The killer strategy for mastering string shifts

Scroll down to see tablature

The two headed monster

Every technique has its challenges. When it comes to alternate picking, shifting strings is definitely one of them. What most people aren’t aware of is that this is a two headed monster. There are two different string shifts that you can make:

1. Outside shifting

2. Inside shifting

Outside shifting is when you go from picking down on, let’s say the B-string, and then picking up on the high E-string. Inside picking is when you have the complete opposite picking motion. You start with and upstroke on the B-string and then you move down and pick the E-string with a down stroke. Try it right now so you get a feel for it.

Inside and outside string shifting are two different challenges that should be handled as such

You will use both of these string shifting techniques when you use alternate picking, so it’s a good idea to give them a lot of attention. Think about it: Alternate picking is really three techniques in one.

1. Picking fast and rhythmically on one string
2. Shifting strings using outside shifting
3. Shifting strings using inside shifting

Most people practice just “one thing” They practice the up and down motion on one string, and then they jump into playing over multiple strings without being very aware of the extra challenges involved. And I have to admit to having done the same. This one error is the reason why many players consider alternate picking almost impossible to master. But when you start focusing on practicing string shifting - and not alternate picking as such, your progress will quickly follow.

Here it is; the killer strategy for mastering those string shifts:

Mute the string with you left hand and listen only to the picking noise you make with your right hand. It’s such a simple, but very effective strategy. This will take away "the music" and leave you with the naked sound of the pick hitting the strings. Because it's so obviously evident when you are making mistakes, your brain will now help you correct them much quicker. I used to wonder why I couldn’t seem to get my alternate picking licks right. I couldn’t figure out where I went wrong. Until I started doing only the picking motion without the notes. Instantly my mind went “Oh!...” and I could pin point my challenges right away.

When I did this I realised that I had actually practiced making mistakes for a very long time. The notes I played, masked the fact that my right hand wasn't doing a very good job. And so I had repeated erroneous picking patterns thousands of times, teaching my brain to do the wrong thing. Learning is one thing, but having to "unlearn" is quite another story. Use this method and you'll be one of the few who really master alternate picking.

Here's how to beat this challenge once and for all:

If you really want to put this challenge into the ground and go for it full tilt - then here's my recommendation: Play the metronome game using this "muting" technique. Start every practice session like this, for an entire month (or two) Do 15 minutes of picking exercises without sounding out any notes. Turn it into 15 minutes of meditation, doing the same pattern up and down, listening intensely for those critical moments when you shift from string to string.

The Indispensable Sequence

An indispensable Inside picking lick

Today’s lick is an absolute must for you to learn. It has so many applications and fits any style of music. In this particular example I use the old A-Harmonic minor but you can use any three note per string scale pattern. - And it’s limited to only inside picking string shifts! So It’ll give you a chance to really hone in on those. Tomorrow I’ll post an article with a two string lick that will enable you to nail those string shifts once and for all. Until then, have a great time!