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Music Theory, Lessons & Techniques Discussions on Theory, member submitted lessons, practice regimens and everything else.

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Unread 08-03-2012, 10:09 PM   #1
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Just my experience/journey with increasing my picking speed/accuracy - This is LONG!

This is for those who might be just starting out or in a rut and might have had the same issues!!

Hey Everyone!

It has been a goal of mine to increase my alternate picking. YES, I know speed isn't everything, but for someone who plays guitar as a hobby, goals must be set and reached at some point! I've finally manage to increase my picking speed to the likes of Alexi Laiho and such; NOW I just need to learn a little theory and/or how to improvise. Anywho, a few things that I have discovered along this 7-year journey:

Speed in General:

Comes with time! I was one of those impatient guitarist who bugged and pestered ANYONE who was faster than me. I could never understand how they got so fast, so clean and articulated, and thought that it was something they were born with. While that may be the case for a few individuals out there, the truth, as you all know, is that it takes TIME+PRACTICE+PATIENCE! HOLY MOLY did I not understand this, or, want to believe that this is the truth, but it truly is. The time you put in yields results... and the more time you put in, the faster the results come. Also, focused practices are much better than meaningless noodling; that is if you are actually trying to improve. Having fun is always the best route as well

Picking tips:

So, I've made several picking hand adjustments over the last 2 years. I started out with anchoring my pinky on the body of the guitar; not wrong per se, as MANY a great guitarist do this, but for me, I got to a speed wall and couldn't pass it to say my life! After doing that for 5 years, I found a video of a guy who changed his anchoring to the 'curled-fingers-in' approach; like that of Paul Gilbert and Robert Marcello. So I make a fist of sorts; this took a little bit to adjust to, but over time, I got it and my speed increased. But even then, another wall greeted me :/

I noticed that I held my pick a little awkward; I held the pick at the bend/crease of my thumb and side of my index finger... this created an excess in picking motion, and a LOT of the pick was exposed. This was actually pointed out to some friends of mine. All this time I was using a Jazz III pick btw. So, I shifted the pick to the middle pad of my thumb, but took Paul Gilbert's advice, and "pulled" my thumb in... this yielded some speed and fluidity gains, but I was gripping the pick like I was holding a $1000 bill in the wind! This caused my fingers some pain, and my hand got really tired after playing for a while.

I did this for a few months, while increasing speed; after a while, I noticed that it was hard for me to transition from the 'G' string to the 'B' string, but a focused, slow practice alleviated that issue. Even so, I met another speed/accuracy barrier. Well, I accepted my dilemma for a bit until I watched a video by a guy on youtube named Nielsvejlyt! He has a lot of good material and is awesome on guitar. I watched his vids but didn't notice anything right away. I found myself at Guitar Center, testing out some amps, and had to use one of their pics. It was a very SOFT plastic pick that sucked! In using it, I had to adjusting my picking approach: I couldn't hold it firmly like I had accustomed myself to, so I had a very VERY loose grip, and when I started playing, I realized how SMOOTH my picking was. I was instantly faster, more accurate, and my fingers weren't stressed and it just felt so good! So went home and grabbed my guitar, Jazz III pick (black) and watched Niels on guitar.

Well, I noticed when he was picking, the pick had a little bit of 'give' to the strings and a lose grip as well... BOOM! I realized that this was maybe the missing piece of I was looking for. I had already discovered it at Guitar Center, but needed to try this approach and adjust to using it with this smaller pick. Needless to say, I'm a LOT faster than I've ever been, and it's great!!! I wish I had had this stuff shown or revealed to me when I first started out, but, hey, anything is rarely handed to you, and sometimes it takes some time, experience, and definitely trial and error along with observation to figure things out.

Since I have these newly acquired skills, I need to learn how to actually use it constructively and with purpose! I guess I need to find some instruction on improvisation! Anywho, if you took the time to read this, THANKS! I'll have to post some vids of my progress at some later time.

In a nutshell, when it comes to picking and increasing speed:

Find some 3-note-per-string scales and learn them slowly to a metronome.

When it comes to increasing speed, go up about 4 beats-per-minute, then 2, then 4 and so forth and so on; do this until you reach a speed that you can't keep up with. When you reach that wall, increase the metronome to 10-15 bpm and try it.... it will be sloppy, but after trying this for a minute or so, retry that speed you had trouble with previously, and your problems should be solved. (all of this is courtesy of Trypios - thanks buddy!).

Record yourself; get some friends to watch your playing and critique your technique. This is what I did, and I was able to see what they saw after they pointed it out! And when I say friends, I mean those who are better than you or have solid technique, haha.

Slow things down RIDICULOUSLY slow!!! Analyze your technique and look at ways you can improve, i.e. can I minimize my picking motion? Am I using my wrist or my whole arm? Do I need a harder/bigger/softer pick?

When it comes to minimizing picking motion, this is TRULY a good and efficient way to increase speed and accuracy. As it is said a LOT, less is more! The smaller your movements (well, Syu is the exception!), the faster you can pick.

Try speed bursting exercises.... this is how I was able to gain speed a little bit quicker. Take a 3-note, 2-string sequence like 17-15-13 on the e and B strings, set the metronome to something slow like, 70 or 80 bpm and descend or ascend (13-15-17) doing 8th notes of the 6 notes, then do a blasted speed run of 16th notes of the 6 notes descending/ascending; do this as you increase the metronome 4-8 bpm. You can also change this up with a run that starts on the e string on the 13th fret, descending to the B string 17-15-13-15-17 back up to 13 on the 3 string and repeat... this stuff really helps with accuracy! You can do something similar starting on the A string and descend down to the low E string and back up!

I had to learn how to pick consistently across all strings as well; which I pick uniform across them all now

Well, again, I hope you got something from this and can appreciate a little bit of my personal experiences. Take care!
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Unread 08-03-2012, 11:22 PM   #2
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Yeah man,I think I maybe in the middle of your journey,alternate picking felt weird at first like I was wasting motion at first,always just picked what felt natural,but saw alternate picking set up the next run such as sweeps.Went from red jazz 3 to the small Eric Johnson and it feels much more natural,almost like picking with my thumb nail.Right now I'm climbing the SWEEPing wall,get half way then slide down some,my down rakes are ok,up raking is frustrating,tend to pick strings individually.Anyway good advise to keep in mind.Any sweeping advise?
Thanks alot
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Unread 08-04-2012, 12:12 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by Detested View Post
Yeah man,I think I maybe in the middle of your journey,alternate picking felt weird at first like I was wasting motion at first,always just picked what felt natural,but saw alternate picking set up the next run such as sweeps.Went from red jazz 3 to the small Eric Johnson and it feels much more natural,almost like picking with my thumb nail.Right now I'm climbing the SWEEPing wall,get half way then slide down some,my down rakes are ok,up raking is frustrating,tend to pick strings individually.Anyway good advise to keep in mind.Any sweeping advise?
Thanks alot
I need to work on alternate runs into sweeps! But as for sweep picking in general; I can do it, but am no expert just yet, haha! But the best advise is to set the metronome at a ridiculous slow speed, like, 40-60 bpm to get that muscle memory built into your fingers. I did this for 6-string sweeps (which I need to brush up on), and increased the bpm by 4-10, adjusting 2-4 if the tempo was too high. That is actually the next thing I'm going to work on, along with coils/spirals and tapping (ugh! can't tap cleanly for the life of me). Good luck bro! Let me know how your process comes along.
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Unread 08-04-2012, 12:22 AM   #4
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another very important thing that people need to learn is to keep your hands relaxed and loose. If it's tensed up, it actually slows you down and restricts your range of motion. Keeping your fretting hand and holding your pick loosely is very important!
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Unread 08-04-2012, 12:31 AM   #5
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another very important thing that people need to learn is to keep your hands relaxed and loose. If it's tensed up, it actually slows you down and restricts your range of motion. Keeping your fretting hand and holding your pick loosely is very important!
YES! Thanks for pointing that out! I learned this as well as time went on; relaxed hands equal relaxed motion which translates to endurance in the long run. Thanks Khoi!
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Unread 08-04-2012, 12:34 AM   #6
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OH, and another thing I didn't mention: I think there is a HUGE mental aspect when it comes to anything you are trying to master or improve at. A lot of stuff that goes on with your fingers is directly related to your brain and how you think; if you think you have to pick with intensity, you are going to pick with intensity. I had to teach myself to visualize mentally how I wanted to pick; how it looked and felt, and I had to mimic what was in my mind thru my fingers. It isn't that easy, especially after establishing years of bad habits and reinforcing them thru practice :/ When I'm flying thru exercises and notice my fingers and arm/wrist getting tense, I had to mentally tell myself to slow down, stay relaxed, and it really works out. In your head is where half the battle is guys!
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Unread 08-04-2012, 08:06 AM   #7
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I think this is my biggest problem,some days I become too tense in the middle of practice when I encounter my problem,have been trying to figure this out,now I know I can't let it get to me and chip away slowly.Those sweeps are a s.o.b but they sound kick ass,I need to remember this during practice.(feels like I'm meditating or something) haha.
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Unread 08-04-2012, 09:06 AM   #8
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In terms of your request for improv advice, improvisation is just on the fly composition, so write loads of stuff, analyse it, use that to teach you to apply theory by looking at the function of notes. Take the music of other people, chop it up and see what works, analyse it and learn what sorts of sequences of notes, what sorts of intervals and what kinds of motion in notes you like. Take those things and try to apply them to different circumstances. That is a big part of improv.

Don't overlook rhythm, either. Lots of improvisers are only conscious of notes/chords and sound pretty dull because there's no space to appreciate what has happened and everything is delivered like the rhythmic equivalent of speaking in monotone.

Development, both rhythmic and melodic, is very important. Tired to that, reference to what you played before is also important to help people to relate to what you're saying. Look for similarities like resolution from 7th to octave and resolution from 3rd to 4th, exercise them in different settings and see how they sound.

Learn to think of notes as words which can mean one thing in one instance and something completely different in another instance.
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Unread 08-04-2012, 11:12 AM   #9
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In terms of your request for improv advice, improvisation is just on the fly composition, so write loads of stuff, analyse it, use that to teach you to apply theory by looking at the function of notes. Take the music of other people, chop it up and see what works, analyse it and learn what sorts of sequences of notes, what sorts of intervals and what kinds of motion in notes you like. Take those things and try to apply them to different circumstances. That is a big part of improv.

Don't overlook rhythm, either. Lots of improvisers are only conscious of notes/chords and sound pretty dull because there's no space to appreciate what has happened and everything is delivered like the rhythmic equivalent of speaking in monotone.

Development, both rhythmic and melodic, is very important. Tired to that, reference to what you played before is also important to help people to relate to what you're saying. Look for similarities like resolution from 7th to octave and resolution from 3rd to 4th, exercise them in different settings and see how they sound.

Learn to think of notes as words which can mean one thing in one instance and something completely different in another instance.
Thanks man! I'll have to keeps these tips in mind. It would be a HUGE leap in progress if I can get this under my belt.
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Unread 08-04-2012, 02:00 PM   #10
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That advice is a longer term, ongoing recommendation. You need to develop experience and knowledge of what works and understanding of how to link it all together. There's no shortcut to that.

Sure, you can learn licks and just stick them together but you limit potential to elaborate and most licks which you take from others will be in a million other solos. Use licks as a starting phrase to analyse and break it up into smaller fragments which you can use more variably and are less fixed into a particular tonality and placement within the scale.


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Unread 08-07-2012, 09:00 AM   #11
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Just spent the last hour or so trying to play without resting my pinky, it's taking a while to get used to but I can already feel how much more dynamic control you have . The one thing that i'm finding hard is muting and down picking, but i'm sure that's just me not doing it right and i'll find a way around it in no time.
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Unread 08-08-2012, 07:08 PM   #12
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Just spent the last hour or so trying to play without resting my pinky, it's taking a while to get used to but I can already feel how much more dynamic control you have . The one thing that i'm finding hard is muting and down picking, but i'm sure that's just me not doing it right and i'll find a way around it in no time.
I used to suffer from WPS or, wild pinky syndrome... I tried to correct it but didn't have the patience. I've gotten to the point where it doesn't really hinder me, and when I'm playing really fast, it stays close to the fretboard. Muting and down picking will come with time as well! I still need to work on triplets and chugging
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