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Alternate picking

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Alternate picking

PostPosted: Tue Feb 20, 2018 7:42 pm
by Lala
Sorry, this is gonna turn into a bit of a ramble :headbang: ....

I've been playing guitar, to varying degrees, since I was nine years old (I'll be 47 this year) - there was a time when I didn't pick a guitar up for a year or more, conversely, when I was playing in a band, I'd be practising 3-4 hours a day and there were times when the creative juices were flowing when I'd literally be playing all day long.

I mention this to make the point that I've done a lot of playing and, at times, been dedicated to practise etc.

One thing I've never been able to do though is play fast - I know it's not the be all and end all but it's another technique to have under your belt and with a liking for some players who would fall into the 'shred' category, over the years, there have been a couple of times where I've made a conscious effort to sit down with a metronome and really try to improve - it's never worked though, after a few months I could never perceive any improvement and got bored and frustrated.

Last year I discovered a very short track on Youtube by Andy James called ‘Sky Dreams’ which I really liked - it’s probably the slowest thing he plays, most of his stuff is crazy fast but I must admit, it doesn’t really do a lot for me but this piece really stood out, so I thought I’d learn it. There’s a descending line the lead guitar plays which I knew might be a problem when I got to it and indeed it was – shredders around the world would probably scoff as it’s not that fast but too fast for me!

This has led me back to thinking right, THIS TIME, I’m gonna work on my speed again and THIS TIME I’m gonna nail it…

I’ll be honest, it’s not going well – I know there are a gazillion articles in all the usual mags about how to improve your speed and any number of videos on Youtube but I’m trying not to blind myself with too many of these – to use a golfing analogy for a moment, if you try and think about your head, shoulder turn, weight transference, stance etc as you’re standing over the ball, there’s no way you’re gonna hit the ball when you swing the club !

One thing I have looked at is an old video Guthrie Govan recorded for ‘Lick Library’, explaining the basics of alternate picking. He talks about pick grip and pick angle relative to the strings, playing from the wrist, not elbow and starts off just ‘tremolo’ picking on one string, holding down one note.

I’ve taken this all away and over the last few days I’ve come to the conclusion that, even after all these years of playing, my co-ordination between right and left hand is absolutely appalling !!

I’ve used the ‘fours’ exercise for donkeys years as my warm up and could literally play this in my sleep but I just cannot seem to increase the speed and retain any accuracy, I don’t feel ‘in control’ as it were. I feel like I want to ‘let go’ and just ‘do it’ but I’m still trying to consciously think about what I’m doing, I can’t seem to get past this invisible wall.

Is it just a case of spending hours, days, weeks, months with a metronome and the simplest of lines until it clicks ?

Are there any shredders out there who could offer a bit of advice or reassurance that it will click ?!

I don’t necessarily want to be able to play Yngwie’s back catalogue but I would like to introduce what might loosely be referred to as ‘burst playing’ into my repertoire.

Sorry for the long post.


Re: Alternate picking

PostPosted: Tue Feb 20, 2018 8:00 pm
by Sam Spoons
I've been playing since I was 11 and I'm 65 next week. I'm reasonably fast but not into shredder territory. My obsession is Gypsy Jazz and the good guys can match most of the shred community on long scale acoustic guitars with 3mm actions. The GJ guys use 3.5mm+ pics and play down strokes wherever possible so they don't make life easy for themselves (thick pics are a whole separate discussion though but in a nutshell they give better control but are less forgiving than thin ones, they also sound better...... The other guys who p[lay lightning fast on acoustics are the Bluegrass guitar and mandolin players, they also use heavy picks.

Almost all of the good guys in the BG and GJ scene use a specific grip on the pic, the Bluegrass grip (aka power grip)


But not all.... There are very fast players who hold the pic as if the tip is almost an extension of the index finger (rather than having the end joint of the index finger parallel to the thumb but pointing back towards the heel of the hand as in the BG grip).

My 'bette noir' was fast chromatic runs on a single string (fast enough to sound like tremolo picking) I asked a good GJ player the secret (at a workshop) and was not surprised that he simply replied "practice"..... I'm better than I was but still a world away from the pros.

Regarding practice, it's much more fun playing tunes than scales so if you're lacking motivation just record a rhythm track on a looper and go for it......

Oh, and don't neglect sweep picking if you want to shred.

Re: Alternate picking

PostPosted: Tue Feb 20, 2018 8:11 pm
by Jumpeyspyder
Nice post and great track (not heard of Andy James before)

I'm no shredder either, but if my life depended on playing that track (and i had two months free to learn it) I'd just about scrape it! (assuming i didn't forget the next section) :blush:

My bad habit when I play naturaly - without thinking, is my fingers tend to move in a very exagerated way (too much lift too much pressure on strings)
For me the secret of playing faster is - instead of trying to play fast, I have to to relax as much as possible and try play as efficiently as possible.
learn the track well at a snails pace and it will speed up on its own.

hoping this is helpful

Re: Alternate picking

PostPosted: Tue Feb 20, 2018 8:37 pm
by Lala
Many thanks for the quick replies.

Sam, I've seen some videos of GJ guitarist and they are scary fast. I've also read a bit about the differing pick grips (a guy who I also like is Chris Thile who is a mandolin virtuoso in the BG genre with Nickel Creek, he talks about grip a lot) but that grip in your photo is incredibly alien to me. To use my golf analogy again, that would be like me changing my swing and I'm not sure I could put that level of work in to relearn how to grip a pick.

It's also funny you mention sweep picking because a lot of the books I've read over the years say that is one of the hardest techniques to master. Now I'm not saying for a second I'm good but I can do it quite well albeit in one position but I find alternate picking SO much harder.

Jumpey totally hear you, when I see pros play their picking hand barely moves, mine seems to be working overtime. I've always thought I had good finger independence in my fretting hand but as the speed increases its like I've never played before.

Re: Alternate picking

PostPosted: Tue Feb 20, 2018 8:43 pm
by Sam Inglis
If it's any consolation I am totally in the same boat as the OP. I can do rapid alternate picking on a single note. I can move my left-hand fingers reasonably fast when I'm doing scales with hammer-ons or pull-offs. But I cannot for the life of me coordinate the two.

I have dodged the issue by taking up fingerstyle guitar instead!

Re: Alternate picking

PostPosted: Wed Feb 21, 2018 1:46 am
by CS70
Something you might consider is to actually go to lessons with an experienced, fast guitarist. We've been playing approx the same time (I started at 13 instead of 9) and learning all the stuff I can do by ear has been a lot of fun, but I know for a fact that it would have take 20 years less with a good teacher and I would technically play much better than I do.

The thing with technique is that it's dozens of small details that all combine, and certain depend on the anatomy, certain don't. It's about simple exercises which teach your muscles what to do, and your hands where to be so that it just "feels" right and then you don't really think about it, and a teacher can do wonders to crack exactly where you ain't doing the right thing.

Re: Alternate picking

PostPosted: Wed Feb 21, 2018 4:30 am
by DC-Choppah
I learned sweep picking Frank Gambale style. Please consider the following simple fact. If your right hand is moving downward, and the next note is on the next higher string, then you can play the next note with another downstroke. It is really that simple. So if you do it right you will be relaxed and comfortable.

Another key thing is this: what your audience hears is 10x faster than what you hear.

So just strive to be relaxed and comfortable instead of fast. And remember that your audience hears things 10x faster than you play it.

Fast only counts if it is clean. Play within yourself at all times. Clean will sound faster than faster played sloppy.

Stay within yourself honestly. People will judge your honesty not your speed.

Re: Alternate picking

PostPosted: Wed Feb 21, 2018 11:07 am
by Lala
Many thanks for the continued replies - it's good to hear opinions.

DC, I totally agree with you about players trying to be fast but at the expense of accuracy etc, you can tell sloppy playing a mile off...I also agree with the audience/non players perception of things sounding faster than the player hears them.

CS70, also a good shout re lessons - it's probably been 20 years since I've had a lesson.

It's the relaxing whilst increasing the speed I'm really struggling with - as soon as I start to increase the tempo, my arm, wrist and hand all naturally want to tense up.

Re: Alternate picking

PostPosted: Wed Feb 21, 2018 11:33 am
by Sam Spoons
Chris Thiele is amazing and all the best BG mandolin players use 'the grip'.

I hold my pick with the tip as an extension of my index finger (I assume that's what you do, and I think Hendrix did too ;) ), I'm trying to convert to the BG grip as it definitely sounds better on an acoustic but it's a struggle. Like you I find it an alien concept after 50+ years of holding out the other way but I'm getting closer.

This guy is possibly the cleanest fastest player on the GJ scene :-

Re: Alternate picking

PostPosted: Wed Feb 21, 2018 12:24 pm
by CS70
Lala wrote:It's the relaxing whilst increasing the speed I'm really struggling with - as soon as I start to increase the tempo, my arm, wrist and hand all naturally want to tense up.

As DC says, when you're playing fast, you're fast to others, not to yourself. To your mind, you must be always playing at the same, comfortable pace.

There may lie your problem. You're trying to play faster - but by definition you can't! You just can play as fast as you can, no more. Instead of trying to increase the tempo, keep on playing the same phrases accurately at the tempo you're comfortable with. After a few days of constant, identical repetition you will notice no difference in your comfort level and it will feel like you play the same speed.. but the metronome will tell you otherwise.

This is really no different than what you've been doing all your life.. say talking. walking, driving... you take extremely fast decisions every moment and yet to your brain it all feels like a comfortable, well controllable process (hopefully :D).

You may reach a plateau at some point (just like anybody can think fast enough to drive a car in traffic, but maybe not to win a Formula 1 race), but these plateaus, if they even exists, are very, very high up..

Re: Alternate picking

PostPosted: Wed Feb 21, 2018 1:16 pm
by Lala
Hi Sam,

I've seen that video (and others) of Joscho Stephan before, whilst that style of music isn't my kinda thing, boy oh boy, what technique he has - so fast but every note picked so cleanly, I'm just in awe of technique like that.

Regarding holding the pick - I think yes, essentially, I hold the pick as if it were an extension of my index finger although my finger is curled round a bit so the tip of the pick is not inline with the tip of my finger. Is the photo you posted earlier of your own hand, if so, is it possible to take a picture slightly lower so I can see how your index finger looks underneath?

I have taken some photo's of my own grip but I'm not sure how you upload photo's - is it easier to link them to say Flickr ?

Hi CS70,

Wise words mate :thumbup:


Re: Alternate picking

PostPosted: Wed Feb 21, 2018 1:23 pm
by Sam Spoons
No, the pic I posted above is one I pinched of t'internet. Comparing it to my version of the BG grip and discover that in the pic the point of the plectrum (too many pics) is much further from the end of the thumb than I've seen players do. I was told to curl my index finger around, rest the plectrum on the joint and then clamp it with my thumb. This puts the tip in line with or just above my thumbnail as in this pic :-


The Gypsy guys don't rest on the bridge either (nor do the good BG guys I suspect) but lift the wrist so it is bent at around 30º and held away from the top and bridge and point the pick slightly towards the tip of the thumb. All very 'picky' (pun intended) and technical but I'm persevering as I believe it will be worth it for my GJ playing and also if (as I may) I get more into Bluegrass guitar and mandolin.

Re: Alternate picking

PostPosted: Wed Feb 21, 2018 1:29 pm
by Sam Spoons
To get pics to show in a post you have to host them on somewhere from where they can be displayed. I used to do it on dropbox but they changed things and now it doesn't work. Google doesn't work either. Flickr might do (just post the pic and try posting the link using the Img button above.

Re: Alternate picking

PostPosted: Wed Feb 21, 2018 1:46 pm
by Lala
Ok, so Flickr doesn't work :roll:

Re: Alternate picking

PostPosted: Wed Feb 21, 2018 2:17 pm
by ManFromGlass
I always liked that saying -
Keep at it because the hard piece you are working on now will one day be your warm up.
Can't say if it ever really worked for me :D but I like that saying. Oh I also like - shut up and do it.

Re: Alternate picking

PostPosted: Wed Feb 21, 2018 2:42 pm
by Lala
Ok, trying imgur now....

OK I can't seem to get it to embed but I think the link works. The bottom photo is how I hold the pick currently and the top one is what I understand the BG grip to be - is that correct?


Re: Alternate picking

PostPosted: Wed Feb 21, 2018 2:46 pm
by Sam Spoons works


but has inverted this image of the grip I'm trying to achieve.....

Re: Alternate picking

PostPosted: Wed Feb 21, 2018 3:40 pm
by Sam Spoons
You look to be nearly there with your current grip. Just close your index finger in a little. I have my index finger straighter, almost at 90º to my thumb where the BG grip has the tool joint of the index finger almost parallel to the thumb but pointing the other way.

Re: Alternate picking

PostPosted: Wed Feb 21, 2018 6:12 pm
by Lala
OK, maybe I'll persevere with my current grip for a while and see how I go before changing anything too drastically.

I also notice the pick you're using Sam is super heavy, really thick - I know the thinking behind having a heavier pick, in that it pushes through the string and doesn't flex but that is really thick !

One other thing Guthrie Govan mentioned in that video I watched is that he thinks it's important to have a point on the pick. The nylon Jim Dunlop's I use have quite a smooth point, a bit like yours. I'd like to try and stay with the Dunlop max grip picks if I can but the only ones with a more defined point are the Jazz III's which I've never used and strangely, they don't have a gauge mentioned with them - d'you have any experience of them or know the gauge ?


Re: Alternate picking

PostPosted: Wed Feb 21, 2018 6:14 pm
by Lala
ManFromGlass wrote:I always liked that saying -
Keep at it because the hard piece you are working on now will one day be your warm up...

I really hope that's the case ;) :thumbup: