Are you looking to shred on the guitar? maybe you play Country, Blues or Rock, or even Jazz, but having a good control of your own technique and the ability to go from A to Z lightning fast is a real blessing and can broaden your musical horizons.
The issue is that mastering speed picking can take a long time, and if you are frustrated with your lacking of progress — I hear ya! this was my situation too, until I got smart, corrected my practicing and got focused.
Your definition of speed picking may be different than my own, but I used to think that this terminology applied to aggressively picking out a string’s notes as fast as you could with your right hand.
In actual fact that’s tremolo picking, which is a technique that I do not recommend any guitar player attempt all day long. It will product bad syncopation and habits.
But let’s say that speed picking is literally the art of playing things cleanly and at a high rate of speed. If that’s the case, and from my perspective it is, then how you approach that is different than how you need to be approaching tremolo picking.
Tremolo picking is a short “burst” of speed, but is hard to maintain for very long, and if that’s all you do all day long your right hand is going to get stressed and go nowhere, fast!
1. To master speed picking technique, you need to focus on perfection in BOTH hands at a slower rate of speed. You’ve heard this before, but it’s true. If you can play something so well at such a mind-numbing-ly slow rate of speed, then you’ll have a better chance of playing that same lick 5 – 10 beats faster.
2. Focus on correcting mistakes, not playing faster. Focus on picking something out so perfectly that you can do it in your sleep. It’s only at this point that you should attempt a higher rate of speed for picking.
And then, what’s the next objective? to play that next rate of speed as perfectly as well. Sometimes you may even need to drop it down a few beats to work it up, but that’s OK, because that’s the right path to success.
3. My philosophy is to create different, “tricky” scenarios for both hands. I take exercises, invert them, play them one way, change the amounts of notes, change the rhythms, anything that I can do to make my hands well-rounded.
4. Don’t neglect your rhythm guitar playing. A good syncopation of rhythm is the other secret to speed. Think about something like playing 3 notes per beat. I don’t care how many BPMs you are working with, if you can consistently come in on that beat with the 3rd note, then you need to improve your rhythm playing.
To do so might require you to get your leg tapping. You’ll need to re-calibrate your rhythm and timing. In my opinion, there is not one single musician on this planet that can play with perfect timing. If you measured the most adept guitar player with some sort of uber sophisticated device, you’d probably find that they are consistently either a little early or a little late on the beat.
But this is why when a machine (computer) handles music, everything is so perfect, that sometimes it doesn’t feel natural to us. The small imperfections are very human and sound the nicest.
But if you are attempting speed picking, you still need to make the effort to develop your sense of timing and rhythm.
This is also why I like to play other styles of music. It’s one thing to be an amazing heavy metal guitarist, but it’s another to be able to keep up with Latin music.
And this can be applied to your rhythms as well. Heck, I get out of whack too every now and then. Sometimes I have to back things up, and start with some simple chord warm ups to get my timing on track. From there, then you can start working on exercises.
Hope this little bit of info helps, and best of luck!