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!