How To Improve Your Picking: Part 1

So, you can deliver those practised licks and runs at devilish speeds, but certain movements still trip you up and you can’t seem to progress past a slow crawl? The chances are, when you really put this under a microscope, the root of the issue is that your picking and fretting hands are not moving in perfect sync with each other. In this blog, we present a series of tips and exercises for improving your right and left hand synchronisation - putting you back on the path to picking prowess!

1. Finger Displacement

It is all too easy to build a false sense of our picking accuracy when dealing with patterns which represent predictable movements, with a set number of notes reliably on each string.

One way of shaking things up, and shocking your hands into syncing more effectively, is to take our old 4 note per string (fingers 1,2,3,4 one fret each) chromatic exercise and rejig it.

Ex.1 and Ex.2 are a simple permutation of the standard 1,2,3,4 finger exercise, but with some of the fingers displaced onto the next string. In Ex.1 finger 1 plays the E string and your remaining fingers are displaced to the A string. The pattern then repeats on the A&D, D&G, G&B and B&E strings. Ex.2 is exactly the same with the displacement of only fingers 3&4 onto the adjacent string.

You can use this approach to create your own exercises and keep your hands in a state of shock; simply invent a pattern which displaces your fingers, 1-4, randomly between the E and A strings and then repeat the pattern on each group of two strings.

2. Sequences Are King!

Staying with the theme of creating less predictable movements, which encourage your hands to communicate better; messing with the natural order or notes in your standard scales is, not only a great finger twister, but is employed in many guitar solos to add musicality to otherwise stock scale based runs.

In Ex.3 we take our old friend, A minor pentatonic, and sequence it in groups of four notes; starting with note 1, we ascend 4 notes, then ascend 4 notes beginning from note 2 of the scale, followed by climbing up 4 notes beginning on note 3 - you get the idea! Try and keep track of the note on which you start each time and where your next group of 4 begins. When referring to the TAB, try to visualise each group of four notes (rather than a long ream of fret numbers, as this can get confusing quickly!)

Ex.4 Takes an A major scale, 3 notes per string and applies a simple sequence of groups of 3 notes; starting on note 1, we climb the first 3 notes of the scale, then 3 notes from note 2 and so on. If you are unfamiliar with this scale shape, the TAB shows the scale in order first. Be sure to follow the fingering in the video!

A handy mental analogy for scale sequences is to picture climbing a staircase - a sequence of 4 would be climbing 4 stairs, going back down 3 and then repeating until you reached the top. You can imagine a 3 note sequence as climbing 3 stairs and going back 2.

3. Mix It Up

So far we have looked at patterns intended to break you out of your muscle-memory comfort zone; however, all repeating patterns, even our finger twisting sequences, can be quickly adopted by your muscles and no longer provide a challenge for your hand synchronisation. But never fear - the solution is to seek out and embrace the random!

You see, the scenarios in which we often find our picking to be the weakest, occur when faced with an unconventional number of notes on each string, without a seemingly logical repeating pattern. This is why you may have found yourself blistering through a 3 note per string run but coming unstuck when faced with a raunchy paced blues lick.

Ex.5 and Ex.6 take the simple approach of creating a pattern which mixes the number of notes found on each string.

Ex.5 (a kind of major and min blues scale hybrid) mixes 2 notes per string and single notes in a random fashion.

Ex.6 is an A dorian scale pattern (don’t worry if you aren’t familiar with the scale shape - unlike our sequences, this can simply serve as a cool exercise) and presents a challenging jumble of note numbers on each string. Quick tip - divide this lick into two parts - the first 6 notes followed by the remaining 7.

4. Skip It

A tried and tested method for improving this area of your picking technique has always been tackling parts which contain string skipping. Because we encounter so many everyday riffs, licks and ideas which encourage playing non adjacent strings, there are plenty of reasons to get your hands on the same page when it comes to string skipping.

Our final exercises focus on skipping strings but, in the spirit of this blog, the patterns are a touch unpredictable.

Ex.7 is an A minor pentatonic, 8 note lick which mixes a single string skip with notes on adjacent strings.

Ex.8 sees a return to our A major scale, with another mix of skips and neighbour strings to keep your hands guessing! Correct fingering here is also helpful so check out the video.

Don’t be demotivated if these exercises don’t fall under your fingers right away, that’s the idea! Like any exercise, these examples are only useful while they continue to present a challenge; once they become easy, it’s time to move on!

In the mood to take things further? Check out these Licklibrary courses:

Thumbnail course EGPR String Skipping RDR0177
Essential Guitar Practice Routines - String Skipping

Thumbnail course Guitar Aerobics Advanced RDR0043
Guitar Aerobics - Advanced