Follow our step-by-step plan for quicker, slicker, better playing – guaranteed!
It’s an undeniable thrill to hear someone really nail a fast, technical passage on any instrument. While not everyone wants to make this their main goal, there are few players that would turn down the chance to improve their technical facility in one way or another. So, where do you start? We’ve taken a few common ‘problem’ areas and zoned in on specific patterns or exercises to break out of them. We’ve broken these down into three main areas: alternate picking, legato and economy picking.
Let’s start with alternate picking – a technique that traditionally eludes guitarists, whose early attempts usually involve taking a deep breath and holding it while tensing up ready for action. Seems logical enough, but this approach usually leads to a cycle of inconsistency, frustration and possible injury. The brain and fingers become ‘wired’ to stumble over trickier areas, with messy results. Easy enough to gloss over when you’re sitting at home, but what about when your band is covering The Drill Song and you’re expected to deliver consistently?
Legato presents a different challenge – generating lines of notes with minimal to no input from the picking hand requires stamina and control. Many less experienced players reach for the gain control, assuming (correctly) that the increased sensitivity and compression will help bring out those hammer-ons and pull-offs. The trouble is, it brings out all the handling noise too, so what you gain in ease of playing, you lose in articulation. More on this later...
Economy picking is a great compromise, allowing easier and more fluid articulation for groups of notes, but many of the previous issues apply here too – plus the dilemma of when to pick and when to play legato.
Okay, time for some answers. When approaching (or reappraising) any technique, it’s important to look at every aspect and make sure you’re doing it as efficiently as you can. Minimum movement at the tip of the pick choosing the most comfortable angle, using only your wrist, not the whole forearm. Choosing the most logical fretting fingers and not lifting them any more than necessary, saving effort and time. Economy in motion and logical up and down strokes when crossing the strings.
Perhaps most importantly, always practise to a click, a drum machine, or some other point of reference for timing – otherwise small errors that you forgive yourself in private may lead to coming unstuck in public. While all this might not sound awfully artistic or creative, it actually does facilitate greater creativity when you have incrementally built up the conditioned reflexes – or ‘muscle memory’ – to allow you the choice of exactly where and when you employ a particular technique to best serve the solo, or song.
Regular practise is essential, even if it’s only for a few minutes a day. In fact, this may be preferable to long, punishing sessions that can actually further entrench any problem ‘habits’ or mental attitudes you may develop about your playing as a result of impatience and boredom. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can improve your coordination – and in turn your speed – as long as you always warm up and stay on top of the details.
small errors you for give yourself for at home may lead to coming unstuck when playing in public