Tremolo Picking

Tremolo picking is a fast technique, where you play a note in 16th or 32nd notes in a set rhythm.

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Some people say that it is "playing as fast as you can" but that is not true. Tremolo picking can be difficult especially when you adding other techniques such as string skips, sweeps, and hammer on/pull offs. Tremolo picking can be seen in tabs as this.
E|-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-2-2-2-2-2-2-2-2-3-3-3-3-3-3-3-3----------------------
B|----------------------------------------------------------------------
G|----------------------------------------------------------------------
D|----------------------------------------------------------------------
A|----------------------------------------------------------------------
E|----------------------------------------------------------------------
The picking must be tight and in rhythm. Usually, you will see tremolo picking in sets of 4 or 8 note sets. This IS NOT the only way. In fact, I made a riff using tremolo picking using triplets, and it still works. The first thing to do is play the example above in 4th notes. When your ready, go into 8ths, then into 16ths. The idea is to try and stay in time. You must use a pick if you want to go fast when you first start. Practice holding your pick correctly because if you hold it incorrectly, it may be difficult doing things like string skips while tremolo picking. Now, the first time I heard of tremolo picking it was from Emperor's album, Into The Nightside Eclipse on there first track Into the Infinity of Thoughts. The beginning of that song uses tremolo picking, with large string skips, and is pretty difficult to pull off.
E|-----------------0-0-0-0----------|-------------------0-0-0-0----------|
B|----------------------------------|------------------------------------|
G|----------------------------------|------------------------------------|
D|---------2-2-2-2----------2-2-2-2-|----------2-2-2-2-----------2-2-2-2-|
A|-0-0-0-0--------------------------|-0-0-0-0----------------------------|
E|----------------------------------|------------------------------------|
 
 |----------------------------------|----------------------------------|
 |------------------0-0-0-0---------|------------------0-0-0-0---------|
 |----------------------------------|----------------------------------|
 |----------------------------------|----------------------------------|
 |--0-0-0-0-2-2-2-2---------2-2-2-2-|--0-0-0-0-2-2-2-2---------2-2-2-2-|
 |----------------------------------|----------------------------------|
This is just an example so I won't show the entire thing, but feel free to listen to the song if you have not yet heard it yet. String skipping might seem easy, but when you jumping 3 whole strings, it can be extremely confusing and frustrating to do it and keep in time. Practice makes perfect, so start slowly like before, and slowly work up. Most of the time, string skips will not involve 3 strings, so start string skips using both 1 and 2 string skip such as this example.
        1-string skip example             2-string skip example  
   
E|---------------------------------|--------------------------|
B|---------------------------------|--------------------------|
G|-----------------5-5-5-5-3-3-3-3-|--------------------------|
D|-0-0-0-0-3-3-3-3-----------------|-----------------4-4-4-4--|
A|---------------------------------|--------------------------|
E|---------------------------------|-0-0-0-0-3-3-3-3----------|
Now, usually tremolo picking refers to one single note. But in cases it can be used in chords as well. In Mayhem's famous song Freezing Moon, the guitarist Euronymous uses power chords in a tremolo picking fashion with unusual chord progressions.
E|--------------------------------------------------------------------|
B|--------------------------------------------------------------------|
G|-----------------------------------9-9-9-9-9-9-9-9------------------|
D|-2-2-2-2-2-2-2-2--8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8--9-9-9-9-9-9-9-9--8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8-|
A|-2-2-2-2-2-2-2-2--8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8--7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7--8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8-|
E|-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0--6-6-6-6-6-6-6-6-------------------6-6-6-6-6-6-6-6-|
 
This can also be seen in the song Under A Funeral Moon by Darkthrone. 
 
e|-----------------------------------------------------------------|
B|-----------------------------------------------------------------|
G|-----------------------------------------------------------------|
D|-----------------8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8--9-9-9-9-9-9-9-9--8-8-8-8-8-8---|
A|2-2-2-2-2-2-2-2--6-6-6-6-6-6-6-6--7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7--6-6-6-6-6-6---|
E|0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0--------------------------------------------------|
Remember! These two songs are played using 16th notes! Tremolo picking is not nearly as good if you cannot stay on rhythm. Sure, playing fast is cool, but if you can play fast and stay on rhythm, then your getting somewhere. Tremolo picking is extremely useful when writing black metal and other metal, and maybe used in other genres, however I have only seen it in black metal. Good luck to all of you and have fun!

24 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    Paddles
    meh. "this is x. here's an example of x. practice x slowly and work your way up and you'll get it!" why the hell can't someone write a useful article for once?
    jpk525
    Tremelo picking is simply up and down picking with intensity as equal as possible to give off an effect of playing faster. You can tremolo in 8th notes, 16th notes, or 32 notes. Its all about making the up and down stroke attack as equal as possible. Does this help?
    rustyspliff
    Tremolo picking is playing as 16th notes or 32nd notes? I'm finally getting to around 120bpm w/ 16th notes, but if it's 32nd notes I have a long long ways to go.
    jpk525
    I think tremelo picking is best described as alternate picking with no accents. Your upstrokes and downstrokes should be as equal in intensity as possible. Even at a slower pace, the equal strokes will give off the effect of sounding faster. You still play the number of notes in the song though. Instead of writing them all out though, you use the tremolo symbol to specify how the notes should be played. For example (4/4 measure), you can have quarter notes and write over them three slashes ///, which will mean tremolo pick note rhythm. I have not found a good explaintion, so what I wrote is my conclusion. Any thoughts people?
    jpk525
    in the theory, why would someone write out all the notes to be played (tremelo picking) rather than using the tremelo symbol? Difference?
    MC Lukesta
    A big thing that hasn't been mentioned is that you need to relax your wrist and not tense it.
    sighman
    Fantastic, this is a great help! I've been puzzling over how to play Black Metal style guitar for ages, I didn't realise the technique was so easy! Now I've just got to get a steady rhythm going...
    ratracekid111
    Paddles wrote: meh. "this is x. here's an example of x. practice x slowly and work your way up and you'll get it!" why the hell can't someone write a useful article for once?
    agreed.;
    The Beige
    its not just black metal. muse use it too, so does van halen (eruption, i think he makes his guitar sound like an ice cream truck)
    morganbm92
    Tremolo picking is the key element in Death metal and other forms of that Genre. Melodic Death Metal like The Black Dahlia Murder...
    am529
    pretty useless lesson. I was looking for info on how to perform the technique, not what it is.
    gdawg943
    this is good, but to fully grasp the concept you should watch it...here's what worked for me:
    clwnz
    Billy Kochase wrote: so is tremolo picking where you use one note a bunch of times really fast
    No, this is tremolo picking where you play super freaking fast.
    km4sound
    nice definition of tremolo picking... I use trem picking in 2 of our songs and one thing I can say for sure is try to only touch the pick to the strings enough to make them move. The more you push them, the more they move around and then you won't know where to pick. Also, as a side note, tremolo picking is not exclusive to "black" metal. For lack of a better example System of a Down uses it in their song "CUBErt". This and other advanced techniques are nothing new.
    FlyPanAm
    this is just an alternate picking lesson, the two are much different, there is a completely different technique to tremolo picking...