Here Is Why Your Guitar Picking Speed Isn't Improving. Part 2

Are you frustrated with your inability to play guitar fast? Do you practice speed exercises every day with little result?

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Are you frustrated with your inability to play guitar fast? Do you practice speed exercises every day with little result? If you are struggling with your guitar technique, this can be due to a variety of reasons. Several of them were discussed in the last article of this series. If you missed the first part of this speed building article series, watch this free video lesson about how to build speed on guitar to get a summary of its main points. In this article, I will focus on one of the most commonly overlooked flaws in guitar technique that prevents many guitar players from playing at very high speeds. This reason is: poor articulation. I have discussed this briefly in the last article (and gave a demonstration in the video above), but in this article I want to explain this topic in more depth and give you some exercises on how to improve your articulation on guitar. Articulation refers to how well you are able to achieve a distinct and precise attack of each note (and it usually implies louder dynamics as well). To play cleanly at faster speeds, you must have control over the power and volume of each note. If your articulation is weak, then your fast playing will sound sloppy. The good news is that if you improve your articulation, you will find that the speed of your playing will naturally increase by default. Before I show you specific articulation exercises, I want to clear up a very misunderstood concept that is often quoted about guitar playing. It is often stated like this: You have to play with the least amount of motion and tension possible. The truth is that the concepts of economy of motion and tension are relative terms. Yes, you should try to avoid wasteful motion and excess tension, BUT not everything on guitar is played with the same amount of tension. Sometimes you must use quite a lot of tension and force to play something well. For proof, listen to the playing of guitarists such as Shawn Lane, Rusty Cooley or Paul Gilbert. These players play with phenomenal amount of power and great articulation of each note while at the same time playing at extreme virtuoso speeds. Clearly they are not simply picking everything as lightly as possible. With this in mind, here are a few articulation building exercises and concepts that will help take your picking technique to the next level. Practice Playing More On The Lower Strings One of the best ways to work on articulation of your picking is to practice on the thicker strings (strings 4 5 and 6 of your guitar). You will find it more challenging to play with great articulation (on these strings specifically) because it is harder to make each note crisp and precise. The good news is that once you do get good articulation on the lower strings, it will become much easier to get good sound everywhere on your guitar. Watch a video example of this exercise. This exercise is to be cycled over and over (and can be applied to several different scales). Make sure that each of your notes has power and definition. The best way to ensure that your articulation is flawless is to accent the start of each group of 6 notes. Notice that speed isn't the primary focus of this exercise. You must focus on your articulation and getting the notes to sound clear. As you focus on that element of your playing, your speed will naturally improve. Although this looks like a simple sequence, it is actually quite challenging to play it with good control, and without any excess string noise. As you play this, try to get the MAXIMUM volume from each note with your pick. The most difficult part about it is the slide done with the 4th finger Begin by learning this lick slowly to work out the motions and the picking. Isolate The Inside Picking Component Another barrier to good articulation occurs because of something known as inside picking. Here is an example that forces you to work on this problem: Watch a video example of this exercise. This is another scale sequence that needs to be cycled over and over. Notice the last two notes of beat 3 and the 1st note of beat 4 in the first measure. As you play these notes, your pick hand may feel like it is bouncing out of control. This is because of the challenging inside picking mechanic (so named because of the pick playing inside of the D and A strings). This same motion happens in the last 3 notes of beat 2 in measure 2. If you are having trouble with this inside picking motion, then exercises like the one above will help to isolate the problem and fix it (while at the same time refining your articulation). The main objective with these exercises is to get the maximum power from each note. Speed is only a secondary goal here. You can begin to increase speed later, but only if you can do so without sacrificing the volume of the notes. Watch The Pick Angle In order to balance the articulation of your upstrokes with that of your downstrokes, you need to keep the pick more or less perpendicular to the string. If the angle of the pick is too much upward, then this puts the downstrokes at an advantage, but leaves the downstrokes at a disadvantage. It works the other way when the pick is tilted too far downwards. That being said, there should be some tilt of the pick towards the headstock of the guitar. It will help for the pick to slice through the string with less effort. The more extreme this angle is, the muddier the sound will become, but the easier it will be to sound the note. The less extreme this angle is, the crispier the articulation will be, but it will take more effort to sound the note. So as you can see, it is a balance and a tradeoff between the tone and the amount of tension that is needed to produce it. The important thing is to become aware of this balance and to control the pick angle so that you can play with the tone that sounds good to you. If you want to see how this needs to be practiced, watch this free video lesson about building guitar picking speed. Practicing With The Bridge Pick Up For practicing articulation it is better to play without any effects (such as chorus, delay, etc) and to use the bridge pick up. Using any effects or playing through the neck pick up artificially masks any imperfections in your articulation. Such imperfections only become apparent at faster speeds Using the bridge pick up (with a clean tone or with distortion) does not allow you to mask flaws in your articulation of each note, so you can easily evaluate your progress. Of course for actual playing, you may use the neck pick up to get a smoother sound, and you can add any additional effects you want, BUT in that case you will be sure that your playing is already very clean (having practiced it using the bridge pick up previously). Paying attention to this very important area of your picking will do a great deal for your guitar technique. 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.

21 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    Flibo
    Weird, I always get the cleanest sound with my bridge pickup and the neck pickup is the most sensitive pickup to any flaws. It's a good article, a lot of stuff which I'm going through at the moment
    Cyskin
    Really You Should Play To A Metronome Start Slow N Slowly Put it Up The Speed I Really Helps Plus You Should Set up Your Guitar Plus the Pick That You Use Is Very Important
    TheWhiteBandit
    When I started alternate picking I naturally went to inside picking. I still find it extremely difficult to do outside picking. Obviously the more control you have over the pick the better the results so I need to work on that too. But do you guys find it easier or harder to outside pick?
    Metal G
    Thanks for sharing this, there are some useful tips in there for sure. I'm fairly new at playing but had just recently found that the "lighter" you play does make a difference. I think that is a key point.
    lilstillrocks
    dnamra13 wrote: I find it interesting that he says that you need to practice on the lower strings more than on the higher strings. I can get the lower strings to articulate fine with fast picking licks but the higher strings are always a problem to me because i feel like there is not enough tension to compensate for my picking style. This annoying problem prohibits me from playing tremolo picking riffs. What do you guy's think i need to do in order to solve this issue?
    I had this same problem for a while, and what worked for me was just the good ol' practice makes perfect. Just goof off, strum around on the strings bothering you at varying speeds. Eventually you will see improvement. A second note; the angle you hold the pick has a lot to do with it, in my opinion. Slacken up your hand a bit, and experiment with how you hold your pick. Hope this helped
    Metallichemical
    Great article!I already notice a little improvement.Finally, something that will help me play successfully faster and cleaner and clearer at the same time.
    fretboard12
    these are good post's takes a-lot of the mystery out of fast playing for beginners. but the thing is i have problems with the lower string's as well and depending on how you hold your guitar is a factor too 45 degree pick angle holding your guitar in classical position is different than holding it regular like most people do if you ever noticed most fast players have the headstock up near there head lol (Paul Gilbert excluded he does it regular way) but they all pick (hard)loud if you listen close you hear the loud clicking sound of there pick. also how low you hold the guitar matters as well, most fast players almost wear the guitar around there neck (Shawn lane especially and Petrucci and becker).
    sparkeyjames
    To avoid the spam that will flow from having to enter your email address to watch the video us mailinator.com. Just enter any email name you feel like using yourname@mailinator.com and it is automatically trashed after a few hours. Wipe hands on pants and repeat as necessary.
    diefordethklok
    dnamra13 wrote: I find it interesting that he says that you need to practice on the lower strings more than on the higher strings. I can get the lower strings to articulate fine with fast picking licks but the higher strings are always a problem to me because i feel like there is not enough tension to compensate for my picking style. This annoying problem prohibits me from playing tremolo picking riffs. What do you guy's think i need to do in order to solve this issue?
    Take it to the shop, and get it set up. I used to have that problem. They'll even everything up for you. I've tried doing it on my own, and to be honest, it's quite difficult. I even have some idea of what I'm doing as far as neck and action adjustments, and it's still a pain. It'll be between 20 and 60 dollars, most places. NOT guitar center, though. Local shops put in the loving touch, haha. But yes, that should keep tension more consistent. Also, try out different picks. REALLY changes things, to be honest. I use .86 to 1.14 at the thickest, and it's perfect for me. One last thing, try to avoid those dunlop picks made out of that weird shiny material, and if you're going to use dunlop, go for the more dull looking ones.
    Dawgs4Vick
    I share similar problems with what others have said about picking at high speed on thinner strings, i'm about to pick up a thicker set of strings today and see if it helps any...
    Kevy Absolution
    I'm pretty sure the neck pickup on my Strat doesn't hide imperfections in my playing, either. :eyeroll:
    Jista
    dnamra13, I find that using normal gauge strings 4-6 and stlightly heavier strings 1-3 compensates for differences in tension
    dnamra13
    guitarnut_xiix wrote: dnamra13, I had been in the same boat. My picking went to hell when I got to the thinner strings. So I just became great at legato licks (Sorry I don't have any solid advice). As for building speed, the only thing that worked for me was being in a band with a huge shredder...Pissed me off so bad that he could do it that I worked nonstop until I could compete, haha.
    Yep i guess everyone has there weaknesses and strengths. Personally i would love to play in a band to get better at playing guitar, but finding a drummer is a huge pain. Anyway currently i'am playing a 24.75 scale guitar with 010-046 strings on. Mabye if i go to a heavier gauge i'am able to do tremolo picking stuff on the thinner strings.
    Danjo's Guitar
    One really good way to increase your speed is to play with all down strokes (not all the time, but when your doing rhythm parts and chord type stuff, droning included). Down-stroking on droning parts that you normally alternate pick forces you to increase your speed, and it also sounds cleaner.
    guitarnut_xiix
    dnamra13, I had been in the same boat. My picking went to hell when I got to the thinner strings. So I just became great at legato licks (Sorry I don't have any solid advice). As for building speed, the only thing that worked for me was being in a band with a huge shredder...Pissed me off so bad that he could do it that I worked nonstop until I could compete, haha.
    dnamra13
    I find it interesting that he says that you need to practice on the lower strings more than on the higher strings. I can get the lower strings to articulate fine with fast picking licks but the higher strings are always a problem to me because i feel like there is not enough tension to compensate for my picking style. This annoying problem prohibits me from playing tremolo picking riffs. What do you guy's think i need to do in order to solve this issue?
    OXL
    Well I can assure you that imperfections are less clear audible (not vanished) when I use the neck pickup (for example with my attempts to sweep pick). So I have to agree with Flibo.
    Spawn2
    Personally I'd say my biggest breakthroughs were: 1. lessening the friction against the string: try to play as light as possible, which will automatically lessen your motion. 2. Playing somewhat closer to the bridge pickup, where the strings flop-around less. (picking above or before where the middle pickup of a strat is located) 3. watching people like Guthrie Govan, Doug Aldrich and Shawn Lane, who have very distinct approaches to playing fast and achieving articulation. Guthrie uses a lot of force and a pick at an angle, Lane used his pick at 90 degrees! and Aldrich is the prototype of a rock player who can pick well but isn't overly technical about it. Of course watching 'get out of my yard' by Gilbert is a big help too!
    profile.sparky
    Hi, I've got a nice post about increasing speed for classical players. This is all great information that came from Zoran Dukic. You can check it out on my website. www.sparkyweintraut.com