Alternate Picking Lesson - Increase Your Speed By Understanding Economy Of Motion

Have you ever noticed how guitarists who can alternate pick fast often make it look really easy? For Example: I remember watching a video of Tiago Della Vega setting the Guinness World Record for World's Fastest Guitarist. It was incredible to watch his picking hand as he played Flight Of The Bumblebee at a frightening 320bpm. Considering that song makes large use of sixteenth note rhythms, I think the tempo he played that song was otherworldly. (And it certainly inspired me enough to do lots of alternate picking practice for the rest of the day!).

The thing I really noticed about Tiago's picking hand was just how small his pick motions were. He obviously is a guitarist who understands the value of  economy of motion. And there is absolutely no way he could have played at such a high level if he used large pick movements!

So why is economy of motion so essential for fast alternate picking? Well, it doesn't take a world-class physicist to answer this question. (And that's just as well, because I'm certainly not one!). The answer is because the more you move your pick with each picking motion, the longer each pick motion takes to complete. (I'm assuming that the speed you move your pick remains constant).

And the reverse is also true. The smaller you make your picking motions, the less time each pick motion takes to complete. And the less time each pick motion takes, the faster you will be able to alternate pick.

But Don't Just Take My Word For It

Rather than just passively reading what I've just said, how about testing this theory? Go and grab your guitar now. Once you've got it, then continue reading.

All done? Great! Now, I'd like you to try the following…

  • Pick the open B-string slowly using alternate picking. Use very large pick motions. Make them as big as possible.
  • Gradually speed up until you reach your maximum picking speed.
  • Now repeat the first two steps. But this time use very small pick motions.

So what did you notice? If you're like most people, you probably would have noticed two main things…

  1. You were able to pick much faster using the small pick motions.
  2. You were much more accurate with the small pick motions. You may have noticed that you often missed the string when you were using the very fast pick motions.

One Warning

Although it's true that small pick motions are critical for alternate picking quickly, you do need to keep something else very important in mind. And that important thing is tone. You need to get a balance between the economy of motion and the tone you want to get when you pick. Sometimes you will get a better tone by making your pick motions slightly larger.


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