Australian Guitar - - Contents -

In this is­sue, I want to cover some­thing I get asked about a lot: what can you prac­tise to get faster? The an­swer is not what you prac­tise, but how you prac­tise. Get­ting faster is easy if you set your­self some goals and stick re­li­giously to a prac­tise rou­tine.

Per­son­ally, I have found it eas­i­est to prac­tise for 15 min­utes per day, first thing in the morn­ing be­fore any dis­trac­tions get in the way. Be­cause they are tech­ni­cal ex­er­cises that don’t re­quire too much thought, just rep­e­ti­tion, I find it al­most like a form of med­i­ta­tion, and I end up think­ing about what I have to get done that day.

Cru­cial to my tech­nique is a place where ev­ery­thing I need to prac­tise with is set up and ready to go. I have an iTunes playlist of metronome tracks that goes for ex­actly 15 min­utes; each track goes for one minute, and I start by or­der­ing the tracks in in­cre­ments of 10bpm (beats per minute).

If it’s a new tech­ni­cal ex­er­cise, I might start at 60bpm, then 70, then 80. I’ll do that for a few weeks be­fore I delete the 60bpm track and add one at 90bpm – and so forth. I’ve be­come so used to prac­tic­ing like this that I have re­minders set in my phone to alert me when I need to up­date my metronome playlist. Prac­tise starts to be­come fun af­ter a month or two, and I feel like some­thing isn’t right if I haven’t prac­tised in the morn­ing.


Ex­er­cise #1 is a great tech­ni­cal ex­er­cise to build down-pick­ing speed. Many years ago. I had a goal in mind to learn how to play “Black­ened” by Me­tal­lica, down-picked like James Het­field does at 190bpm. I strug­gled with it for ages un­til I came across a warm-up ex­er­cise that Dime­bag Dar­rel used be­fore shows.

The first two bars of Ex­er­cise #1 out­line what Dime­bag used to warm up. It’s en­tirely de­signed for warm­ing up the right hand and works great for build­ing up down-pick­ing speed. I took this idea and com­bined it with my favourite left hand warm-up: ‘crab walk­ing’. The third and fourth bars show the down-pick­ing ex­er­cise com­bined with crab walk­ing across the low E and A strings.

Con­tinue this pat­tern across all strings and up the fret­board, un­til you reach the 15th po­si­tion. Three min­utes on this ex­er­cise and you should be nicely warmed up!


Ex­er­cise #2 out­lines two A mi­nor arpeg­gios. I use this as a sweep pick­ing tech­ni­cal ex­er­cise and shift th­ese pat­terns up and down the neck chro­mat­i­cally. The 7:8 and 6:8 note group­ings look com­plex, but the low­est and high­est note fall on each beat of the bar. You’ll find it eas­ier if you start slow; I started out at 60bpm and worked my way up over a pe­riod of months, un­til it be­came mus­cle mem­ory.

Both of th­ese shapes should be fa­mil­iar – the first two bars out­line the ba­sic pen­ta­tonic blues box, which is usu­ally the first scale most gui­tarists learn to im­pro­vise with. Bars three and four out­line the A mi­nor arpeg­gio start­ing on the A string – again, a chord shape that most gui­tarists should be rather fa­mil­iar with.

The dif­fi­culty when I was learn­ing to sweep pick arpeg­gios was fig­ur­ing out how to use them in my play­ing. By work­ing out how to sweep shapes I was al­ready fa­mil­iar with, it be­came very easy to chuck them into so­los.


Ex­er­cise #3 out­lines the modes of the C ma­jor scale. This pat­tern plays the notes as 16ths, but uses the three-notes-per-string pat­tern. I use sweep pick­ing to get even faster. Pay close at­ten­tion to the up and down pick mark­ings.

When as­cend­ing through the scales, sweep with a down-up-down mo­tion, and when de­scend­ing through the scales, use an up-down-up mo­tion. This may seem un­nat­u­ral at first, but it is the most ef­fi­cient way to cross from string to string when you’re play­ing an un­even num­ber of notes per string.

I play through the modes up and down the fret­board for three min­utes, and for the last six min­utes of my prac­tise rou­tine, I im­pro­vise us­ing both Ex­er­cise #2 and #3 over a chord pro­gres­sion in C ma­jor. This is re­ally im­por­tant, be­cause oth­er­wise th­ese will just re­main tech­ni­cal ex­er­cises and you wont bridge them into your play­ing. Make up any di­a­tonic pro­gres­sion in C and give it a go!

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