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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hey everybody,

I was asked to do an alternate picking overview on another site, so I figured some of you might be interested in it as well :metal:

So a little while ago I offered to do a thread on alternate picking, and the more I started thinking about it, the more I realized that there is a LOT to cover. Therefore, I will do this in installments, instead of one mega post.

DISCLAIMER: I am not an amazing alternate picker by any means, I just was able to double my picking proficiency in about 8 months practicing like this. When I started, I could do chromatic 4 note per string exercises at 132 bpm 16th notes, and now I am at 200 bpm 16th notes.

Here is the 200bpm video:


Okay, for starters, lets look into what parts of alternate picking to work on. To me, there are really two main areas of alternate picking:

1) Speed
2) Consistency

However, these things should NOT be practiced together!!! Let me say that again. DO NOT PRACTICE THESE TOGETHER!!!

This was the thing that had been tripping me up for years. If you were a sprinter, would you work on your speed by running miles at a time? No.

Likewise, it is imperative that these two aspects of picking be practiced individually. It is not wise for us to try to increase our picking speed by playing scales for hours straight. This tires your muscles and will only cause you to tense up while picking (and therefore LEARN to pick tense), which is the exact opposite effect than what we are striving for.

Relaxation is key. It is a mental battle to maintain relaxed when you are trying to push your speed boundaries. Picking is not an art that requires much force at all. It requires fluidity and control. That is what we wish to obtain.

This thread will methodically approach alternate picking in a way that should help most people break through picking barriers.

I will elaborate more on this thread as I have time, because there is a LOT to cover. If you are interested, stay tuned! If not, well there are plenty of other threads!

:shredder:
 

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I like your analogy about the spinter. I have a hard time with alternate picking and part of the reason is probably because I sit there playing forever and I keep my pick in a chokehold of death.
 

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Agreed. I can never seem to get the right rhythm when alternate picking. Is it better to use a the metronome at a 4 count(clicking for each quarter note in 4), or doing at an 8th or 16th pulse?
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Agreed. I can never seem to get the right rhythm when alternate picking. Is it better to use a the metronome at a 4 count(clicking for each quarter note in 4), or doing at an 8th or 16th pulse?
It best to cycle through them all. Set your metronome at like 80, and run through scales playing quarter notes, eighth notes, eighth note triplets, 16th notes, and 16th note triplets. Learning how to play at different rhythmic speeds to a constant pulse is WAY more conducive to application in a song than playing at the same note division and adjusting the metronome. Not to say that you shouldn't do that for speed training, but you should practice both ways.
 

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It best to cycle through them all. Set your metronome at like 80, and run through scales playing quarter notes, eighth notes, eighth note triplets, 16th notes, and 16th note triplets. Learning how to play at different rhythmic speeds to a constant pulse is WAY more conducive to application in a song than playing at the same note division and adjusting the metronome. Not to say that you shouldn't do that for speed training, but you should practice both ways.
This is what I do. :yesway:
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Yeah it just makes way more sense when applying it to music. If you are writing a solo and you want to play a run faster, you aren't going to increase the tempo by 30 bpm or whatever, you are going to further subdivide the beat :yesway:
 

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Well played Petrucci exercise! Excellent thread, I feel I must add my opinion to this article... Not intending to be contrary, pretty sure i agree with the original post for the most part, just a different way of explaining it. I look forward to your thoughts! Here goes:

I feel that speed is not an attribute in itself that will lead to great alternate picking with musical value. In my opinion, speed is a byproduct of accuracy that is attained as you become comfortable with a set stimulus, and progressively push via time constraint/metronome towards executing faster tempos. So speed comes later with time after establishing a good pathway with what you're working on. That basically means, keep it clean, fast and sloppy is, well... sloppy... hahaha as mentioned above.

I notice that there is 2 types of wicked fast player: 1) Precomposed, and well rehearsed (Petrucci, Bettencourt, Vai, Rhoads) 2) Off the cuff, but drawing from a set 'vocabulary' (Malmsteen, EVH, Satriani in Lydian Legato mode...) that crops up in every song they play, just in different keys and slightly different arrangements.

Nothing wrong with either... I'm guilty of both sometimes.

Doing 1234 exercises, or scales with a metronome is an excellent sportive achievement, but not really all that musically relevant. Play 1-2-3-4, and you'll sound like 1-2-3-4. Playing just straight rhythms all the time is kind of like playing 1-2-3-4 exercises too. There's all kinds of other rhythms, fingering options, etc that will totally rock your world, and there's just not enough time to get to them all if you totally separate your methods. So I think y'all gotta multitask a bit, and look at expanding the relative value of what you're practicing. Lemme try to explain...

I mean, if you're trying to work on good alternate picking technique, why not take a Bach Violin Sonata, or a Paganini Caprice, play it wicked slow, and play the whole thing with alternate picking, and keep working it with a metronome until it's 'violinistic' . Obviously, the arpeggio parts are going to be nasty if you only alternate pick it, but isn't that the point? Not only do you get something that sounds great (regardless of how fast or slow it's played) , you get to elevate your technique. You get to play something only the brave dare to embark upon, and depending upon how you learned it, you get to improve your ear or your sightreading or both. ooo Lots of bonuses here, no real negatives!

If it was a pick and finger tech (Associated with country) would the smart thing to do be to learn this tech via only 'Country music'? Hell no. Take the technique to new levels of familiarity by imposing it on something that might not be natural for it, ie Bach Violin Sonata, Malmsteen solo, Paganini Caprice, Giant Steps solo, etc. (Check out Greg Howe, Shawn Lane...)

I'm just saying that if you really want to get good at a technique, find a piece of music that would be a nightmare for that technique, and then apply it there, even if you only just learn how to play the music at half speed using that tech, you'll have gained something different, and advanced lightyears in your chosen field of expertise.

Good luck? Hope it helps!

Scott Kerr | Unknown | Rock / Alternative Rock / Progressive Metal | Music, Lyrics, Songs, and Videos | ReverbNation

lol And yes I can play.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
While I agree with most of what you are saying, such as playing etudes and song segments, slowly playing them while increasing the metronome is NOT the way to start building technique. Yes it is a great way to start APPLYING technique, but it is going to lead to tense technique unless it is broken down properly.

Of course I don't play 1-2-3-4 as a technique exercise. That video is to demonstrate 16th note picking, which is most easily shown 1-2-3-4.

You start to talk about composition and stuff, and I purposely want to avoid that topic right now because the topic list will multiply by 1000, and this thread will never draw to a conclusion.

You obviously know what you are doing, so I can't negate the way that you got your chops up, that just didn't work for me, and I was stuck for years without improvement until I took an entirely new approach for picking that revolves around a totally relaxed form. That is what I am going to share with you.
 

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I agree, gotta relax, and things have to be effortless at all times. I agree with most of what you're sayin', I've just found that a systemized 'martial' approach to guitar doesn't have the impact of 'killing 3 birds with one stone' approach. It's like focusing all of your life on Wing Chun Kung Fu, being real good at it, and then getting your ass handed to you by an MMA fighter. So same idea, just slightly different means of execution?

lol And don't worry about offending me, I just like talking guitar. Even if we disagree on a point or 2, maybe someone else can benefit from the articles, and I really like to dig deeper into people's viewpoints so that I can benefit, they're all just ideas! (So thanks in advance for the replies!)

Sadly, there are too many variables when playing guitar to have one approach. 4 notes per string is a lot different than 1, or 2, or 3 notes per string. Things like changing directions and starts and stops as well as rhythmic variation and also things like physiology, how the pick is held, etc, etc. have a HUGE impact on how one plays, the techs one might lean towards, so on so forth. Start adding harmonic complexity in there and hooo boy, say goodbye to the next 10 years of your life! Plus, the same notes occur and re-occur on the guitar, so there are a whack of positional issues to address also. Not like piano, that's for sure... Plus guitar's a relatively new instrument where the boundaries are really being pushed in a brave new world by every style and genre of player.

Compare Frank Gambale, Allan Holdsworth, John Petrucci, Paul Gilbert, Eric Johnson, Yngwie and I bet you see a variety of differences, tendancies, habits and styles that you can both appreciate and critique. (Some stuff you'll love, some you won't) Each player great in their own right, each one very, very different.


All I'm saying is that technique is just a way of getting the job done, and instead of focusing on 'how' to get the job done, perhaps just simply attacking specific weak points in songs/compositions as they come up. I say this because I used to practice EXACTLY the way you describe, and while it really helped get certain technical issues under control, it killed the fun of music, and made something that was already a lot of work a bit less rewarding; The musical payoff is what's important. Techs gained as a means to solve problems are a side effect in my opinion. However, I will not deny the value and immediate benefit of serious focus.
 

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So, back to the concept of just alternate picking, I promise not to talk about anything else in this thread!~ Sorry 'bout the hijack, I really do just like talking guitar!


Any ideas on the following:

1)Type of pick used
2)Pick depth
3)Anchoring vs not anchoring
4)Pick angle (I hold my pick ass backwards from how Seanbabs does! lol)
5)Slicing or flat picking
6)Useage of Stylus pick (This sucker helped a LOT for me waaaay back when...)
7)Arm vs wrist vs thumb
8)Type of etudes ie; fragments vs large study
9)Starting with upstroke vs downstroke (Shawn lane did 2-note-per str stuff starting with an upstroke)
10) LH/RH synchronization; isn't sync the real issue?

Looking forward to more thoughts!
 

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Pallin' around
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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
So, back to the concept of just alternate picking, I promise not to talk about anything else in this thread!~ Sorry 'bout the hijack, I really do just like talking guitar!

Any ideas on the following:

1)Type of pick used
2)Pick depth
3)Anchoring vs not anchoring
4)Pick angle (I hold my pick ass backwards from how Seanbabs does! lol)
5)Slicing or flat picking
6)Useage of Stylus pick (This sucker helped a LOT for me waaaay back when...)
7)Arm vs wrist vs thumb
8)Type of etudes ie; fragments vs large study
9)Starting with upstroke vs downstroke (Shawn lane did 2-note-per str stuff starting with an upstroke)
10) LH/RH synchronization; isn't sync the real issue?

Looking forward to more thoughts!
You bring up some really good points here, I will attempt to give my view on some of these, but am no expert, so these are just all my ideas.

1) Type of pick. To me this is driven by comfort and the style of music you are playing. I use JazzIII's now, because I feel like they offer more pick control, however, they suck for strumming because there isn't that much to hold on to.

For fast picking, I think thick picks are better, because they don't bend. The rigidity seems to give me a more accurate feel for the picks position, because the pick doesn't bend and change position relative to my knuckles.

For clean strumming, thin picks give you that shimmer. Picks are really just tools in a toolbox. Get the right one for the right job!

2) Pick depth. This is that epic balance between efficiency and tone. For me, I prefer to pick light, so my pick is pretty shallow, but I do practice going deeper to get more snap and tone.

3) Anchoring or not anchoring. This is something I struggled with for a while, until I realized it just doesn't matter AS LONG AS YOUR ANCHOR DOES NOT IMPEDE YOUR PICKING MOTION!!! Petrucci, Loomis, and many others anchor, while Shawn Lane, Steve Vai, and others "float" their picking hand.

My rule of thumb is that if you anchor, it cannot be a "hard" anchor where your finger sits in one place. Your hand should be able to move as you go from string to string to keep a consistent picking angle.

4&5) Picking angle and slicing verses perpendicular picking. Holding the pick should just be personal preference. As long as your hand doesn't cramp with the way you hold the pick, you should be fine. Attack angle is different though. This has to do with tone more than preference, although some preference comes into play. Best example of this is Paul Gilbert. He slices for a more fluid tone, and then picks perpendicular to the string for a more aggressive tone with more pick attack. I usually pick with at about a 30 degree angle, unless I am looking for a different tone, and I adjust accordingly.

6) Sylus pick. I have no experience here. Elaborate?

7) Arm vs. wrist vs. thumb. I am a huge proponent of wrist picking, because to me, it is the most fluid. However, you can't say people like Rusty Cooley pick wrong. And wtf is up with Marty Friedman? It works though. This really has to do with picking effortlessly. I lot of people elbow pick, but have very stiff arms, and they just "spaz" their arms to get speed, leading to excessive picking motion, and a brick wall as far as speed is concerned. However, if you do it correctly, it all just comes back to a smooth, relaxed motion.

8) Etudes: Fragments verses longer studies: This goes back to my original idea on alternate picking, that there are two main techniques, speed and consistency. I do short fragments in bursts (which I will post on tomorrow) to build my top relaxed speed (top speed in a tense mode is useless). Then I study longer etudes as a practice in learning music quickly, and performing at high accuracy.

9) Beginning with an upstroke vs. downstroke. I practice most licks with both, because sometimes starting with an upstroke simplifies the picking motion greatly. However, it is very important to be able to accent smoothly and consistently with upstrokes, which takes time to instill.

10) L&R hand sync. I focus so much on the right hand, because for years I thought my left hand was the culprit, but after I started to record my own playing, I realized that my picking accuracy was horrible. Therefore, I had to get my right hand up to task with my left hand, and synchronization began to occur.

These are great areas of study, with much variation from player to player. I am just giving my thoughts and ideas. I hope it helps somebody.
 

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It will be interesting to see how this thread develops and the examples you post. I am absolutely not trying to be a negative nancy, but the idea of slow concise rudimentary practicing of scales and exercises at slow rates and work your way to faster BPMs is the corner stone of musical instrument training for centuries. Piano, violin, vocal, etc.

Even when the guys with super fast pick hands (Gilbert) even promote slow and accurate practicing.

There are some people (Petrucci for one) that promote the idea where you practice slow and concise and then speed up a bit beyond what you can do clean and then back off until its clean again. Kind of working beyond your means and the reigning it in and then repeating.

But again, I am not trying to be a negative nancy and look forward to any tips, especially since my pick hand lacks serious speed.
 

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how should i practice:

A: picking technique? right now i´m trying to help out my "ordinary" picking technique. i never took lessons to learn stuff like this, and so i pick the way it felt right to me, and how i thought it sounded best. this ended up being the usual "pinching" grip. Some forum member here called it the "holding dirty panties" grip (insert joke about JJ picking with his teeth here). i do this with an open hand, and i hit the strings pretty much straight-on with the flat side of the pick. it feels alright for less complex playing, and palm muting feels good when playing like this. i mute the unplayed strings with therest of my fingers when i do this.

now, i´ve seen most metal players suggesting the "picking at an angle" way of doing things. some hold the pick between the thumb and the side of the index finger, with the hand open. some make like a fist, and have the pick pinched in the same place, but with a closed hand. some do the fist, but hold the pick pinched between the thumb and the middle joint of the index (i THINK i´ve seen Nolly do this?). i have no idea which way would work for me, and i have no idea how to even start.
I´ve tried getting closer to this by angling the pick the other way, so it´s closer to what i already know. i pinch it pretty much the same way, but it´s angled. it´s angled the opposite direction of the "proper" angled picking technique though. i´ve seen this technique discussed by some players as being superior somewhere, but it´s very personal i think. the reason i want to learn this technique is because it would let me glide through the strings much more smoothly. there´s much less resistance, because of the round edge of the pick rolling across the strings, rather than the flat edge raking through. it also has a much more chuggy metallic sound that works great for more metal-ish types of metal :D

so how do i even begin re-learning my picking technique? i would like to have it available to use properly if needed, and if i like it better, i´ll probably use it full time. i can do it a little, but i have problems keeping the pick gripped properly, as my hand isn´t used to it. i can play the main riff in Bleed (meshuggah) by holding it this way, even though it´s just for a short while.

B: jumping between strings when picking fast. i have problems doing this. take the riff in Bleed as an example again. the main part of it jumps between the Eb for the open notes and the Bb for the bending. then it jumps to the low F and stuff too. Gojira riffs do the whole jumping between strings in tremolo picking riffs too. maybe it´s just me sucking at fast playing, but is there any way i can practice jumping to different strings while keeping the stream of notes constant, and not losing any notes in between?
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
It will be interesting to see how this thread develops and the examples you post. I am absolutely not trying to be a negative nancy, but the idea of slow concise rudimentary practicing of scales and exercises at slow rates and work your way to faster BPMs is the corner stone of musical instrument training for centuries. Piano, violin, vocal, etc.

Even when the guys with super fast pick hands (Gilbert) even promote slow and accurate practicing.

There are some people (Petrucci for one) that promote the idea where you practice slow and concise and then speed up a bit beyond what you can do clean and then back off until its clean again. Kind of working beyond your means and the reigning it in and then repeating.

But again, I am not trying to be a negative nancy and look forward to any tips, especially since my pick hand lacks serious speed.
I am not saying you shouldn't slowly build up your speed to a metronome, that is exactly what you should do. I am just saying that if you play continuously for an hour, you aren't helping yourself out. Your muscles will fatigue and you will begin tensing up to try to squeeze more speed out.

how should i practice:

A: picking technique? right now i´m trying to help out my "ordinary" picking technique. i never took lessons to learn stuff like this, and so i pick the way it felt right to me, and how i thought it sounded best. this ended up being the usual "pinching" grip. Some forum member here called it the "holding dirty panties" grip (insert joke about JJ picking with his teeth here). i do this with an open hand, and i hit the strings pretty much straight-on with the flat side of the pick. it feels alright for less complex playing, and palm muting feels good when playing like this. i mute the unplayed strings with therest of my fingers when i do this.

now, i´ve seen most metal players suggesting the "picking at an angle" way of doing things. some hold the pick between the thumb and the side of the index finger, with the hand open. some make like a fist, and have the pick pinched in the same place, but with a closed hand. some do the fist, but hold the pick pinched between the thumb and the middle joint of the index (i THINK i´ve seen Nolly do this?). i have no idea which way would work for me, and i have no idea how to even start.
I´ve tried getting closer to this by angling the pick the other way, so it´s closer to what i already know. i pinch it pretty much the same way, but it´s angled. it´s angled the opposite direction of the "proper" angled picking technique though. i´ve seen this technique discussed by some players as being superior somewhere, but it´s very personal i think. the reason i want to learn this technique is because it would let me glide through the strings much more smoothly. there´s much less resistance, because of the round edge of the pick rolling across the strings, rather than the flat edge raking through. it also has a much more chuggy metallic sound that works great for more metal-ish types of metal :D

so how do i even begin re-learning my picking technique? i would like to have it available to use properly if needed, and if i like it better, i´ll probably use it full time. i can do it a little, but i have problems keeping the pick gripped properly, as my hand isn´t used to it. i can play the main riff in Bleed (meshuggah) by holding it this way, even though it´s just for a short while.

B: jumping between strings when picking fast. i have problems doing this. take the riff in Bleed as an example again. the main part of it jumps between the Eb for the open notes and the Bb for the bending. then it jumps to the low F and stuff too. Gojira riffs do the whole jumping between strings in tremolo picking riffs too. maybe it´s just me sucking at fast playing, but is there any way i can practice jumping to different strings while keeping the stream of notes constant, and not losing any notes in between?
The way you hold your pick is largely a comfort thing. I hold mine between the inside of the first knuckle on my index finger and my thumb.

As far as string skipping goes, it is a hard technique that requires practice. Give me a little time and I will try to get something together for that :yesway:
 

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i notice alot of people use their forearms and whole hand for fast alternate picking. I alternate pick fast as fuck, but i only use my thumb and pointer finger. My hand stays put. When i watch other people play i notice how physical they have to be and it looks uncomfortable
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Okay everybody! Here is a video that shows how I attempted to build relaxed technique. It is essentially the "burst" method, which I am sure many of you are familiar with. However, I think most people make the mistake of worrying about executing the notes too much when doing these techniques.

The beauty of the burst technique is that the short amount of time allows you to play faster than you could for longer passages. This means that you can play incredibly fast, incredibly relaxed for very short periods of time. This is very important, because if you can establish this, then you just need to work on being able to play relaxed longer, which is much easier than learning how to play fast, and then trying to relax your technique.

Hopefully this video helps demonstrate this concept, and it is useful to you guys!

 

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I get what you are going for, and it makes sense, but I would add that you should never tense up anyways.

Practicing scales for hours and hours slowly working your way up the BPMs should be done relaxed as well. You should never tense up. To say that everyone tenses up because they are practicing scales for long times is inaccurate.

It's really not a lot different that just making sure you relax when practicing picking techniques. I dont think time involved makes any difference (except for being boring as hell) as long as you make sure you stay relaxed.

But I get what you are going for and you do a good job explaining it.
 

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It best to cycle through them all. Set your metronome at like 80, and run through scales playing quarter notes, eighth notes, eighth note triplets, 16th notes, and 16th note triplets. Learning how to play at different rhythmic speeds to a constant pulse is WAY more conducive to application in a song than playing at the same note division and adjusting the metronome. Not to say that you shouldn't do that for speed training, but you should practice both ways.
Im gonna disagree here mate for one simple reason, often when a guitarist has to play 16th or 16th triplets he has no reference in the percussion. Learning to play with a metronome is like learning to play with hats and cymbals. You hardly ever hear constant 16th note hats so the metronome should be the same.

You should learn everything above against a pulse of 4 and 8 no more.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Im gonna disagree here mate for one simple reason, often when a guitarist has to play 16th or 16th triplets he has no reference in the percussion. Learning to play with a metronome is like learning to play with hats and cymbals. You hardly ever hear constant 16th note hats so the metronome should be the same.

You should learn everything above against a pulse of 4 and 8 no more.
You misunderstood that. The metronome is set at 80 bpm quarter notes, and then you further subdivide it with your playing to triplets, 16th, 16th note triplets while the metronome stays constant.
 
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