Here Is Why Your Guitar Picking Speed Isn't Improving

If you aren't yet playing at the speed of at least 200 bpm in 16th notes (but REALLY want to), then this article will greatly help you to get closer to this goal.

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If you aren't yet playing at the speed of at least 200 bpm in 16th notes (but REALLY want to), then this article will greatly help you to get closer to this goal. Good News And Bad News First, the good news. You CAN develop fast picking speed on guitar, if you have fully functioning limbs and a desire to succeed. More great news: you DO NOT have to practice 8 hours a day to develop this skill. However, improving your guitar technique very often requires you to work on refining some seemingly simple (fundamental) parts of your playing. For many this may seem like bad news, because practicing such basics doesn't seem fun (no matter how effective it may be), and so those who ignore such advice often continue to struggle without knowing the reason why. If you have been practicing your picking technique for awhile but haven't yet seen the results you were hoping for, then this article will help you with improving 4 very important areas of picking that most guitarists struggle with. This is not a complete list of possible challenging elements of guitar picking technique (I will address more of them in a future article), but you will improve your picking speed on guitar by following the advice from this article. The Answers I will describe below several very common problems that many guitarists have (and that I have had also in the past) with their picking speed. I will also show you how you can apply the advice I give in this article to your playing. If you want me to show you on video how to correctly practice and apply the ideas in this article to improve your guitar picking speed, watch a (totally free) guitar picking speed video lesson at my website that is available to my free newsletter subscribers. Otherwise, I will do my best to explain these technical points to you using text alone. Using A Thin Pick. All great guitar players prefer different picks in terms of size, shape and material (this is largely a matter of preference). However ALL of the fastest guitarists use very thick picks (at least 1mm thick, and in some cases 2 mm or more is used). Picks that are thinner than 1mm can be fine for strumming chords and other types of playing, but they won't work for playing fast. They simply aren't strong enough to handle very fast playing. Because the pick bends when you play a note, it takes an extra fraction of a second for it to come back to its natural point of rest and these accumulated delays (from each pick stroke) add up and make it impossible to play really fast. So if you are analyzing the type of pick you are using, remember that the most important dimension of your pick is its thickness, rather than its size, shape, tip, or the material it is made out of. Of course, these other things are also important, but they make a much smaller impact on your overall progress in building guitar picking speed than thickness does. Not angling the pick in the most efficient way for speed picking Although there is clearly more than one correct way to angle the pick for playing on the guitar, when it comes to building speed, some ways are more right than others. If your pick isn't angled correctly towards the headstock of the guitar, then you end up using much more picking motion than is necessary to play (which of course limits your maximum guitar speed). The angle of the pick to the strings determines how easy it will be for your pick to slice through the strings and how much extra movement will result from each pick stroke. Many guitarists hold the pick too close to perpendicular on the strings and make the playing more difficult for themselves than it needs to be. For maximum speed, the appropriate pick angle needs to be about 45 degrees towards the head of the guitar, but almost no angle at all up and down (in relation to the strings). Angling the pick too far up or down will make one type of pick stroke (upstroke or downstroke) easier to play and the other more difficult to play. This works fine for sweep picking or rhythm guitar playing, but for regular picking through scales, the angle needs to be more neutral (since both upstrokes and downstrokes occur with much greater frequency). Of course there are many variations for the ways you can angle the pick which work great for specific musical contexts, and of course there are some really fast players who hold the pick differently from what I wrote above (Shawn Lane being one very famous exception, among several others). However, the vast majority of the greatest players do follow the approach above, and if you are still struggling with your own picking technique, I recommend highly applying it to your playing, because it is one of the methods that has been proven to work for a lot of really great players. If you are not 100% clear on what I wrote above about angling your pick, watch this free guitar picking video lesson and my explanations there will help you to see clearly what proper picking angles should look like for fast picking. Not holding the pick firmly enough OR holding the pick too tightly Many guitar players mistakenly think that they need to hold the pick very lightly in order to pick fast. The reality is that if you do this, your pick will likely fall out of your hand as you speed up. On the other extreme, if you attempt to grip it too tightly, your entire arm will become so tense that you will not be able to play well (or play fast). Rather than thinking about how much pressure to apply to the pick, find a position where the pick does not move at all in your hand, while at the same time you don't have to apply a lot of pressure to hold it in place. One of the ways of doing this is to overlap your thumb over the pick as you are holding it. This will keep the pick very secure in your hand and won't require a lot of pressure to hold it in place. Also, I have found that using a large pick helps with finding the ideal way to hold it without applying a lot of extra force to do so and I recommend to try this out yourself. Not playing with good articulation This problem comes from the belief that you must play with as little tension as possible ALL the time in order to play fast. As a result, many guitarists develop the habit of picking everything with a very light touch and when they try to play faster, they are able to apply even less power to each note. This means that the faster you play, the less your playing is heard. Eventually you will reach a speed where your pick doesn't even make contact with the string. Fortunately, the solution to this problem is rather simple. You need to begin putting greater focus in to this area of your playing even when you practice slowly, and you will see great results. Remember also that the goal isn't just to pick the strings harder, but you also need to avoid accumulating tension in your picking hand as you play. This is possible to do by consciously relaxing before and after playing each note. If you want to learn more about this idea, watch this video about building guitar speed. Most of the truly great virtuoso players have the ability to playing fast and articulate at the same time...here is a short list of a few names. Listen to their playing and compare the sound of their pick attack to yours: Paul Gilbert Yngwie Malmsteen Rusty Cooley Shawn Lane Al DiMeola It doesn't matter if you like their style of playing or not (since the topic here is strictly about guitar picking technique). Listen to how strong their pick attack is, even when they play fast. If you can detect a noticeable difference between their articulation and yours, then you have identified a very important source of your frustrations with your picking speed. Think carefully about the points in this article and apply them to your playing. You will see great results when you do! If you are unclear about any part of what I explained above and want to see me do it on video, watch this free guitar picking video lesson on my website that I send to all my newsletter subscribers. About Mike Philippov Mike Philippov is a professional virtuoso guitarist, music composer and instructor. He is also a co-author of several instructional products, numerous articles and other free instructional resources available on http://mikephilippov.com 2010 Mike Philippov. All Rights Reserved.

80 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    Sjusovaren
    The part about thin picks is bull, Paul Gilbert uses extremely thin picks and he's a monster.
    guitarguy28469
    The idea of talking about pick thicknesses seems to be an invalid argument. you just need to find what suits you!!!
    dannycruz
    Handym4n wrote: Mike Philippov, you are absolutely full of shit. "However ALL of the fastest guitarists use very thick picks." How could such a "professional virtuoso guitarist" as yourself make such a broad, uneducated, stereotypical, and ridiculous statement? I don't even like shred guitar, but I am well aware that Paul Gilbert and Buckethead (and I'm sure MANY more) use medium-gauged picks in the .70s. Pick gauge, string gauge, and even what guitar you use is personal preference. You are an IDIOT to tell someone that because they aren't using what you say to use that they aren't "fast". Maybe you should go give Paul Gilbert a lesson if you're so confident about your stream of bullshit you spewed out here. You should be ashamed of yourself.
    Ummm... Dude? Look at yourself. Why the heck are you scolding others like that, when you clearly need to be ashamed of YOURSELF. Seriously, this could only be detrimental to a beginner who doesn't know any better. And guess what? Recommending a beginner to go for thicker picks is probably not such a bad idea. Whether or not it's 100% correct, and whether or not Paul Gilbert and the mother of all guitar players uses thin picks. It's disrespectful people like you who should stay away from public forums. You make us all look bad.
    Astyan
    Handym4n wrote: Mike Philippov, you are absolutely full of shit. "However ALL of the fastest guitarists use very thick picks." How could such a "professional virtuoso guitarist" as yourself make such a broad, uneducated, stereotypical, and ridiculous statement? I don't even like shred guitar, but I am well aware that Paul Gilbert and Buckethead (and I'm sure MANY more) use medium-gauged picks in the .70s. Pick gauge, string gauge, and even what guitar you use is personal preference. You are an IDIOT to tell someone that because they aren't using what you say to use that they aren't "fast". Maybe you should go give Paul Gilbert a lesson if you're so confident about your stream of bullshit you spewed out here. You should be ashamed of yourself.
    So, is there any reason to be that spiteful over a bunch of imprecise yet good willed piece of advice? The fact that you probably lead a shitty life and need to vent it on the Internet isn't a reason to act like a stream of diarrhea on top of a pile of feces. While you are "well aware" that Paul Gilbert uses thin picks, I'm also "well aware" that you didn't write any article to contribute to this website like Mr Philippov has, and for all I know, you're probably yet another piece of utterly mediocre, arrogant teenage douchebag who expresses his frustration of professional player wannabe through random rants on guitar websites. Next time, you'll be well advised to refrain from making such uselessly aggressive comments, because detaining a hypothetical knowledge on shred guitarists' pick preferences doesn't exactly give you any legitimacy in judging a probably flawed yet credible professional musician who actually makes the effort of sharing his knowledge with the less talented.
    thedarkblues06
    mr.moo wrote: Sjusovaren wrote: The part about thin picks is bull, Paul Gilbert uses extremely thin picks and he's a monster. this man speaks truths
    Thirded. I prefer thick picks for speed picking, but I can still use a thin pink.
    thefoldarsoldar
    Sjusovaren wrote: The part about thin picks is bull, Paul Gilbert uses extremely thin picks and he's a monster.
    Paul Gilbert uses the Orange Tortex picks.
    salsawords
    salsawords wrote: thefoldarsoldar wrote: Sjusovaren wrote: The part about thin picks is bull, Paul Gilbert uses extremely thin picks and he's a monster. Paul Gilbert uses the Orange Tortex picks. Those come in different thicknesses.
    Oops. Stupid me. Now I feel like a major dick for correcting you when you were already right. How else can I feed my ego though? Sorry man.
    guitarsftw
    Sjusovaren wrote: The part about thin picks is bull, Paul Gilbert uses extremely thin picks and he's a monster.
    I was gonna say the exact same thing.
    dustjunk
    I don't see anything about music theory in this, yet it's in the music theory category.
    FretboardToAsh
    Typical that the picture that comes with this shows an anchored picking hand. I read the site, and saw what I needed to see. Also, I was not yet aware that being a virtuoso was a profession. I must give credit for the information in here though as most is legit.
    nonukez
    Yay! Posting 3 years later!... While I'm a huge advocate of "using what feels comfortable", it is a generally accepted rule of thumb that thicker picks help playing fast. It's not a coincidence that MOST fast guitarists use thick, pointy picks. While the author shouldn't have made such a definitive statement of "ALL fast guitarists use thick picks", it's not far off, and certainly doesn't warrant him being called an idiot or his advice "BS". It's the same as saying that "the correct way to hold a pick is with the thumb and index finger" is BS because you can come up with examples of professionals (Yngwie, EVH, Marty Friendman, etc) doing otherwise. It's a rule of thumb for a reason, and by definition is NOT an exception-less rule.
    Stevie.L.Ray
    Somebody who speaks sense! Mr Gilbert himself states that using a flexier pick makes it harder for him, but he enjoys the tone more so he takes that over playing ease. People also need to remember he's been playing ridiculous picking licks for over 20 years, a picks thickness isn't going to affect him as much as it would a beginner. Back in Racer X days he would use thick picks and even sharpen them on carpets to smooth them out for less friction when picking, Steve Vai and Satchel from Steel Panther also do this, it must be an 80's thing. This is also something I would recommend, especially with tortex picks, I find with brand new tortex playing on the thicker strings I sound like a wasp having a heart attack cause of my pick angle and and the roundness of the new pick. All personal preference of course
    zObiPhiOn
    And people also forget that there's huge differences between styles. Al di Meola and John McLaughlin shredding on acoustic guitars aren't gonna use the same technique as Malmsteen playing a dowtuned, light stringeg strat through a cranked up marshall.
    The Shroom420
    Sjusovaren wrote: The part about thin picks is bull, Paul Gilbert uses extremely thin picks and he's a monster.
    It depends on how you hold it. If you hold it at the very top, then the author is right, because it can bend more. But if you hold at the bottom, where it has less room to bend, then it won't make a difference on what size pick you use. Although, a thick pick is still better for this
    B_Laudrup
    Using the avidity of UG-Visitors and baiting with Videos (those can only be accessed if the user gives in a valid e-mail) to promote yourself/your website is just ANNOYING and POOR... If you really want to share, then you can easily do it JUST HERE, just like dozens of other fellow guitar players do..
    mr.moo
    Sjusovaren wrote: The part about thin picks is bull, Paul Gilbert uses extremely thin picks and he's a monster.
    this man speaks truths
    Handym4n
    Mike Philippov, you are absolutely full of shit. "However ALL of the fastest guitarists use very thick picks." How could such a "professional virtuoso guitarist" as yourself make such a broad, uneducated, stereotypical, and ridiculous statement? I don't even like shred guitar, but I am well aware that Paul Gilbert and Buckethead (and I'm sure MANY more) use medium-gauged picks in the .70s. Pick gauge, string gauge, and even what guitar you use is personal preference. You are an IDIOT to tell someone that because they aren't using what you say to use that they aren't "fast". Maybe you should go give Paul Gilbert a lesson if you're so confident about your stream of bullshit you spewed out here. You should be ashamed of yourself.
    celticstorm84
    I like the article. It's a lot of stuff I already know from playing but to see it come up like this and written in a way that ties it all together is good...especially for newer players or even people like me that always hit roadblocks with guitar. It's something to pay attention to and it makes sense that I use different types of picks for different playing. Nice work.
    Berryfield
    Good that I prefer thicker picks. First time I hear something positive in that.
    wingedpeople33
    i personally thought it was a fan-****ing-tastic article and mike phillipov has helped open many more doors to my playing. hopefully he reads this and knows that some musicians appreciate all the advice they can get and should be looking for their own individual preference and he is only giving options. and if whoever wrote that long whiny rant about paul gilbert. i'm sure he appreciates your enthusiasm to correct, but laughs at your inability to be educated and professional.
    dasfrazz
    Lol, it's not impossible to speedpick with a thick pick. I can speedpick with a quarter and other pieces of metal or plastic. it's not very good for your strings though
    StratDune
    this article was pretty precise and helpful. i myself use a medium thickness pick and that surely helps. but i could have used more advice on keeping the perfect right hand - left hand co-ordination while picking really fast. that is a problem for me.
    leephan
    Paul Gilbert's signature picks come in different thicknesses so that other players can use them. But he stated on his website that he personally uses the orange Tortex picks, which are .60mm. Anywho, the guy is right in saying that thicker picks are better for fast picking. But of course, if you practice enough with a thin pick, it'll still get you there.
    area5x1
    I found speed picking to be pretty easy to pick up. I've only been playing for 2 years and I can play Vinnie Moore and Tony MacAlpine stuff pretty well. The trick isn't actually "picking" fast, it's string skipping fast. I mean you all can probably already tremolo on one string pretty well, the rest is just transferring that between strings in an instant.
    Wiegraf
    Thick picks are better for fast playing. Just because PAUL GILBERT can tear ass with thin picks doesn't mean that it's better for someone just trying to learn how to shred.
    lespaulmaster
    Nice article Mike! I'm surprised you want to spend you own valuable time helping other guitarists as myself, with you great advice. But I'm glad you do! Just a shame so many wanna be guitar players have nothing better to do than complain! I'm here to learn and just wanted to say thanks for the advice! I know playing at around 45 degrees improves my speed but I thought I was suppose to keep my pick even with the strings. I'll go back to my old ways. Thank!!!
    fretboard12
    paul gilbert use's a 1.0 mm pick, a jazz III is 1.38 mm so there all in the thick range as far as picks go. also if switching from medium or thinner picks they take time to get use to to me they were well worth it.
    ChuckCorbisiero
    Yeah, DiMeola uses Fender mediums. George Benson too Fender Mediums. Jimmy Raney too Fender Mediums. Jazzers but studs no doubt. What's with the b.s.?
    zztestcookie
    Time to debunk the recent internet rumor that thick pointy picks are a necessity. The author mentions Al DiMeola, but Al DiMeola when he was at his best used a standard Fender medium pick. Steve Morse also used a very flexy pick when he was at his peak (Herco nylon) and didn't even use the point, preferring to play with the side of the pick.
    ChuckCorbisiero
    Larry Carlton...Fender teardrop mediums. Howard Roberts.....medium/heavy .80mm Fender picks....discontinued
    ChuckCorbisiero
    Wrong about Carlton. He uses a heavy now. Pat Metheny uses a Fender thin turned around for sure. Ted Nugent....thin. Thinness not really an issue.
    ScumEndorser
    I'm super fast without a pick at all shredding my stringless Rockendocker PanzerGorilla VVT... Who ever's giving a damn shit about what other players do and use and lack will get stuck in their progress sooner or later, that's the key. Sounds easy and superficial, but try not to care about what others are doing just for a week, all you speedmaniacs. No instructional videos, no play-alongs, no imitations. Most music has become boring and unsinspired because of a never-ending wave of (l)imitations.
    FluffCHop
    Um, the number one reason for people not to be speed picking, is firstly - do they even want to? If that's not a firm and dedicated yes then everything else is bullshit, this article included. You have to have a reason for wanting to speed pick, THEN you have to practice, practice practice. If you are not picking as fast as you want to you know why, you know it, I mean come on be honest, it's because you don't practice it enough. Don't kid yourself any great guitarist has hundreds of hours practice behind them and a vision to become better than they are at every step of their lives.
    tgv1975
    Paul Gilbert uses Dunlop Tortex 0.6mm (orange). I guess that's why he's not all that fast... [/sarcasm] VERY importantly, as Gilbert explains, it is not only about speed, but about TONE. Strike a G on the 12th fret third string with a Jazz III, then do the same with a Tortex 0.6mm, using the same pick grip and angle. Listen closely. If you can't tell the difference in TONE (not talking about feel now), you need to work on your ears. The thinner pick opens up the sound without thinning it, the Jazz III yields a darker, mellower tone. It is subtle, but it is there. When you pick at at an angle, striking the string with the edge of the pick, gliding towards its tip (as opposed to striking the string with the actual surface of the pick near the tip), the floppiness of the pick stops mattering all that much -- it's like trying to bend a ruler sideways, it won't give. This entire article can be replaced by four lines: 1. study yourself closely, see what works for you 2. get comfortable 3. take it SLOW, speed is a side-effect of great playing, not the goal 4. PRACTICE As a matter of fact, point number 4 alone is sufficient!
    Randy Johnson
    Thanks Mike for the tips!!! While I don't play at a virtuoso speed I can definitely tell a great difference when using a heavier pick. Makes reaching higher speeds a lot easier for me.
    Kanthras
    "Picks that are thinner than 1mm can be fine for strumming chords and other types of playing, but they won’t work for playing fast. They simply aren’t strong enough to handle very fast playing. Because the pick bends when you play a note, it takes an extra fraction of a second for it to come back to its natural point of “rest” and these accumulated delays (from each pick stroke) add up and make it impossible to play really fast." Wow, where is the research paper where you pulled this from? Quite in-depth info here. Or did you do the research with a high-speed camera yourself? Or are you talking out of your ass? "Although there is clearly more than one correct way to angle the pick for playing on the guitar, when it comes to building speed, some ways are “more right” than others. If your pick isn’t angled correctly towards the headstock of the guitar, then you end up using much more picking motion than is necessary to play" The more you angle your pick, the less you're picking and the more you're scraping. Losing articulation in favour of speed is not a good thing IMO. Ironic, because later you seem to think that articulation is very important. Just practice using the metronome and don't spout pseudo-science BS around and pollute this good site.
    -AnTRaX-
    Picks that are thinner than 1mm can be fine for strumming chords and other types of playing, but they wont work for playing fast. They simply arent strong enough to handle very fast playing. Because the pick bends when you play a note.
    O.O oh... thats why i broke a thin pick when i was playing too fast or perhaps was a cheap pick
    YngwieLi
    For 7 years now I've been trying to shred like Malmsteen using a thin pick (.46mm Jim Dunlops), but I'd play with the rounded edge of the pick instead of the pointed edge, something I picked up from Ted Nugent years ago. Up until now I've blown off what people say about using thick picks, but after reading your article I decided to give it a try. While I do see the potential for being able to play at a higher speed, I can't play for shit now because of making so many changes to my picking technique in the past few days.
    metalmetalhead
    i used to use a thin pick nylon dunlop .70 or something..great material for pick slides..wouldnt tear up as bad as a peavy or fender pick..they where the only ones i wouldnt break..that was thin..but it was sloppy for me..and uncontrolled. i switched to a dunlop 2.0 its got a better sound for strumming and easyer to control. so i think hes right takes more time to get to point a to b when your pick is flopping..by the time your ready to pick again..your picks still bent. i know only what iv experienced. so id say..YEA USE A THICKER PICK. great article btw
    Kwote
    Mike, your article kicks ass and tells it like it is. Looking forward to seeing the video.
    mydian
    Good article thanks for sharing this info with everyone. As far as thick picks go, Jazz III XL's ftw!
    David Sertl
    Even if you may not like the part about the thickness of picks, if you apply the rest of the advice you still can get a lot faster in picking. So overall, I think it's a very useful article.