One of the cool things about working on your guitar technique really hard is that you start to gain new
insights. And these insights, although they may appear insignificant at times can actually make a huge
difference to your playing. In fact, they often can make such a massive difference that you'll kick yourself
that you didn't notice them sooner!
One insight in the realm of alternate picking is this…
The speed that the pick moves will not always be the same as the speed of the notes being
At first glance the previous sentence might seem completely wrong. I mean…shouldn't the pick move at the
same speed as the notes? Many of my less advanced students think that it should…at least initially.
The Two Functions Of A Pick
When you are alternate picking, every single pick motion will serve two functions…
- It picks the note you are currently playing.
- It moves the pick to the new location in preparation for the next note.
Most guitarists are aware of the first function, but they often don't pay much attention to the second
function…preparing the pick for the next note. And this lack of attention can often cause massive problems when
it comes to fast alternate picking. You'll see why in a minute…
Why Moving Your Pick At A Constant Speed Doesn't Always
Often when a student of mine is working on a song or lick that uses alternate picking they can get it up to
a certain speed. But then they hit a brick wall…a speed that is very hard to get beyond. For Example: They
might be able to play four notes per beat at 132 bpm…but they can't go faster than that.
A very common reason why this happens is that they are trying to move the pick at a constant speed. (They
are often using the movement of the pick to help them play in time). This strategy would work well if the
alternate picking lick involved picking on a single string only. But most licks involve another important
thing…string changes. And these string changes mean that some pick motions will need to be done faster than
Distance Is The Critical Factor
Let's say that you were watching a car race. There is a red car that has to travel
1 mile. There is a blue car that has to travel 2 miles.
Which car would have to drive faster if they were to reach their destination at the same time? Think about it
for a second…
It's the blue car. The blue car would have to travel at twice the speed of the red car. Why? Because the
blue car has to travel twice the distance to reach its destination.
So how does this relate to string changes? I'd like you to think about this for a while. Please don't
continue reading until you've come up with an answer.
All done? Great! You probably realize by now that any string changes you do when alternate picking mean that
the distance the pick moves is greater. To put another way…when you are picking on a single string the pick
only has to move a small amount for each pick motion. (And this makes it very easy to keep the pick moving at a
constant speed). But anytime the pick has to change strings, you need to move the pick faster because there is
more distance to cover.
A Couple Of Alternate Picking Tips
Now, this theory is all very well…but how does it help you. Well, here are a couple of quick tips to get you
- Analyze the string change in great detail. Try to find the most economical and relaxed
way to change strings while still maintaining a constant alternate picking motion.
- Practice and master the string change in isolation. Once you've found the best way to
do the string change, then be sure to practice it repeatedly until it becomes easy. Practice it until you
can do it very quickly without thinking.
And remember this…your alternate picking will only be as fast as your string changes. So work hard at
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