The Ultimate Guide To Guitar. Chapter II: 5 Technique - Right Hand Style

author: ZeGuitarist date: 01/06/2009 category: the guide to
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Part II - Chapter 5

"Technique - Right Hand Style"

Welcome back all! First of all, a Merry Christmas and a Happy Newyear to all readers! I hope you all enjoyed your Christmas as much as I did... After a week of holidays, the Ultimate Guide to Guitar is back, so a fresh new technique chapter is here waiting for you! In the previous article, we discussed left hand technique, by assessing the most common flaws in left hand playing beginners suffer from... Well, we are going to discuss the right hand today, but not in the same fashion. I'm not going to make a list of flaws today, with exercises to correct them... This week, I'm going to give an overview of all right hand picking styles, with exercises demonstrating the situations in which these styles are most commonly used! That way, you learn how and when each of these picking styles are used in common playing situations... There's lots of different styles, so the description of each of them isn't going to be very much in detail, but you'll get a nice and handy overview from this article! And also, the most important styles will get a separate, in-depth article in the future... Which picking styles are we going to assess this week? 01. Unidirectional picking: yes, it's important as well, it has its advantages! 02. Alternate picking: as you know, the most important of all these picking techniques... 03. Sweep picking: a very difficult but very impressive technique once you get it down! 04. Economy picking: a combination of the previous two... In some situations, it's an improvement to alternate picking! 05. Fingerpicking: I simply can't overlook it in this Guide! 06. Hybrid picking: the name says it all, it's a "hybrid" of pick and finger style! So, that's a lot of picking techniques... Let's get going already!

Unidirectional Picking

In each of the following paragraphs, I will start off with an explanation of what the technique is, how it's done, ... Secondly, I will sum up some of the uses of the technique, and some situations in which the technique is most useful. Lastly, I will give you a tabbed example of a situation where the technique in question is useful. A. What is it? Everybody probably already knows what this is... Unidirectional picking, the name says it all: picking in the one and the same direction all the time! Most of the time, you can use "unidirectional picking" as a synonym for "strict downpicking". Although some people use strictly upstrokes, it's generally more natural to downpick everything. B. What's it for? You probably remember (you should!) that I told you in a previous article to strictly alternate pick everything, so that you could train your alternate picking. Well, I told you this because alternate picking is, and will always be, the most important of all the picking techniques... But that doesn't mean there's no good uses for "inferior" techniques, such as strictly downpicking! Indeed, strictly downpicking can be put to good use as well... Here's some situations in which it can prove to be the best way to go!
  • Strict downpicking can be very useful in rhythm guitar, especially in heavy powerchord rhythm lines. Downpicking gives a very distinct sound as opposed to down- and uppicking, because downpicking attacks can be very powerful...
  • Downpicking is often used in combination with palm muting. This is because it's easy to downpick while resting your palm on the bridge, while it's harder to uppick without lifting your hand off of the bridge... This, together with the power of a downpicking attack, makes strictly downpicking very useful to play powerful, chunky muted metal riffs!
  • A third use worth mentioning is one I "learned" from a reader who argued with me that I shouldn't have said that you should alternate pick everything, because strictly downpicking can be used to build up strength and stamina in your right hand. Downpicking slow passages instead of alternate picking doubles the work for your right hand, which can actually be a good speed workout! Only, remember that your alternate picking speed will not greatly increase if you don't train your uppicking as well...
  • C. Example For each of the techniques, I will provide a tabbed example of a situation in which the technique is useful. Here's one for strict downpicking:
       PM---|  PM---|  PM---|  PM
    This is a pretty basic example of a metal riff combining heavy distortion, power chords, palm muting, and strict downpicking! This could be done with alternating down- and uppicking as well, of course, but like I said, one of the advantages of strict downpicking is the distinctive "powerful" sound of a downpicking attack. Try it! Play this short riff over and over again, as slow or as fast as you like, but try to keep to strict downpicking, to feel the difference with the usual alternate picking. Riffs like these are usually played with downpicking only, so keep practicing and try to get used to it!

    Alternate Picking

    Like in the previous paragraph, we start off with an explanation of what this technique is, then a summary of situations in which the technique can be useful, followed by an example. A. What is it? Of course, you already know what alternate picking is; I explained the technique in-depth already in a previous article. A short recap for those with bad memory: alternate picking consists of a constant alternation between downstrokes and upstrokes. So, if you downpick a note, the next note should be uppicked, again followed by a downpick, and so on... B. What's it for? In the article that I explained alternate picking to you, I also told you that you should alternate pick everything. Well, that's true most of the time, but I'm going to have to make some nuances in this article. Alternate picking is the most useful in most situations, except in the situations where the other techniques mentioned in this article are recommended. Sounds logical, doesn't it? So, here are some specific situations in which alternate picking is most commonly used!
  • Alternate picking serves the purpose of picking sequences of single notes as fast and fluently as possible. Some riffs and most solos are sequences of single notes, and can therefore be alternate picked. As you know, alternate picking helps playing these riffs/solos at a high speed, in an easy and comfortable way. See the below example for a demonstration of how alternate picking is useful in solos!
  • Strumming chords does not really classify as alternate picking, but I think I should mention it because chord strumming also consists of a constant alternation between upward and downward strums. Figuring out the correct strum pattern for a song isn't very hard if you simply alternate downward and upward strums all the time, only passing over the strings if you're not supposed to strum them...
  • C. Example Of course, the most important use of alternate picking is the first one of the 2 in the list: speedy and effortless picking of single note sequences, such as riffs and solos. Here's a very obvious example where alternate picking is useful. It's a fragment of a very well known solo, from Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven!
      d     d u d u d u d u d u d
    E|-------5-----------------------| d=downstroke
    B|---------8-5-------------------| u=upstroke
    This is a school example of a solo sequence of single notes, in which alternating down- and upstrokes are used for each consecutive note. Playing this solo using strict downpicking would not only be nearly impossible, your muscles would also most certainly be injured because of the heavy workload you put on them! I will not elaborate further on alternate picking, since it has been explored in a previous article already, and there's not much left to say about it, really. Just remember that alternate picking is the most important of all these picking techniques, because you're going to need it in more situations than the other techniques.

    Sweep Picking

    Finally! Some people have been waiting for a sweep picking lesson for a very long time... Well, I've got some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that this short paragraph about sweep picking is going to cover the rough basics only; it's not going to be a really in-depth explanation of the technique. The good news, though, is that there's going to be a separate, full-fledged article on sweep picking in the Intermediate series! All you need is some patience... A. What is it? Sweep picking is a technique that is used to play notes on adjacent strings by doing a sequence of downstrokes or upstrokes. So, your hand runs down the strings (or up the strings) as if it's strumming a chord or "sweeping" over the strings, plucking one string at a time. This technique is not easy to master, as it requires very strict coordination between both hands:
  • The right hand moves in one fluid motion in one direction. For example, if you are going to play one note on each string, starting on the 6th string and going to the 1st string, your right hand is going to do a sequence of 6 downpicks in 1 fluid motion. The tricky part is to time your attacks on each string evenly, and at the same time preserve the fluidity of the movement in your right hand.
  • The left hand's technique is even more difficult. Usually, when we sweep pick, we play "arpeggios". Arpeggios are in fact "broken chords": you take a chord, and instead of playing all the notes simultaneously, the notes are played sequentially, no notes ringing at the same time... And this is what makes the left hand technique tricky: it's mainly the job of the left hand to make sure that only one note at a time is heard! Your left hand has to follow the picking movement of your right hand, by only fretting down the string that should be ringing at that moment, and muting all other strings.
  • For more specific, in-depth descriptions of the right hand technique (how to sweep fluently and time your attacks evenly) and left hand technique (how to mute unwanted strings), you will have to wait until the separate chapter on sweep picking... There's so much to explain, and I can't do it all in this chapter! This is only an overview... But don't worry, be patient and I will teach you everything you want to know! B. What's it for? Like I said, sweep picking is used to play sequences of single notes on adjacent strings, one at a time, going up or down the 6 strings with a fluent, "sweeping" motion. I also told you already that the notes in question usually are "arpeggios", which are the notes of a chord played in sequence, instead of all at once. Basically, that's the only thing sweep picking is good for... Doing a series of picking attacks in the same direction, e.g. 3 or more downpicks in a row, in one fluent motion with your right hand. Sweeps are often used in metal. Yngwie Malmsteen often uses sweeping arpeggios in his songs, just to give an example... A more important aspect of sweep picking, however, is the fact that the technique is part of another, more common technique, called "economy picking". I will explain that technique in a moment, after the example for sweep picking! C. Example The example that I'm going to give you is a D Minor arpeggio sweep. We're going to start downpicking the 5th string, and then doing a series of downpicks up to the 1st string, and then turn around and do a series of uppicks until we're back at the 5th string. Here's the tab:
       d d d d d h p u u u u
    E|---------5-8-5---------| d=downstroke
    B|-------6-------6-------| u=upstroke
    G|-----7-----------7-----| h=hammer-on
    D|---7---------------7---| p=pull-off
    As you can see, the first 5 notes are picked in a series of 5 downstrokes, then we "turn around" by hammering-on and pulling-off, followed by a series of 4 upstrokes to return to the starting point. Don't practice this sweep picking arpeggio too fast! I know sweeps sound awesome when done really fast (like it's done in metal very often), but it's a very difficult to master technique and it takes a lot of time practicing and building up speed. Start off slowly, use a metronome, and try to get every note as clean and accurate as possible, all evenly timed. Only if you manage to get all this right, you can start building up more and more speed, little bits at a time! Note: please remember that this short introduction to sweep picking is not very in-depth because a larger, more detailed article on sweep picking will follow later on. Right now, this is all the info that is essential to this overview.

    Economy Picking

    This is another technique that is also a large topic of discussion. When asked, beginning players often say they don't know what economy picking is, but after explaining it to them, they often say that "they've been doing that all the time without knowing"! Again, good news and bad news... The bad news being that this short paragraph is only going to cover the basics very roughly. The good news is that a future article will cover this technique more in-depth! A. What is it? So, what is this mysterious "economy picking" technique? Well, in fact it's a hybrid technique, a combination of alternate and sweep picking. This is how it works:
  • Economy picking is identical to alternate picking when playing notes on the same string: you play the notes by alternating downstrokes and upstrokes.
  • When changing strings, however, economy picking is exactly like sweep picking: the direction of the picking attack follows the direction of the string change. For example, you downpick a note on the 2nd string, and the next note is on the 1st string, so you downpick that note as well... Because the movement of your right hand is downwards (from 2nd to 1st string), you play the 2 notes on these 2 strings with 2 consecutive downpicks.
  • Note: This wordy explanation will maybe not be very clear at first... So, if you have trouble understanding this, take a peek at the tabbed example I gave below, which compares alternate and economy picking! Then return here, for the rest of the explanation... B. What's it for? Now, why would you use this more complex "hybrid" technique instead of just alternate picking? Well, the advantage of economy picking in some situations is that it "economises" the movement of your right hand. Take the example I just gave you: if you strictly alternate picked the sequence I explained, your right hand has to downpick the note on the 2nd string, then move towards the 1st string, but "jump over" it first, so that you can uppick it! When you think about it, this doesn't make much sense... Note: again, look at the tabbed out sequence in the below example if it's not clear enough! Now, economy picking is only advantageous in some situations. In these situations, alternate picking uses a lot of "unnecessary" right hand movements, while economy picking doesn't. These situations are the "odd number of notes per string" situations. You guessed it right: in sequences where an odd number of notes is played on each string, economy picking is the best technique to use... Why? For a full an in-depth explanation, you will have to wait until the Intermediate chapter about economy picking... But below, I have included a second example that should make it clear for you! C. Example I have provided 2 examples this time, to clearly show you the difference between alternate picking and economy picking. In the first example, I'm going to show you a very short sequence of notes, and apply both techniques on that sequence...
     Alternate picking            Economy picking
    d u d u d u d u d u d u d d u d u u u u
    E|-------8-7-5-7---------| E|-------8-7-5-7---------| d=downstroke
    B|-5-7-5---------7-------| B|-5-7-5---------7-------| u=upstroke
    G|-----------------5-----| G|-----------------5-----|
    D|-------------------7---| D|-------------------7---|
    A|-----------------------| A|-----------------------|
    E|-----------------------| E|-----------------------|
    The sequence is the same, as you can see, but the picking pattern isn't. I have underlined the differences in the picking patterns... In economy picking, the picking direction follows the movement of the right hand. So, when moving from the 2nd string to the 1st string, a downpick is used instead of an uppick, as you can see in the first underlined part of the picking pattern. Then, the final 4 notes are all on different strings, going from the 1st string to the 4th string. Your hand moves upwards to reach the 4th string, so we are going to "sweep" over these 4 strings and pick them with 4 consecutive uppicks, as you can see in the second underlined part. In a sequence like this, you can clearly see the advantage that economy picking gives you over alternate picking. In other situations, however, the difference is so minimal that it can be neglected, and you can use alternate picking instead. The situations where economy picking can be most useful are the "odd number of notes per string" situations... I have made an example of this.
       d u  d  d u  d  d u  d  d u  d  d  u  d  d  u  d  u  u

    This example shows a C Major scale pattern, running upwards from the 6th string to the 1st. Scale patterns are often good example of "odd number of notes per string" situations... You can see that we play 3 notes on each string, so that the 3rd note is downpicked each time, allowing us to move to the next string with another downpick! On the 1st string, however, we play 4 notes, so that the 4th note is uppicked, allowing us to move to the previous string with another uppick... This shows why economy picking is often used in "odd number of notes per string" situations like this: it allows for economised hand movement when changing strings! The use of economy picking will be elaborated more in detail in the dedicated Intermediate article about economy picking. For now, this is all the info you need to get a good overview of all the picking techniques that are available! Moving on to the next technique...


    I simply cannot write an overview of picking styles - not to mention an entire guitar guide - without mentioning fingerpicking at least once! I am no fingerpicking expert, though, so this short paragraph covering the basics of fingerpicking will be the only thing I'll be teaching you about fingerpicking in the entire Guide. This is just to prevent myself from teaching you this technique wrongly, and offending the REAL experts by doing so! It's for the best... What I can do, though, is give you some pointers on how to fingerpick correctly and efficiently. We're not going to cover "classical" fingerpicking, because this is bound to very strict rules which I don't know very much about. Fingerpicking is also used in other styles, like folk, country, jazz or blues... And in these genres, the fingerpicking technique isn't bound to such strict rules! There are some general guidelines, though, which we are going to cover in this section. A. What is it? Fingerpicking obviously means plucking the strings with your fingertips, instead of using a "flat pick" (= plectrum; the picking techniques that use a plectrum are called "flat picking" techniques). Of course, this requires a totally different technique than the flat picking techniques! Here are some basic pointers on how the technique of fingerpicking works:
  • The thumb is used for plucking the 3 bass strings (the 4th, 5th and 6th string), while the index, middle and ring finger are used for the treble strings (1st, 2nd and 3rd string). In classical guitar, the index is assigned to the 3rd string, the middle finger to the 2nd string, and the ring finger to the 1st string. This is not always the case in other genres.
  • In notation, the finger that is used to pluck the note is indicated above the notation with a letter. Each letter corresponds with one of the 4 used fingers: P for the thumb ("pollice" in Italian or "pulgar" in Spanish), I for the index ("indice" in Italian and Spanish), M for the middle finger ("medio" in Italian and Spanish) and A for the ring finger ("anulare" in Italian and Spanish). This indication is referred to as the "PIMA" method, and is often used in classical guitar.
  • Generally, the pinky finger isn't used. It has never been used in classical guitar, which explains why it doesn't have its own PIMA indication... Again, other genres may be less strict in this rule, but in general the pinky is not very commonly used in fingerpicking.
  • B. What's it for? Now that you know how to fingerpick, what are you going to play with it? Not every genre of music uses fingerpicking, of course... So, what can you actually play with fingerpicking? Like I said, fingerpicking is most commonly used in classical guitar, but also in more modern genres like country, jazz, blues and folk. The common thing all these genres share, though, is that fingerpicking is used to play arpeggios most of the time... That's right, you can play arpeggios by sweep picking, but you can also play them by fingerpicking! So, how does that work? You should now know that arpeggios are chords of which we play the notes sequentially instead of all at the same time... This is what we do when we sweep pick arpeggios, but fingerpicking is a different method of playing arpeggios. The most common fingerpicking patterns consist of a simple bass line (played with the thumb on the 3 bass strings) and a sequence of higher treble notes for the melody (played with the other 3 fingers on the treble strings). To demonstrate the use of fingerpicking to play arpeggios better, I have provided a small tabbed example below... C. Example Below is a short fingerpicking arpeggio I came up with. The first bar is an A Minor arpeggio, and the second bar an G Major arpeggio. The fingerings are indicated above the notes in PIMA indication.
       p i p m p a p m p i p m p a p m
    E|-----------0---------------0-----| p=thumb
    B|-------1-------1-------1-------1-| i=index
    G|---2---------------2-------------| m=middle
    D|-----2---2---2-------2---2---2---| r=ring

    p i p m p m p m p i p m p m p m
    You can see that this short example is constructed out of a simple bass line (if you look at the lower 3 strings) and a melody line (the higher 3 strings). My example is very simplistic, of course, but it shows the basic outline of most fingerstyle music pieces! Note: time for some shameless self-advertising! In this video, you can see an example of a fingerpicking song... It's Bron-Yr-Aur by Led Zeppelin, covered by me on the electric guitar: Led Zeppelin - Bron-Yr-Aur (cover) OK! We've almost got all the techniques down! Only one more to go, another hybrid of 2 techniques you know already...

    Hybrid Picking

    ... and it's aptly named "hybrid picking"! How original guitarists can be... Like I said, hybrid picking is a hybrid of 2 techniques you already know: "flat picking" and fingerpicking. So, hybrid picking is using a pick and your fingertips to pluck strings at the same time! This technique offers some advantages:
  • String skips are made awfully easy, because you can easily use your pick to pluck the lower strings and your fingertips for the higher strings... It's much easier to hybrid pick notes on strings that are relatively far away from each other, instead of moving your hand up and down all the time like you would if you were strictly flatpicking!
  • Because string skipping is made so much easier, you can play much faster much easier with hybrid picking! Think of it like this... When you go from strict downpicking to alternate picking, your picking speed greatly increases because of the uppicking attacks you add... Similarly, hybrid picking adds greatly to the speed of alternate picking, because you add extra fingerstyle attacks! Note that hybrid picking is a very difficult technique to master; not many guitarists can hybrid pick, which makes hybrid picking a fairly uncommon technique. This is why I'm concluding my explanation on hybrid picking here... All you need to know is that hybrid picking is a technique that uses both flatpicking and fingerpicking styles, which makes it a perfect technique for very speedy passages with lots of string skips.


    Great! This article should provide you with a good overview of the most important right hand techniques, how they work, and what they're used for... This concludes the last one of the technique chapters, and also the Novice section of the Ultimate Guide to Guitar! And that means... We're moving on to the Intermediate chapters! In the next article, we will assess some more music theory, followed by even more guitar techniques... We have much to learn and discuss together, so keep practicing and stay tuned for the next article! Cheers! ZeG PS: As usual:
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