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Are you just picking the same note a bunch of times or are you picking a lot in general and kind of hammering on to hit the notes? What does it have to do with an actual tremolo (whammy bar)?

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It will be helpful if you include a tag for the instrument in question. –  Chiron May 30 '11 at 2:16

2 Answers 2

Its pretty much just fast picking; where instead of playing/picking each note in a riff once; you pick each note three/four/five times; at speed.

I think the term 'tremolo picking' comes from the effect produced from doing this.

Here's an example

$6.5  $6.5  $6.5  $5.7  $5.7  $5.7  $6.8  $6.8  $6.8  $5.5  $5.5  $5.5  $6.7  $6.7  $6.7  $6.5  $6.5  $6.5

Pretty basic, but that's the idea, any difficulty comes from the speed.

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Tremolo picking means picking a note fast and repeatedly to give the impression of a single, sustained note with a "trembling" feel to it. You hear this a lot in mandolin playing: since the mandolin has such poor sustain, players use tremelo picking to play melodic lines that require longer-sustaining notes.

It's not just playing really fast. A famous example is Eddie Van Halen's "Eruption". He's playing notes really fast throughout the whole song, but the tremolo-picking part is only from 0:30 to 0:37.

As a technique of altering the sound of a sustaining note, tremolo differs from vibrato in that tremolo modulates the volume of the note (rapidly sounding slightly louder, then slightly softer), while vibrato modulates the pitch of the note (rapidly sounding slightly shaper, then slightly flatter). Interestingly, Fender got these two backwards: the "tremolo bar" on Strats actually produces vibrato---at least, that was what it was intended to do; Leo never envisioned it as a "whammy" bar---while the "vibrato" effect on Fender amps actually simulates tremolo.

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Interesting tidbit on Leo. I'd never noticed that before. –  yossarian Feb 5 '11 at 14:13
    
For a very good example of tremolo picking:youtube.com/watch?v=qJmI6fAPUSk&feature=related –  Anonymous Feb 9 '11 at 1:03

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