It's worth pointing out that, although I've put
fast guitar picking
under the heavy metal category, it's a general lead technique, and
essential if you want to shred.
heavy metal genre uses fast
picking techniques to their extremes, so it's a useful genre to work
with for building speed and endurance.
In this lesson, we're first
at fast guitar
picking as a rhythm
technique, using the lower tones of the guitar. This is
commonly heard in speed/thrash metal and their derivatives, but
also in rock in general.
Alternate picking is simply
the repeated down-up motion of your plectrum over the strings. Fast
alternate picking is known as tremolo picking.
Tremolo picking goes back to
the rock and roll of the 50s and 60s, and was popularised in
Dick Dale's surf
rock classic, Misirlou...
Holding the plectrum
When alternate picking at higher tempos, angle your plectrum so that
it's slightly cutting across
the strings rather than flat against them. The idea is to
reduce as much obstruction as you can, so also make sure only the very
tip of the plectrum is scratching over the string.
Think also about pick gauge.
For fast guitar picking, I prefer to use .60mm as it flexes
over the strings more easily. Again, the less obstruction the better!
Getting up to speed
start slow and simple on the lowest string. At first, keep the
distortion switched off as we want to be able to hear our progress
As we're going to be speeding up, your pick hand stability
Not everyone needs it, but I find resting the edge of my
pick hand (the same part of
you use to palm mute strings) on the bridge good for pick
Other guitarists prefer to prop their pinky (4th) finger against the
body as a "stabiliser".
Seee which one (if either) works most comfortably for you.
Basic tremolo picking action
So, now our pick hand is in place, watch the video
below and alternate
pick (down-up-down-up-etc.) the low E string at a constant tempo
(use a metronome
to help). Try
speeding up gradually. There's no hard and fast rule for this, you just
have to use your judgement on whether you're running ahead of yourself.
Notice how I keep my picking "sweep" tight around
the string I'm
playing. This is to ensure you don't accidentally hit the adjacent
As shown in the video, you
should also practice this
same action on the A
string above. Beginners especially find the
A, D and skinnier strings harder to alternate pick at first as you need
to keep your picking "window" tight to avoid hitting strings above and below.
The example above is the
essence of 80's and 90s speed and thrash metal. The same tremolo
picking technique is also used in shredding solos,
but we'll look more at
the lead application of tremolo picking in another lesson!
fast guitar picking riffs
you're confident with the core tremolo picking technique and are
satisfied with your speed and endurance, it's time to churn out some
Again, don't jump ahead of
yourself. Start just on the
low E string again, but this time, try changing fret in rhythm, like in
the example below...
fact, you'll be surprised at just how many thrash riffs solely
use that bottom string of the guitar, mostly because it has the
thickest, bassiest tone (and it's easy to just hammer out - very little
obstruction). Use the entire length of the neck...
Don't worry if at first you're a bit sloppy - a lot of the
inconsistencies will be
ironed out when you add distortion/gain, but practising clean allows
you to scrutinise your speed playing far more honestly.
picking across more than one string
Obviously you'll want to be able to use this technique across more than
one string, for more intricate melody.
exercise below makes use of the open A string, but adds in the adjacent
strings as part of the riff. It's important to start slow with this to
get used to changing string in
time. You also have to be very accurate "tapping" those
single picked notes on the A string.
Start by playing at the same speed
as the slow
example and speed up gradually using a metronome.