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I've been training on speed picking on major scale as my daily routine, following this Justin Guitar's guide on scale picking for one year since last year June, but until now my G major scale picking rooted on 3rd fret of E string still couldn't reach 4 notes per metronome click on 120bpm of speed, never improved since my max of 108bpm and average of 94/100bpm recently. I have one Cort semi-acoustic guitar and one MIM Standard Fender Telecaster, which I find Telecaster is more comfortable to train on since it has thinner strings.

Am I training in the wrong way? I spend 5 minutes per day on scale picking with few stops between the 5 minutes because muscles around my fretting thumb is exhausted/sore. The muscles are not supposed to be sore? And I think my main problem is on my right hand picking because I often picked at the wrong string especially when it's upward direction.

Many people recommending that the pick should be at 45 degree, but I find it not so comfortable while picking the strings(135 degree, which is 45 degree towards west from my view). The picking hand should be the rotating wrist(which is more relaxing and faster but less accurate) or powering upward and downward strum-like pattern using muscles around elbow(exhausts my arm and slower but more accurate)?

Someone please guide me through this. I'm learning guitar by myself and I really want to train well on it after 5 years of strumming and picking basics on guitar.

  • 1
    You should try to avoid using strength. Use the minimum pressure necessary to hold the pick, and the minimum pressure on your fretting fingers. Your thumb muscles shouldn't get sore. Proper sleep and nutrition are also important. – Todd Wilcox Aug 17 '15 at 16:10
  • I use finger picking because its easier to hit more notes at once, and for me, the fatigue felt using a pick has a lot to do with why this is my preferred method. I am able to attain as much speed as my accomplished pick using friends. I play only acoustic though. – gracey209 Aug 17 '15 at 16:25
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Assuming we're talking about alternate picking, there are basically two exercise methods for building speed.

The first and the better known one is to start slow. Set your metronome to a comfortable tempo and play the exercise a few times. Then go up 2 bpms or so and repeat. Continue alternating between plus two and minus one. Back down some 10 bpm when you hit your limit and work your way up from there again. You can go up 10 bpm or so from time to time just to see how it feels.

The second one is to practice in bursts. Start with two notes and play as fast as you can. Then add the third and continue from there. This method is not as well known as the first one but is every bit as useful. You can also start from the most difficult spot on the exercise and add notes on both sides.

Practicing scales only is probably not the best way to go. There are specially crafted exercise sets to build speed that isolate common patterns. Troy Stetina's book Speed Mechanics contains one such set.

In terms of technique, on your left hand, only apply enough pressure to avoid buzz. You'll get tired very quickly if you exert more force than necessary. The lighter your left hand touch is, the easier it is to play fast. It's easier said than done but that's the whole idea of practicing.

On your right hand, I wouldn't worry that much about wrist vs. elbow unless you're aiming for Guiness speed record. Wrist movement is probably a bit better but there's nothing wrong with a combination of wrist and elbow. Guitarists argue about it all the time but there are superb guitarists in both camps which proves that both techniques are equally viable. Just avoid finger movement, it doesn't work for fast playing.

4

Do exercises for both left and right hand.

Exercises for pickig hand

  • 16th notes as fast as you can on G string 5th fret. Start with 120bpm and raise by 10
  • Play triplets on the open strings, moving from low E to high E string. Start at 80bpm
  • Same triplets, but with string skipping. From string 6(low E) to 4, then 5 to 3, 4 to 2, 3 to 1 and back to low E.
  • Same exercises but then 16th notes, also start at 80bpm

Excercises for the fretting hand (also use a metronome)

  • spider excercise (you can find this on justin guitar or on youtube)
  • going up the ladder: playing each fret for each finger for all string. Just like doing the majer scale but then using no scale at all, pure speed building.
  • Practicing scales, major, minor pentatonic forms etc

You should keep track of your bpm for each excercise. Start 10bpm below for a minute and then practice on your current bpm where you can play it. After that raise by 10 bpm to push to the next level.

running trough these excercises should take about 30 minutes to an hour a day.

3

To add to what Jeroen has answered.

You need to do exercises that train your hands in more than just picking speed. That includes...

Vibrato exercises.

That includes wide and regular vibrato with the fingers and also by pivoting the wrists.

Slides / Glissando's

This is somewhat self explanatory. Also remember the backwards slide.

Hammer on's and Pull off's

To get truly shred level of speed you need to learn to add hammer on's in certain places. On electric guitar you can add a lot of speed to your playing by adding hammer on's in your runs. You need to practice hammering ons with the weak fingers as well. This will also help you with trills.

Scales starting on various fingers.

Don't get pigeon holed by only knowing your scales in the regular caged pattern. Start on your various left fingers and also do one, two and three string patterns in the various position.

We want you to be able to play your scales up and down the neck.

1

The suggestions above are great. I would only add that once you've reached a 'desirable' speed with notes, you begin changing time signature. For example, once you got 4 notes licked at 4/4, begin practicing the following notes at 5/4, 6/4,7/4 etc. This way you don't get used to playing in a 'regular' tempo. The fingers will get used to phrasing riffs without getting used to most tunes which are in double or triple meter. Hope this helps.

1

I have an alternate suggestion, but you may not want to do this at first as it may actually interfere with your progress with more normal exercises (like the other fine answers here).

In addition to working on metered picking, there is also unmetered speed picking which is more like the tremolo technique used for melodies on the Mandolin.

Think Dick Dale's Pulp Fiction theme (I forget the real title) to get the idea, but don't copy his technique. He uses a great deal of force to achieve a distinctive sound. But using force this way is not a good idea for a beginner (or anybody, really).

Instead, for the best start, watch the old Humphrey Bogart movie To Have And Have Not (it's just as good as Casablanca, just less well known). Specifically, there's a scene with a Gypsy guitarist in the Café. The technique she uses is a very fast tremolo strum with the flats of her fingertips. Of course, the notes are not ringing since the vibration is constantly being stopped by another finger. Basically, each string of the chord is going through a very fast cycle of ring -> mute -> ring -> mute -> ring -> mute.

Practicing this finger-strum technique will help you work on the balance between the muscles of the wrist and forearm and higher-up in the shoulder as well. But the musical effect is not strictly about super-speed but fluidity and supporting a singer with a very free rubato, almost no time at all.

Next, grab the pick and try doing a tremolo on one string with heavy palm-muting. We want to stop as much ringing as possible with the muting so the string doesn't move around so much. This makes it easier for the pick to "find" the string in the reverse direction and should help avoid increasing the tension in the muscles. Use a thick string and fret it very high up the neck, too, to reduce the string's vibration further. I'd recommend a thick pick with a dull tip for this, too. It should have less drag than other kinds.

Next, try a mandolin-style tremolo melody, even just running scales will work. Now, we're deliberately not counting notes here. Up-and-down-and-up-and-...-down-and-up-and. Don't count in the middle, but pay attention to the very last stroke of one note and the start of the next. If you're changing frets on the same string, I think it works best to start the new note with a down-stroke. If you're switching strings, however, it's best to sweep into it. So, a down-sweep if you're going up a string (in pitch). And an up-sweep if you're going down a string (in pitch).

Next, try with different pick thicknesses/pointinesses. A thinner pick, a sharper pick. These will all drag differently, losing more or less energy to the string, requiring more or less muscular power/control to compensate.

So I'd recommend following the other, metered suggestions for a few months or even a year. Then, when you hit a plateau with that effort, come back and attack it from a different angle. Do this for a few weeks or months without doing the normal metered exercises. When you go back to them, you should find yourself back on the mountain again. :)

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