To improve any area of your playing requires years of practice, but there seems to be a false belief that one must spend hours a day on alternate picking (or any other technique) to make it better. This simply is not true. To achieve Yngwie-like prowess on your instrument? Well, yes, you're going to need to quit your job and make playing your full-time gig with a minimum of 8-hour shifts. I can't help you with that. But for the rest of us "normals," I've found a quick way to improve your playing daily, and you will notice the improvement right away.
This 5-minute exercise will immediately improve any area of your playing if done correctly. I've used it with many students, many times, and the results are clear each time. Here's how it works:
Choose an area of your playing you want to improve. For example, I'll choose alternate picking. Here's a simple pattern to start with:
Play it once at full speed. Now, for one minute each, do the following:
1) Play 30% of your maximum speed. NO MISTAKES!
2) Pick as HARD as possible. NO MISTAKES!
3) Speed Bursts - Once slow, once fast
4) Articulation - focus on making sure each hand is perfectly is sync.
5) Play 70% of your maximum speed.
After completing the 5 steps, take a break for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Then try playing the example full speed again. If you followed all 5 steps correctly, I can almost guarantee you will feel and hear the improvement. I have yet to watch someone not improve after going through this process, myself included.
Now, a few notes about the steps:
1) If you made any mistakes, you've wasted your time by going too fast. Do not let pride get in the way of your improvement by feeding yourself the lie, "I should be able to play this faster than that!" No, you shouldn't. Otherwise you would. Slow down!
2) Credit belongs to Tom Hess for this idea. By picking with maximum force and exaggerating the motion, you are solidifying your muscle memory. Search the Internet for more information on this technique along with step 4.
3) It's ok to make mistakes with this one. Michael Angelo Batio suggests in his DVD series, "Speed Kills," to mostly go slow when learning something, but to occasionally just "go for it" and see what it feels like to play fast. This gets you out of the habit of jogging all the time to develop speed. Sometimes you just have to sprint!
4) This is less about changing the way you're playing and more about changing the thought process that occurs. Ask yourself, did my pick hand attack at the exact moment my fretting hand applied pressure to the fret?
5) If you've followed steps 1-4 correctly, you should be able to play at 70% of your max speed consistently with no mistakes, but if you make a few, that's ok.
Now, this approach can become explosive to your development if you apply it to 3 or 4 different areas of your playing each day. For instance, I'll choose alternate picking, sweep picking, legato, and hybrid picking. I'll choose a pattern in each of the four categories and go through the 5-min. process with each idea. This will take around 20 minutes to complete.
Spend a week using this approach. 20 minutes a day, four areas of playing, and watch what happens. You might even record yourself trying the ideas before starting the process, and then after, and then again at the end of the week. Compare Day 1 to Day 7. Your speed might increase a lot, or it may only increase slightly. Even if you're not much faster, your playing will have more clarity and power than ever before. I think you'll be amazed at the results.
Disclaimer: This is not intended to be the "end-all, be-all" approach to improving your playing. It is one strategy designed to improve areas of your playing daily. There are many approaches to musical development that are effective. This is simply another system to provide variety and end periods of stagnation.
About the Author:Eric Bourassa owns and operates a music school in Fort Worth, TX, and plays regularly at City on a Hill Church and with his band, Eric Bourassa. His latest album, "BOURASSITY," is available on iTunes and at his website, www.ericbourassa.com.