For this column I’m going to look at speed picking and ‘technical’ soloing. Playing fast is sometimes maligned by guitarists (usually by those who can’t do it). At its heart though, music is all about expressing emotions. Speed can be just as valid a tool as any for expressing yourself, as long as it’s used in the right context, with the right intentions and without pretention. For example, I play in a thrash metal band and I find one of the best ways to convey the aggressive and intense emotions of the music is via a crazy, shredding solo. Also, if you hear a cool idea in your head but don’t have the technique to translate it onto the guitar, you can really limit yourself creatively.

The following exercises are short motifs designed to increase the speed and dexterity of both hands, with a focus on the picking. They are based around the key of D Dorian, but you can apply them to any scale or key by using the three note-per-string patterns from the last issue (#77). Practice them with a metronome, starting off slow and gradually getting faster. This will help keep you in time and allow you to monitor your progress. On the cover CD I’ve recorded the exercises at three different speeds – a slow 60 bpm (beats-per-minute), a moderate 140 and a fast 220.

Some important points to note for good alternate/speed picking are:


The best way to work on speed picking is to practice what’s called a tremolo. This is where you play one note as fast as you possibly can. The symbol for a tremolo can be seen in the first bar of exercise one. I’ve broken this down in the second bar so you can see how the picking is a constant flow of downstrokes and upstrokes (alternate picking). Start off slow and progressively increase the tempo.

Hear Exercise 1


This exercise uses a repeated four note pattern on one string. Make sure that your picking hand is totally synchronized with your fretting hand.

Hear Exercise 2


Here, two strings are used to first ascend and then descend in triplets (three notes-per-beat). Note how the constant alternate picking dictates that when you change strings, you begin on an upstroke.

Hear Exercise 3


Simply running through a scale can be a great exercise in itself. This lick descends then ascends across three strings using a steady stream of 16th notes (semiquavers).

Hear Exercise 4


Circling down and up the scale on two strings, exercise 5 uses a five note-per-beat grouping (quintuplets). This can be a bit tricky, so work on the timing slowly. Once you build up the speed though, playing quintuplets actually becomes easier.

Hear Exercise 5


This is a common exercise involving a descending sequence in ‘fours’. The picking remains alternate throughout, so it’s a great one for working on picking back-and-forth between strings.

Hear Exercise 6

There is no easy way to become a ‘fast’ guitarist. It takes a lot of time and dedication. However, if it’s something you’d like to achieve and you put the work in, having the extra speed to burn can open up many possibilities for creative soloing.