Monday, July 30, 2012

Picking - How do I get faster, some keys to right hand development

Lots of variables here ...

I should preface this by saying the is no one agreed upon "WAY". We are all different and I have seen many bizarre techniques of holding the pick (plectrum). Despite conventional wisdom - they all work. Take a minute and look at Steve Morse, Pat Metheny, Eddie Van Halen, Marty Freidman, Oz Noy and others - talk about odd! Totally different than conventional teachings, yet they all burn! So finding what works for you is at the root.

Couple of considerations:

  • Guitar height/strap length - When you practice you should be standing or better yet set your strap height to match - so that when you stand, OR sit, they are the same. The key thing is the angles involved between body and guitar shouldn't change. So if you practice sitting down.. then stand up using a long strap, all the angles change.. They need to remain consistent. So if you MUST use a long strap then practice while standing always.
  • Pick angle - For me I am close to 45 degrees to the string when burning. Flat would completely slow me down. Yet others say the opposite. As I said before, there is no one approach. So you really need to try them all.
  • Type of pick - Commonly the heavier the pick the better. You can't have your pick springing back (rebounding) at at different rate of speed than your playing. For this reason, soft picks are generally not the choice of most fast players. The best I have found are Dunlop Jazz III's... I don't personally like the small ones any more, even though I used them for over a decade. I recently switched to the XL version... then to a lighter pick... then back again! So look around. Again this is all personal comfort, so take some money, hit your local music store and come home with a good cross-section of weights, sizes and materials. More importantly, every few years repeat this process. I thought I had my process nailed down, only to find a new life with something different.

    I actually did a blog post that may help you, detailing some of this
  • Pointy end, or shoulder - for me I used the pointy end of the pick for years... Then I spun it around one day and have never gone back... I love the tone with the shoulder, and suddenly I am faster. ?? Moral of this story: Leave no stone unturned.
  • Floating bridge (Les Paul, SG) or Flat bridge (Strat, Tele) guitars - the different architecture of the instruments themselves determine your hands ability to rest on the body or not. This factor also plays a significant role in tension and general comfort. String scale length varies too and plays an equal role. If you have one type guitar, try the other... Few shredders go back and forth and most seem to opt for the flat strat style... Although if you have good technique either works. Joe Bonamassa seems to do JUST FINE on a raised bridge!
  • Floating hand or fixed hand - Floating has less resistance... but muting can be a challenge. I do both techniques for different passages. Ultimately, you need to master all of these different approaches. Different techniques generate different tonal colors... So the one you choose is ultimately decided by the sound you are after.
  • Where on the string you pick - if you pick near the neck joint, you are nearing the area where the string vibration (movement side to side as it rings) is the highest. Near the bridge, there is conversely almost no movement... But here, the bridge can get in the way of your hand! Try moving your hand along the length of the string as you play various passages. See where your execution is the clearest and what the tone is like. There is a sweet spot you need to find where comfort, tone and manageable string movement meet. Find it.
  • Elbow/wrist or fingers - I mostly pick from the wrist with some assistance from my fingers... On really fast passages, I lock up my wrist and fingers and vibrate like hell from the elbow... For me this works, although I have read people saying never pick from the elbow... Remember - you really need to leave no stone unturned.

    I know some players like the sarod style and here is a great video to help you (
  • Tension - awareness of it is the key. Minimizing it is critical. Always strive to be in a relaxed state. Isolate any tension and adjust your positioning to minimize and hopefully eliminate it.

Lastly, I should say that how fast you are is mostly determined by the music you play regularly. If you listen to fast music and you practice fast music, the chances are you will eventually become a fast player. But if you listen to Pink Floyd all the time, then shred in practice only, it will always remain non-intuitive. You need to hear it a lot and do it a lot.

Also, you need to understand WHY you,want to be a fast player... Is it possible you are simply trying to impress people with it? Ego is a massive hindrance to your playing. I would highly recommend a read of a book like Kenny Werner's 'Effortless Mastery' or Victor Wootens 'The Music Lesson' to understand the role ego plays in your playing. We are all guilty of it to a degree. If you simply love fast music and hear fast music, then fine... But if you simply equate speed = talent and looking good in the eyes of others, then you are screwed from the get go.

 It should be said that ALL OF THIS is for naught if you don't play a LOT. One of the reasons people want to play fast is because it is a byproduct of all the work. When you hear a player really burning it is a testament to how much work that individual has done. Of course you want to be fast! We all do... but there is only one way to get it: put in the work.

Happy Picking to you all!

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    A good set of tips, though I was particularly interested by your comment re plectrums. I too have recently changed to a more pointy pick and found an immediate improvement in my alternate picking, for example. I suspect many of us don't bother about thinking about pick choice, or even experimenting with different ones, as we assume (wrongly) that it is less important than many other aspects of playing technique.

    Anyway, I enjoyed your article. Thanks!