Many guitarists focus heavily on their fretting hand instead of their picking hand.
This is natural, especially early on, when a player must make a deliberate effort to get their fretting hand and fingers in the right position, doing the right things.
But in the long run, not working on your picking hand could limit what you’re able to play.
If you want to take your playing to the next level, it’s time to work on your picking technique.
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Practice String Skipping Exercises
String skipping is where you pick one string and then pick another non-adjacent string. For instance, you might pick the third string and quickly jump down to the first string to pick a different note.
Picking adjacent strings in sequence is easy, but string skipping forces you to get out of your comfort zone. That is, of course, unless you’ve already worked on your string skipping technique.
This is something I’ve covered in another lesson, so I’m not going to explain all the ins and outs of this technique here. But it’s fair to say that the more strings you have to jump over at a time, the harder it gets. The maximum number of strings you can skip at any time is four, since there are only six strings on the guitar.
Also, it’s one thing to string skip slowly – quite another if you need to execute at high speeds. Practicing with a metronome will show you just how difficult this can be.
Though the previously mentioned lesson contains five exercises already, here’s one bonus exercise you can try:
Another great song to learn at this stage is “Sweet Child O’ Mine” buy Guns N’ Roses, especially the intro. Slash had no intention of turning that riff into a song, and in fact first developed it as a finger exercise. In addition to string skipping, the fretting hand technique is also a bit of a “finger twister.” Give this a try – you can find the tabs just about anywhere, and it’s a great exercise.
Work On Your Alternate Picking
You might feel like you know everything there is to know about alternate picking already. The concept is simple enough – you simply pick one note up, the next note down, up, down, up, down.
But if you’ve ever checked out the kinds of exercises Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple) has published, you’ll see just how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Alternate picking on a single string is no big deal. But what if you had to alternate pick while string skipping? That’s the kind of stuff Morse works on.
Here’s an example:
This would be easy enough to do if you didn’t have to alternate pick, right? But because the exercise requires you to alternate pick, it makes it harder.
It’s exercises like these that help you see where your “blind spots” are as a guitarist. Unless you’re constantly challenging yourself, you probably wouldn’t think to try something like this.
If you want your alternate picking technique to be more fluid than it is, work on exercises like the above.
Learn Different Styles Of Picking
If you’re already a finger-picker, then learn how to play with a pick. If you usually play with a pick, learn finger style. If you’re comfortable with both, learn to hybrid pick, or learn to play with a thumbpick.
Even a simple exercise like the following can be played using all the picking techniques just described:
Most guitarists naturally resort to what’s easiest. When they see double stops like there are in this exercise, they may be more inclined to use their fingers than a pick. But if you work on this with a pick, it will stretch you and force you to be more precise with your picking. But again, the goal is to try it every which way. If you aren’t regularly getting out of your comfort zone, you aren’t improving.
Another thing you can do with the above is alternate pick it. I know it sounds like a pain, but it will be worth the effort if you work on it.
As you can see, we can take a single exercise and turn it into multiple exercises with a bit of outside-the-box thinking.
4 Quick Tips For Improving Your Picking Technique
Here are several quick tips to keep your practice focused and productive:
- Practice with a metronome. Precision and accuracy is the most important thing when it comes to practice. Speed will come later. First, work on getting every pick stroke perfect. Do it right, or it's hardly worth doing at all.
- Try different styles of guitar. If you’re used to playing country, give metal a try. If you like playing the blues, dig into jazz a little bit. You’ll see that these styles are all a little different and force you to adjust your picking technique.
- Practice consistently. Keep working at it – aim for five to six days per week, if possible. You’ll see measurable progress sooner if you dedicate a little bit of time every day to your practice instead of doing it whenever you feel like it. Even 15 minutes per day can make a drastic difference in a short amount of time.
- Write a new lick or solo. Practical application is important. Try incorporating what you’ve learned into your own music. If you have no choice but to play that lick or solo when jamming with your band or performing live, you’ll be more motivated to perfect it.
Improving your picking technique requires you to try things you’ve never done before. This will cause a certain amount of discomfort. Pushing through that discomfort is where you’ll begin to see improvement.
Having reached a certain point in your guitar playing, it’s easy to think you should be able to do anything. But that isn’t necessarily the case, and you will continue to discover weaknesses. What you do with that weakness is what matters. Developing exercises around it is the best way to conquer it and move onto other areas you can improve upon.