How to increase picking speed by 500 %

Scroll down to see tablature

A crucial factor in alternate picking

The engine in a car is a complex piece of machinery where everything has to fit together to produce the power needed to drive the car. Imagine if some part of the engine suddenly started to loose it's place. If the explosions in one cylinder suddenly misfired and worked against the rest of the engine, then what would happen? The way to ensure that our alternate picking engine works perfectly, is to accent every third or fourth note. That gives your brain a place to focus on, a place to return to when it glides out of sync or misses a note.

If the brain can't hear it, it can't play it

If the notes doesn’t come very fast, the brain can distinguish each and every one of them. It can perhaps even emulate the melody played by singing or whistling. But as the speed increases it cannot make out what exactly is being played. It can’t “listen fast enough” to really hear what’s going on. When this happens, it also looses the ability to play the notes in the right order and rhythm because it can no longer keep track of the sound in relation to the movement it has to perform. The only way out of this, is to accent certain notes and there by give the brain a less detailed track to run on. Since it looses it ability to keep track of the details, we give it a slower structure to keep track of instead.

How to get a 500 % increase in speed

Without this structure we are going to hit the upper level of what the brain can cope with, time and time again. It’s no different than reading. When we learn to read we learn every letter of the alphabet. Then we combine those letters into words. Then we read every single letter, one at a time while the words form in our heads. This is a very slow way of reading. But as we read more and more, we learn to recognize words, not as combinations of letters but as images, as visual forms. We’re no longer using the very detailed code called the alphabet, we are simply recognising combinations of letters as “one thing”. Instead of reading letter by letter, we read word by word, and the speed with which we read increases 500 %.

When we practice an alternate picking lick we move through the same process. We go from playing one note at a time, to playing one “movement” at a time. Six notes can become “one thing” for the brain, instead of six little things. The only prerequisite for this is repetition, and accentuation. The brain has to know where the end and the beginning is!

Today's lick is build on the same technique you used yesterday. A nice thing about this particular lick is that you can chop it up very nicely into exercises on two and three strings at a time. Play the 12 notes on the low E and A string over and over again (Example 1 below). Then play the 12 notes on the E, A and D string, and do the same (Example 2 below). This will almost eliminate the challenge of moving your right hand down as you play the entire lick. When you have every piece ready, begin to focus on putting them together and moving your picking hand down one step, each time you shift from one string to another.

How to get 2 hands to do 1 thing

Furthermore, if we expect our fretting hand to be able to create something sensible with all those picking strokes, it must have a structure to work with. We can’t expect the right and left hand to work together if we don’t give them a track to run on. And what if they get lost? What if they get separated and can’t find each other again? This might happen all the time - But not if they know exactly where to meet with each other again, when it happens. No matter how much you practice alternate picking, your right and left arm are going to slide out of sync once in a while. But if you practice accenting, they will find each other so fast that you can’t hear or even perceive it.

Are you sold on the accents? If you are, go get your metronome and play the metronome game, accenting every third or four notes. And when you go to bed at night, remember to chant “ONE two three, ONE two three, ONE two three, ONE two three, ONE two three, ONE two three, ONE two three, ONE two three, ONE two three, ONE two three, ONE two three, ONE two three”