Picking Techniques To Get You Out Your Comfort Zone

Published on 11 March 2021

The beauty of the guitar is that everyone approaches the instrument slightly differently. You and a friend could both pick up the instrument, learn to play in the same time and come out with totally different sounds or playing styles. It’s part of what makes music so fascinating - it really is a projection of your own tastes and influences.

A huge factor in defining your style is the picking techniques you use. Some players are happy to strum away while others drill complex patterns until they’ve got them on lock. At guitarguitar, we’re always finding new ways to develop our playing and challenge ourselves. Introducing new picking styles is a great way to shake things up and totally step out of your comfort zone. Take it from us, it may not come easy but you can learn anything you put your mind to. So, on that note, let’s take a look at a few picking techniques you can try out at home. 

Alternate Picking

Most of you will probably either be familiar with alternate picking or will do it naturally, That said, it’s always worth a bit of extra practice because it is a fundamental way to improve your speed and timing. Essentially, all it entails is picking up and down alternately, rather than using downstrokes or upstrokes only. That sounds easy, right? Well, it’s not quite as simple as you may think if you’re not used to picking this way.  

Luckily, Marty of Marty Music (a fab online resource for learning) has broken down some really simple practice steps. Remember, your guitar heroes starting slowly, so don’t rush this. Work on trying different scales and riffs until it feels natural then start to speed it up. If you get bored of the standard exercise, have a go at playing the intro to Rage Against the Machine’s Bombtrack… it’s a really fun riff and one that works well for stepping up your speed. 

Sweep Picking

Okay, now we’re onto the nasty stuff! Sweep picking is notoriously difficult so don’t be put off if you struggle with this at first. To put things simply, this technique involves sweeping your hand across the strings, using your pick to catch each string on the way down, almost like a slow strum. The difficult part is in getting your fretting hand to move in sync, hitting each string as your pick does and creating that shreddy effect that we know you’re craving (secretly or otherwise…). This takes a huge amount of practice because it’s quite an unnatural way to play. 

For this tutorial, we’ve picked out Robert Baker, an online teacher with some of the best sweep picking and indeed hair, in the game. In this video, you’ll see him break down several exercises that can help get the blood flowing and your hands moving in time with each other. 

This is all about the time you put into it. Great shredders weren’t built overnight so don’t get frustrated. Just keep calm and sweep!

Chicken Picking 

On to the most fun name of this blog, chicken picking! This is an essential country technique for electric guitarists but the principals behind it can be applied to loads of different styles. As a form of hybrid picking, meaning you use your fingers and pick together to achieve the sound, it’s actually pretty versatile and it doesn’t always need to have that distinctive country twang.  In fact, we’ve seen a lot of neo-soul musicians embracing this picking pattern lately, albeit a little more subtly. 

Chicken picking involves muting your low strings and using a combination of your pick and fingers to create a unique plucking sound when you play. If you think about the way people play the banjo or fingerpick an acoustic, their hand forms a kind of claw using all fingers to create rhythmic patterns on the strings. This is pretty much the same, with the exception of keeping your pick in its usual position to catch the bass notes. The real country sound comes from the way you attack the higher strings, often tying in with fast little licks, pull-offs and bends to accentuate that twang. 

Take a look at the tutorial below for some advice on getting started. At the very least you’ll get to check out some tasty tones and see an absolute belter of a shirt…

Tremolo Picking

Tremolo picking is an interesting technique because, on the face of it, it’s not that different from quick alternate picking. The main distinction is that it involves hitting each note more than once. For example, if you’re firing out a scale, each note would have to double or triple up. We struggle most with maintaining timing using this technique throughout a full track because it is such a strain on your picking arm. If you think back to any sustained period of speed picking you’ve done, you’ll no doubt remember the fatigue that quickly crept into your forearm. Getting a tight grip on your pick and minimising the movement of your wrist makes a huge difference here but really what’s comfortable for you is what’s going to work best. 

For this demo, we’ve gone for Darryl Syms who has a really solid style and does a fantastic job of breaking down the first steps, along with a few tips for avoiding the fatigue we mentioned. Although an intimidating sound, this is one that you’ll probably pick up fairly quickly - after that it’s just about bringing it up to speed!

Gallop Picking

Right, get those guitars tuned down and let’s have at it. It’s time for gallop picking. This is a technique mostly found in metal music and creates a chunky galloping effect that sounds utterly relentless when it’s pulled off right. To put things simply, the technique is nothing more than playing 3 notes in a short sharp burst. Drum out a galloping sound with your fingers and we can pretty much bet that you’re on the right track. Now, as with a few of the techniques we’ve mentioned, this seems way more simple than it actually is. While the technique itself isn’t hard to imitate, maintaining timing and consistency over the course of an entire track is a challenge. The good thing is though, by starting slow and committing as many rhythms as you can to muscle memory, almost anyone can hone this in and become a master of it. 

The tutorial we’ve selected here is really more of a play along with tabs to help you, as we reckon that’s the best way to learn. Shadow Mantra Steve, a certified beast at gallop picking and other metal styles walks you through (gallops you through?) several different rhythms and gradually speeds them up to give you the perfect warm-up to get started. This is one of the most satisfying picking styles to learn and it becomes proper addictive, so have at it and see how you get on!

Final Thoughts

We hope that these techniques have given you something new to try! Picking is such an important element of your guitar playing and sound so it’s a really good idea to spend a little time focusing on it every time you practice. Don’t feel limited to these styles though, there are so many different techniques you can experiment with. Follow your nose and let us know where you end up! In the meantime, you’ll catch us working on our gallops...

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