Speed Secrets – Part 4

Next we’ll up the difficulty level by changing strings. You’ll do the same exercises, but change strings in a regular pattern, moving right across the fretboard. Here’s a sample drill using fingers 1 and 3 at the fifth fret, changing strings every four beats (each stroke is an eighth note):

---------------------------------5-7-5-7-5-7-5-7- etc.

Repeat this drill with each finger combination. Your top speed will be slightly less than it was practicing on a single string, but over time the difference won’t be a noticeable one.

With this much technique development under your belt, you can turn to scale runs. The difference between the simple drills shown above and most scale patterns is the number of notes on a string – if there are three notes, your hand will end up in the wrong place to pick the next note. Here’s a C major scale in 7th position:


Strive for accuracy as you play. Remember everything we’ve covered so far, and focus on keeping your motions as small as possible in both hands, and stay relaxed.

As you played through that exercise, you’ll find your top speed is not as fast as it was with the earlier drills. That’s partly due to more complex fretting hand movements, but it’s also a result of your pick being in the wrong place for the next stroke – if you start with a downstroke, the third note on the fifth string will be a downstroke – which means you’ll now have to move PAST the fourth string in order to maintain alternate picking. We can eliminate this motion through economy picking, but before we get there I’ll digress into string skipping; economy picking takes some effort to develop, and you’ll need string skipping in your bag of tricks to play most solos.

Many solos or runs, or at least some of the more interesting ones, have notes on non-adjacent strings. You’ll need to avoid the string(s) in between, and that presents a couple of new challenges.

When you’re skipping strings, your hands have to cover a greater distance between notes. As a result, your top speed for string skipping will be slightly less than going full out on a scale run, but with practice the difference can become manageable.

To practice string skipping, I like to alternate scale runs with a fixed note, called a pedal point. This example uses a 1st string pedal G note on an open position C scale – the scale note is a down stroke, the first string is always an upstroke:


For a drill that’s a little tougher, make the skip to an inside string. This exercise is an open G scale against a 2nd string D pedal. Put your third finger on the D note – you’ll need your fourth finger free to hit the F# on the fourth string:

-3------------------------------------- etc

Ok, back to solving the problem of the pick being out of position for the next note. A faster approach to runs like this is to shift to economy, or directional picking. Here “˜economy’ refers to economy of motion – and “˜directional’ is how you achieve it: if your pick is moving in the direction of the next note you’ll need to play, you simply continue in that direction, playing two notes in a row with the same stroke. I’d advise you not to start working on this until you’re very comfortable with alternate picking – otherwise you’ll find it more confusing, and perhaps counter-productive.

Here’s the same C major scale done with economy picking. The “˜D’ and “˜U’ notations show how your pick is moving:


Finally, we come to sweep picking. Sweep picking is basically a slow-motion strum, with all downstrokes or upstrokes across the strings. If more than one note is sounded on a string, the second (and any additional) notes are sounded by hammer-ons and pull-offs. The trick to sweeping well is deadening the strings that aren’t needed. As this technique requires a bit more explanation, I’d suggest checking out some of the instruction videos available for it on YouTube and other websites – but I’d hold off until you’ve gotten the above techniques down.

Tom (“Noteboat”) Serb is a longtime Guitar Noise contributor and founder of the Midwest Music Academyin Plainfield, Illinois. This advice first appeared in Volume 4 # 8 of Guitar Noise News. Sign-up for our newsletter to receive more free tips like this by email.

© 2011, Tom Serb

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