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Guitar String Skipping Basics

String skipping is pretty self explanatory, but this page will provide a definition, the benefits of using it and some tips for making the most effective use of the technique.

What is string skipping?

Most of the time, scales are picked in a linear or "stacked" fashion, either playing from one note to the next on the same string, or one note to the next on the string immediately above or below the current string. For example, here is a typical harmonic minor phrase (without string skipping)...

linear harmonic minor phrase

When we incorporate string skipping into our licks, we literally jump over (skip!) strings to get from one note to the next. For example...

harmonic minor string skipping example

What this does is allow you to play larger intervals across a narrow area of the neck, whereas without skipping strings you'd have to stretch to play the same interval on the same or next string up/down. This is especially useful when you're lower down the neck, where the fret spacings are wider.

For example, here's an interval played using string skipping...

numbered fret hand fingersstring skipped interval on G and e strings

And here's that same interval without string skipping...

intervals across G and B strings

Which do you think is more economical for fingering? Correct, the first one!

That alone should show you the benefits of this technique. However, in practice you have to train your pick hand to negotiate these skips of one, two even three and more strings. So it's different from most lead exercises in that it's not so strenuous for your fret hand, but now the accuracy of your picking hand is the focus.

Economy picking vs alternate picking

Many players stick with one picking technique whether they're playing regular licks or string skipping licks. Personally, I alternate pick all my lead phrases.

However, some players prefer to economise their picking using a technique called... economy picking! This is where the direction of your pick stroke is determined by the position of the next string in the sequence. In other words, economy picking is about picking with the direction of travel. It's essentially a combination of alternate and sweep picking.

The idea is to minimise the number of unnecessary pick movements and maximise pick hand efficiency.

If you are to use economy picking, however, it's best to use it for all your licks, as it can be quite a headache to constantly switch between different picking techniques. Choose one (alternate or economy) and stick with it.

For example, the below tab shows how we might economy pick a string skipping lick. The up/down pick strokes are marked below each note in the tab so you can see how the pick stroke (down arrow for down, up arrow for up) relates to the direction of travel from one string to the next...

economy picking string skipping example

As you can see, whereas with alternate picking we would typically start with a down stroke, with economy picking we had to start with an up stroke in order to be able to pick in the direction of travel towards the G string.

Arguably, economy picking is most effective for string skipping, as the travelling distance of the pick is increased for such licks, which economy picking helps to minimise. However, as mentioned previously, choose on method and stick with it. There are amazing players in both (strict alternate vs economy) picking camps, so don't worry about having to change your technique just to accomodate different types of lick.

Down picking & string skipping

If you're playing heavy metal style riffs, down picking will be a staple part of your attack. Inevitably, you'll need to skip strings to give your riffs more melodic interest.

Take a look at the video below for some great down picking exercises involving string skipping...

It's also important to understand that string skipping should be used along side other lead techniques such as bending, hammer-ons and sliding. Keep your creative options open and give your solos as much variation as you can.

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