Increase Picking Speed – 9 Tips

Increase Picking Speed

The Cause and Effect of Speed

Increase Picking Speed

When you look in the sky and see a jet airplane followed by a vapor trail you could come to the conclusion that the jet stream causes the plane to move forward. The movement forward is in fact caused by the propulsion of the jet engines- not the vapor trail. It’s understandable that you would evaluate the jet stream as causing the forward motion but that would be incorrect.

To increase picking speed you must separate cause and effect. Students often misinterpret slow motion pick-hand videos. They believe that these videos expose speed secrets. More often than not they only show the effect of speed and not the cause of speed. Think of it as a byproduct- something that happens as a result of playing fast but doesn’t cause you to increase picking speed.

Troy Grady and his Cracking the Code video series explores many of these secrets. His programs are insightful, well performed and entertaining. Aside from that, Troy is one of my Metal Method students from the ’80s. I’m quite proud of his work and view it as an offshoot of my efforts.

Some of Troy’s evaluations do explain techniques that are the cause of increased picking speed. These are the same techniques that we explain in our approach to speed. On the other hand, some of his observations may be just the effect of speed, not the cause. I caution you to not draw a conclusion by observing slow motion video of guitar playing techniques.

There Are 9 Ways to Increase Picking Speed:

  • Massive repetition
  • Gradual increase of speed using a metronome or drum machine
  • The fretting hand fingers staying as close to the strings and frets as possible
  • Only lifting fingers away from the strings when absolutely necessary
  • Minimizing pick movement, stay as close and tight to the string as possible
  • Minimizing flexing of the thumb on the picking hand
  • The picking hand appearing somewhat rigid yet actually being quite relaxed
  • The pick angled (on 2 axis) to glide through the strings
  • Use of memorized patterns that utilize consistent synchronized movements of both the fretting and picking hand

All of these techniques must be accomplished without conscious thought. This requires repetition that utilizes the 9 speed techniques. Consciously thinking about these techniques only helps to a certain point and then procedural memory must take control. Procedural memory is commonly referred to as “muscle memory.”

Muscle Memory Definition: Muscle memory has been used synonymously with motor learning, which is a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition.

Even an intermediate guitarist realizes that the guitar is not played with conscious thought. When you play an open G chord, for example, you don’t consciously decide where to place each finger. You play fast by allowing your procedural memory to be in control. Repetition trains the procedural memory but I’m convinced that muscle memory begins to make technique adjustments without conscious thought. These adjustments result in faster picking speed.

As you slowly increase the metronome tempo your muscle memory streamlines movement and technique to allow you to play faster. If this memory is not able to streamline movement you simply can’t play faster.

“The effect of these 8 techniques is obviously faster, shredding guitar playing. But there are also many side effects that can be witnessed that don’t cause you to play faster.  I hope that makes sense. Just because you observe a technique doesn’t mean that it is consciously learned or even helpful to increase picking speed. It’s just an effect that happens from playing fast, not a cause.  It’s like the vapor trail from the jet airplane that I mentioned at the beginning of this article.”

Michael Angelo Batio explains that he has an unorthodox picking style.  This simply means that he has developed a unique pick hand technique. If you analyze his unorthodox method and copy it exactly it doesn’t mean that you’ll play any faster.  It only means that you too will have an unorthodox picking style. Michael’s picking speed is generated from the 9 principles.  These principles aren’t unorthodox; they are the fundamentals that increase picking speed. And yes, they can be executed perfectly using an unorthodox style.

Increase Picking Speed and Accuracy

Much of what I know about exceptional picking speed is from working with Michael Angelo Batio since 1991. This article was actually written following a conversation with MAB. We were talking about the misconceptions that people have regarding his ability to shred. I thought that our discussion should be shared with Metal Method students and Michael agreed.

My instructions for increased picking speed are taught in Speed and Accuracy for Lead Guitar. Okay, I’m laughing now. Someone commented on this program last week and said, “I want to be sure that I received the right lesson. It’s this guy sitting there talking a lot.”  Well, yes- LOL!  I’m trying to explain all aspects of how to increase picking speed that I’ve learned over the past forty years or so. That takes some explaining. I spend the first fifteen minutes of the program explaining these techniques because they should be understood before playing the first exercise. In Speed and Accuracy for Lead Guitar I also talk about the value of a 30 day personal speed challenge. You may wish to join other students in your own personal challenge. Learn more about this here.

Article written by Metal Method Instructor Doug Marks – January 6, 2015