Two Easy, Quick Exercises That Have Transformed My Shred Picking Technique

  • by Tom Boddison
  • 22 Oct, 2017
Two simple 5-minute tricks to improve your picking...
In this lesson I'd like to share two key exercises with you that have transformed my guitar technique.

They're easy and quick to do, but they're incredibly effective. These two exercises have made a bigger difference to my technique than anything else, simply because they're both focused on  making it effortless.

The less physical effort you put in, the faster you can play. These exercises train you to use as little physical effort as possible while still getting a good sound. 

They're not the kind of exercises that you'll have to spend weeks on - just a few minutes each day will quickly bring results.

Let's get started!

Two Hands Working Together

The first exercise focuses on the fretting hand, while the second focuses on the picking hand.

"But I thought you said these both improved your picking technique?"

Yes, they did! But when you're doing a picking run, you obviously have to fret notes. Both hands have to work  together .

No matter how good your picking hand is, it can't compensate for poor fretting technique. Both hands have to be doing their jobs properly if you want to play fast and clean.

Most people overlook the importance of the fretting hand, when it's a vital part of playing fast picking runs.

The fretting hand is just as important as the picking hand, even when you're doing a large alternate picking run.

Exercise 1 - Training Your Hands to Play Effortlessly

If there's one thing that stops people from playing fast, it's excess tension.

When you speed up there's a natural inclination to "force it", tense up your hands, and try to  physically push  your speed to the next level.

The thing is,  this holds you back. Excess muscle tension is the enemy of speed and control. If you want to get fast, you need to focus on playing lighter and more effortlessly.

Trying to force your hands to move faster won't get you anywhere!

This is exactly what this first exercise focuses on.

Here's the step-by-step process:

  • Pick a random note – say, the 9th fret of the G string. Pick it just how you normally would.
  • Then, keep picking it while reducing the force you use to press down the note with your fretting hand.
  • Keep going until you’re no longer pressing down the note and you just get a scratchy noise - like you're muting the string with your finger, but not pressing it down all the way to the fret.
  • Then, press down a tiny bit harder – just enough to press down the note. See how lightly you can press the note down and still get it to ring out clearly.

Do you see how little force you actually need? It’s barely any at all!

Most people are really surprised how little force you actually need to press down a note on the guitar.

There’s no point in using any more force than this; all it does is make it more difficult to play. Whenever you play guitar, pay attention to how much force you use and ask yourself “am I using any more force than I absolutely need to?”

The less pressure you use, the easier it is and the faster you can play.

Do this with every finger, including your little finger. Then, try playing through a scale or basic lick while using as little fretting force as possible.

Focus on using a   minimum   of force, and see how much easier it is to play.

Do this exercise for just a few minutes each day and you'll quickly realise how easy the guitar can be. The less physical effort you put in, the easier it becomes!

The less physical force you use, the more effortless it becomes and the faster you'll be able to play.

Exercise 2 - Gaining Complete Control Over Your Picking

This exercise is a weird one, and unlike any others that I know of. It is  extremely  effective at improving your picking hand control and preventing picking "hang-ups".

A picking hang-up is when you’re picking fine and suddenly the pick gets “stuck” on the string and messes up your playing.

It ruins your rhythm and stops you from playing cleanly; it feels like the pick keeps getting caught on the string rather than going through it smoothly.

It's a really common problem, and one that I struggled with before I came up with this little exercise.

Here's the step-by-step process:

  • Grab your guitar, and put your pick down.
  • Then, put your hand in your normal picking position and pretend you’re holding the pick even though there’s nothing there.
  • Then “pick” the string, without holding the pick. The motion should be identical to the one you normally use when you pick; everything should be the same, except that you’re not holding the pick.
  • Do it at a range of speeds for a couple of minutes. Try it slow, fast, and everywhere in between.
  • When it starts to feel natural (after 3-4 minutes, usually) grab the pick again. Now, try picking normally. It’ll feel LOADS easier, and the hang-ups will have disappeared.

The exercise trains you to pick like the string resistance isn’t there , which makes your picking motion much smoother and more controlled.

Even if you don't struggle with picking hang-ups, it's a great exercise to improve your control. It also trains your hands to be more relaxed when you play, which is a HUGE part of playing fast.

Try it! You’ll be surprised by the results.

Just 5 minutes a day of this for one week can make a big difference to the level of control and effortlessness you have in your picking technique.

A Super-Easy Practice Schedule

Some people I've introduced these concepts to are sceptical, because they're unlike most other exercises.

This is why I urge you to try them out - just for one week - and see what results you get.

Here's a practice schedule I'd recommend:
  • 5 minutes a day of Exercise 1
  • 5 minutes a day of Exercise 2
  • Repeat daily for 7 days
Stick to them both for  a full week before evaluating your progress. If you like, you could take a video of yourself now, and then look back on it in a week's time to see how much you've improved.

You see, playing fast isn't about doing hours of tedious repetition with a metronome, and it isn't about boring chromatic exercises.

It's about using  effective methods and  powerful licks that are designed from the ground up to be played fast. What sounds like a mad flurry of aggressive notes can be broken down into easy pieces that anyone can learn.

These exercises should help you to improve your speed, and make guitar playing more effortless.

Make a commitment to yourself that you will play them every day for one week, and then see how much you've improved. If you're someone who's been stuck in a rut for a while, they could make a really big difference to your skills!

Have fun, and keep rocking!

Note: These two exercises come from "Shred Guitar Made Easy", a massive 10-week shred guitar method showing you how to master every aspect of shred guitar. It's fun, it's easy, and it works! You won't just get a load of chromatic exercises before being told to "practice with a metronome a lot" - you'll get simple, effective and exciting strategies that'll guarantee you get fast results. For more free info, click here .
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