered volume, until I start to produce a tremolo picking sound. It is important to apply only as much force as is necessary to make the note ring out clearly. Any more will be inefficient at high speeds. Finally, be aware of how the pick moves. Do not let it bounce left and right, pick from the wrist, and keep your movements economical. A relatively light touch is one of the major aspects of fast playing, as players such as Yngwie Malmsteen and Paul Gilbert can attest.

The Tone

I find that it is a good idea to pair up speed picking with a tone that has a fluid quality, as the continuous pick strokes can make the produced sound rather mechanical. I personally like to use the neck pickup, with a sizeable amount of gain. You can either use a high gain setting on your amp, or dial in a moderate amount of gain with a clean boost out front. Don't overdo it, though: excessive gain will overcompress your sound and make your playing sound more like noise than a rapid succession of notes. When practicing, you'll want to use a pure, clean or a mildly distorted tone that does not hide your mistakes. Also, I would suggest to turn off most effects, if you do use a lot. Effects such as delay and reverb, while useful to "fill in the gaps" in slower, more spaced out playing, will muddy up the sound should the speed increase. Either dial those back or switch them off. Same goes for flanger and phase effects.

A Simple Exercise

Here is an exercise I do to warm up. This is done without a metronome.
E|------5-6-8-6-5-----------5-6-8-etc.|
B|5-6-8-----------8-6-5-6-8-----------|
G|------------------------------------|
D|------------------------------------|
A|------------------------------------|
E|------------------------------------|
Start off slowly, and once you feel comfortable, go a little faster. Repeat until you can no longer keep your hands in sync.

Conclusion

Thank you for staying with me throughout this lesson. If there is something I forgot to mention, or I got something wrong, let me know in the comments below and I will answer as soon as possible. Thanks again and happy practicing!

23 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    pomplamoose
    Id also suggest emphasising when playing relatively fast, it keeps you in the rhythm but to train its good to keep the pattern but change the rhythm, as i tend to practise more with drum loops, than with the methronome. When playing to a drum loop you can check your emphasis and the rhythmics may help you to probably change your emphasis and come up with a newer pattern, so it becomes: 1) fun; 2) a better practice; 3) fun again.
    Ninmah
    Good tips. For me, play faster is about to find a way to connect the “energy of the two hands”, to create a way to exert the correctly pressure (in both hands) without precluding your wrists and cause unwanted tension. Reach a “fluid thing”, natural.I always observe and test several angles and inclinations of hands, arms, forearms, wrists and the pick, aiming to find the best way to play.
    CostasNoir
    So true. Playing fast should eventually feel easy. I haven't seen a shredder struggle.
    kasrafallen
    i tried about 80 styles of picking and found out : if you want to improve your picking skills, find your own particular style. first you need to find a good place to rest your wrist , forearm or whatever you use as a backrest to get a good sound and good handling on all strings. then find a good way to hold your pick and try different modules and styles like "fast one string up and down stroke pickings" and "string skipping with all the strings". (its a hardest part) there are some people with more than 4 picking styles for every possible technic. and some with only 1 style that can handle all the types.
    boooysti
    The song Chunk Blower by Cattle Decapitation is a great song to practice with.
    TheNameOfNoone
    So in a nutshell: >take any pick you like >grab the pick >practice slowly >practive on a clean setting >practice lightly >heres a warm up exercise >conclusion chapter with no conclusion at all
    TimGilbert
    >try to avoid very thin picks >A sharp tip can help, but use what you're comfortable with >Leave part of your thumb overhanging to get more leverage >Here's a drill, use your wrist and try to keep volume consistent. Extra force will hinder you >use a fluid, soft tone >remove or minimize tone effects you may be using FTFY, but you've certainly let everyone know how advanced you are! You must be proud.
    readypembroke
    Two picks I recommend would either a Jazz III pick or Tortex Jazz.
    ramon.polidura
    what size are the Jazz III and how do they feel? thick? heavy? Tortex Jazz are really good as well.
    CostasNoir
    Jazz 3's, and in general picks that have that shape (such as the Gravity Sunrise), are in my opinion THE pick to use for precision playing. The small size and sharp tip give you extra accuracy, clarity and snap. The standard Jazz 3 Dunlop makes is 1.38mm thick, which is quite fat, but not cumbersome due to the small size. I personally prefer the black ones, the Stiffos, due to their attack. Once you go black, you never go back
    CostasNoir
    It is obvious that you do not need any help with this, so why did you comment? Just to say "I know more than you, so don't dare to offer advice"?
    sweathog14
    It's good to have the basics reiterated to people. It's the very basics that most of us ignore. Good job. And screw that clown.
    bananu7
    1mm is way too hard for a precise picking for me. I use pretty much only Tortex picks at either green (0.88mm) or yellow (0.76mm) variants, and for me that's a sweet spot. Incidentally, I've seen a video of Paul Gilbert shredding with the yellow one, so I guess the "too flexible" myth is busted.
    CostasNoir
    Hey, whatever floats your boat - I've even seen people pick ridiculously fast using one of their fingernails (Chris Zoupa does this a lot, I think)! I'm just saying that generally, thicker picks are more suited to fast playing. That doesn't mean anything else is useless - but it is a good place to start.