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I've noticed that to play good, consistent sounding tremolo, especially on short, thick strings, you can't just move the pick back and forth because the sound is inconsistent - the string doesn't respond fast enough. What I've found is you either have to tilt the pick side ways so you need less force to pluck the string, although this creates a scraping sound on the strings, which could sometimes be a disadvantage, or you have to move your hand in a semicircle motion, which is difficult to do fast. You could also tilt the pick with each stroke so that it comes at the string at an acute angle and slides on the string rather than getting caught on it.
What technique do players typically use?

Two bits I'm trying to play:


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    Comment, not answer, because it points away, but picking is a big, wide question, and Troy Grady's Cracking the Code is the most complete exploration on all things pick control. You should have some angle on your pick wrt the strings, and some angle wrt the plane of the strings to allow movement between strings. Troy's videos will walk you through it. May 17 at 2:03
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    Is it considered tremolo picking when they're playing metered rhythms, as in the linked videos?
    – Edward
    May 17 at 2:14
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    I wouldn’t call either example “tremolo” - the first maybe could be considered measured tremolo but notating it with explicit 16ths makes sense, as is shown in the video. The second example is not very fast at all. For me the quintessential fast tremolo that I never got fast enough for is the segment in “Eruption” by Van Halen. The main thing you need to play faster is more slow practice. Also use as little of the pick as possible. May 17 at 2:55
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    Neither of the videos shows what I call tremolo. Not even particcularly fast picking. Tremolo playing is sounding rather like a mandolin - think Lara's Theme.
    – Tim
    May 17 at 7:07
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    A low-e string that vibrates at around 82 Hz on an open E does respond fast enough; it does a complete cycle (hither, back, tither, back) in 1/80th of a second.
    – Kaz
    May 17 at 19:41
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Here is an interesting interview with Jeff Waters, at the beginning he speaks a lot about picking hand technique:

To summarize:

  • Practice a lot
  • Vary the tempo
  • Analyze your technique
  • Avoid excessive, unnecessary movements
  • Employ your arm in the movement (rather than just wrist or fingers) – this actually varies between guitarists, and typically the movement is some combination of wrist, but my impression is that that the best rhythm guitarists use the arm a lot
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  • Awesome video. To add some more summary points: he moves the pick the absolute minimum (just a few millimetres) and uses muscle tremors (he calls them spasms) to create the movement. A lot like some video gamers use "hypertapping" (youtube.com/watch?v=9WLoLhOdkjI) May 18 at 0:12
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The Kubi example you posted isn't tremolo picking - I only hear metered 16th notes. Tremolo is more of a continuous sound.

There are two factors: first, the pick is angled to allow the point to "skate" across the string, lowering resistance. Second, the wrist is tighter, which brings the muscles of the forearm into play - larger muscles don't tire as quickly.

In your first example video he's using the wrist rather than the forearm... but it looks like he's anchoring the heel of his palm on the bridge, which can help with the fatigue. I tend to avoid that technique, because it limits the timbre (you're forced to pick close to the bridge), but for a specific tune that can also be a workable technique.

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  • I'm not sure what your point is with the forearm muscles - IMO, the aim should be to keep the movement as small as possible, and to work from the wrist as far as possible. Also, with that style of playing, you have to keep the hand close to the bridge - first, the string has too much wiggle room farther away from the bridge, and second, palm muting only really works right at the bridge. So it's not really a specific tune that requires this - it's the vast majority of metal. May 17 at 14:19
  • Richard, it really isn't. For any really fast picking, the majority of metal guitarists use the forearm. And a lot of metal shifts continuously from right hand palm muting to left hand muting, using whatever is right at that time. But in any case, the two videos posted by the OP are not very fast.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    May 17 at 15:05
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There's a jazz guitar instructor called Peter Farrell (who studied with George Benson) who has a take on this. He refers to it as "bee picking", presumably a reference to Flight of the Bumblebee.

The preamble is that the pick should be slightly angled to the string to allow it to roll on and off smoothly. He then says to concentrate on "keeping the pick in contact with the string" i.e. when playing, aim to produce the smallest picking movement possible with the aim of feeling like the pick never leaves the string.

Obviously, the pick does in fact leave the string (otherwise no sound would come out) but by aiming for that feeling of contact it does make it a lot easier to play fast.

Reference:

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I see no evidence for anything you have said in your question. Just moving the pick back and forth does lead to consistent sound. It sounds to me that you are not putting in any practice effort and looking for a quick fix. The tilting phenomenon may make it easier to develop a sloppy tremolo that, in your own words, sounds scratchy. But slow, steady, practice every day with the metronome will lead you to develop a fast consistent tremolo over time with good techniques and tone.

I would recommend exercises in a book called "Speed Mechanics for Lead Guitar" by Troy Stetina. The basic exercises are not style specific and work well for ANY and ALL plectrum style playing. You need to put in the time to see the dividends.

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