The secret (ha! like there’s only one…) to good picking is getting your right and left hands in synch with each other. If one of your hands decides to go on auto-pilot and just ignore what the other is doing, you end up with something like this: (This is what NOT to do)
But, with a little effort, you can smooth things up:
GOOD: (well, better)
On the first clip, the picking hand isn’t getting to the notes at the same time the fretting hand is, which makes it sound all squirrely and un-musical. That is what we want to work on.
To start, lets take a pretty unassuming little sequence and focus on getting the pickstrokes nice and tightly synched with the fretted notes. Trickier than it seems when the tempo increases. Give it a try.
Note that the pattern changes slightly the second time through…
Just make SURE the notes sound even and your left and right hands ‘feel’ in time with each other.
Easy enough? Ok…let’s take it a step farther
This time I’m using swing 8ths and alternating between half and double speed. Make sure you alternate pick everything, starting on a downstroke and alternating the rest. Concentrate on relaxing your hands and arms, don’t let ANY tension creep into them. Tension is the enemy to smooth picking. Your natural tendency is probably going to be to tense up on the double speed part, but resist the urge! Just keep it nice and relaxed.
And a bit faster…
This example is all on one string, all alternate picked, and all silly sounding. No, really…it sounds like a bad irish fiddle tune, but it’s going to make you jump around a bit, (like a crazy Leprechaun) which is what I’m after.
Play this at each of the tempos I have here and work your way up to the quick one (250 bpm). Just make sure you don’t miss any notes or have weak articulation. Strict alternate picking on this too.
really fast (250bpm):
Can you see the Leprechaun yet?
This is one of my favorite little repeating licks. You can use it on any set of two strings, all over the neck. I’m in the key of C here, but once you get the pattern you can move it anywhere.
Alternate picking is very important here, and once you get your hands in synch this lick has a really cool perpetual motion feel to it. It’s good for moving up or down the neck and even across pairs of strings. Here’s a short snippet:
If you don’t have good sychronization between hands on this one it just feels all wrong, so really work on getting it dialed in and you’ll see what I mean about how this one feels.
Didn’t think I was going to let you go without a little bluegrass picking, did you? This one is a generic snippet from any number of fiddle tunes. It uses open strings and strict alternate picking, with a swing 8th note feel. It really seems simple but getting it to swing and stay synched up at faster tempos is tough. Stay very focused on accurate picking here, and getting the swing feel.
A really good example of this feel is Mark O’Connor’s ‘Picking in the Wind’, off of the guitar record he did when he was 16. Smokin!
I hope these exercises help you get in synch – I wanted to give some examples that really focus on a certain picking challenge, instead of just playing scales. Be your own worst critic – listen very objectively to recordings of yourself (you do record yourself sometimes, right?) That’s the only real way to hear clearly what you are playing – sometimes while you are playing you can get lost in the fun and forget to LISTEN to what’s coming out.
Until next time!