Guide to the perfect pickstroke

Here's some advice that I've learned from observing my own practice sessions over the years regarding how to achieve the perfect pickstroke. What do you think of when you imagine the perfect picking technique? Fast picking runs? Small and visually effortless motions? Long tremolos of near-endless and seemingly frictionless stamina? I have three rules to share with you which if followed, will allow you to achieve a pickstroke capable of producing such results.

It doesn't matter which of the two methods you use to generate your pickstrokes:

Nor does it matter which pickslant you happen to be using at any given time:

Instead, the focus of this article is on developing a fast, accurate, reliable, and effortless pickstroke time after time. Every time. Here are the three rules!

1. Use tiny pickstrokes

The larger your pickstrokes' breadth, the less control you will have over how much of the pick contacts the string for each pickstroke. As such, the resistance the pick encounters at the point of contact with the string (pick/string resistance) will be wildy unpredictable. That means that tiny pickstrokes and picking depth are directly related to each other. In addition, large pickstrokes will slow you down as the pick has a greater distance to travel through the air after/before every pickstroke. Attempting to increase speed without reduction in picking breadth results in tension. Tension results in failure. Keep those pickstrokes tiny!

2. Use just the tip of the pick

Only the tip of the pick is needed. The more plastic you have to muscle over a string, the greater the pick/string resistance will be, and the tenser and slower you will be. Beginners tend to use a lot of the pick because they are subconsciously afraid of missing the string altogether. But as you progress you must move away from this. Only use the tip. Don't even think of it as "picking" the strings. Think of it as "tickling" the tops of the strings.

3. Relax

Wait. This isn't just some carelessly spouted nonsense. It's absolutely necessary, I promise! Like my brother Gus the drummer says: "tense muscles are slow muscles". If you are tense, even just a little bit, your muscles will fight each other to some degree. For example: If you are doing a downstroke but your muscles are already tensing up preparing for the upstroke, your downstroke has been tainted by tension - ruined! Relaxation is something that needs to be practiced just like everything else. You must be consciously aware of it.


Combine these tips

Next time you're practicing an exercise or picking pattern, make a point of checking for the above three tips. Consciously ask yourself:

1. Could my pickstrokes be smaller?

2. Could I use less of the pick?

3. Can I relax any further? (without literally dropping the pick and collapsing)


I do this quick tri-check every practice session of every day. I hope it will help you like it has helped me.


Check out my PDF "Lead Guitar Practice Methodology" if you want more hardcore scrutiny like this!



Japanese Scale Picking Patterns

Get exotic with the Japanese Pentatonic scale! Like the standard pentatonic scale, the Japanese pentatonic also has 5 box positions. This lesson also includes diagonal picking patterns to aid your horizontal playing and fretboard vision. This lesson will be in the key of A Japanese Pentatonic.

Box Shape 1
This is the first box shape for the A Japanese Pentatonic scale. You should note that it is actually the exact same scale as the A Natural Minor. The only difference is that the minor thirds and flat sevens have been removed (grey notes).

This means that you can use the A Japanese Pentatonic scale over a standard A minor progression!

So starting on the 5th fret play the black notes up and back down again.

Box Shape 2

Here is the second position. Play this on the second note of the previous position, the 7th fret. The tricky part with this position is the pinky finger roll you have to perform when crossing between the G and B strings.

Box Shape 3

Carry on playing through the box positions. Begin this third shape on the second note of the second shape. Start with your second finger followed by the pinky to make the change to the A string easier.

Box Shape 4

This second-to-last box position is otherwise known as the "In Sen" scale. Starting here on the E, the 12th fret, play this scale instead of E Phrygian for an instant exotic sound.

Box Shape 5

And this is the fifth and final box position for the A Japanese Pentatonic scale. Now let's step it up a notch with some diagonal picking patterns!

Diagonal Picking Pattern 1

Starting back on the root note, the A (5th fret), we take the first two strings of the first box position and repeat the pair diagonally to slice right across three box positions. It's a great way to get around the neck and is an easy pattern to remember.

Diagonal Picking Pattern 2

This next diagonal picking patterns begins where the second box position is. This one is a bit of a wide stretch but the pattern is interesting and covers 11 frets of space. This slices right across and up to the fifth position. And again we have a pattern on a string pair which is repeated and moved up diagonally. Easy to remember.

Diagonal Picking Pattern 3

Here's that "In Sen" scale again. This pattern spans a big 11 frets like the previous and slices up to the top of the second box position of the next octave.

I hope you enjoyed this lesson.
Check out the video below to see and hear the patterns being demonstrated



Alternate Picking Exercises

Alternate picking for the lead guitar is where the picking hand executes alternating pickstrokes to play passages of notes. This down, up, down, up pattern is kept constant no matter what pattern the fretting hand is fingering or how many strings may be involved. This technique, while very tricky to master, can lead to a powerful sound and blistering high speed playing.

But a high level of picking hand accuracy must be established and synchronisation must be developed so that the two hands work together perfectly in time.

Work on these five looping exercises and begin developing your alternate picking technique right now!

Exercise 1: "PHI (Picking Hand Isolation) skipped all strings"
This works purely on the picking hand accuracy. Mute the strings by gently resting your fretting hand fingers across the strings. Rest your picking hand near the bridge and begin picking through the skipped pattern. This may be tricky at first and you may accidently hit the wrong strings as you skip. Slowly work on it until it is clean and you no longer make mistakes.


Exercise 2: "Back n Forth 2-string combination"

This is an absolute favourite of mine. It contains ascending and descending groups of six with parts changing direction. So many useful movements are encountered in this exercise.


Exercise 3: "Nimble Fingers single string sync"

This goes back and forth on one string bouncing between finger pairs to really get your hands synchronised together. Remember to give this a go on other strings too, not just the one string shown here.


Exercise 4: "Fmaj7 fractured 4 finger arpeggio"

Take this one very slowly. It’s an absolute minefield of potential mistakes. But that’s good, because once you get comfortable with it… that means you have improved! This is all string crosses and skips. If you can develop skill with this then most other exercises will seem much easier by comparison.


Exercise 5: "F6 skipped arpeggio"

This outlines an F6 chord. Apart from sounding cool, this forces you to cross to a string, then back, then skip over a string. All one after another. And will further improve your accuracy and string crosses.

Check out the video to see and hear these exercises in action!





Cmaj7 Alternate Picking Shapes

Here I have arranged the notes of a Cmaj7 chord into some seriously handy scale-like shapes. Pick through these, work them into your own soloing and get ready to jam with a whole new sound.

While using every note in any given scale is surely effective, by choosing and limiting which notes you play you can discover a whole new realm of sounds, licks and opportunities.

And so the idea I present today is how you can arrange the notes of a Cmaj7 chord/arpeggio (B, C, E & G) into playable scale-like shapes. Use the following shapes in the key of C Major (AKA A Minor):




Work these ideas into your own style. Blend them with your current favourite licks. Enjoy utilising the fresh sound that is the major 7 arpeggio.

To see and hear these shapes in action (+ a music theory breakdown) check out my video lesson below!


Clean Up Your Alternate Picking

A hugely under discussed aspect of alternate picking is that of picking hand imbalance and the trouble it can cause.

Alternate picking is when notes are executed by the picking hand in an alternating manner - a downstroke followed by an upstroke followed by a downstroke and so on. For whatever reason, players often tend to be far better at downstrokes than they are at upstrokes. And, if one picking direction is favored then a picking imbalance will be encountered.

Let's dive right into exercise No. 1 to combat this.
Exercise 1

Take this chromatic exercise. It's 4 repeating notes played with alternate picking. Accent (pick hard) every downstroke. And now...
Exercise 2

Try the exact same thing but accenting every upstroke instead.

Did you find one exercise easier than the other? Whichever one you found to be a little harder - practice that one far more than the other. Working on our weaknesses makes us strong, and in the context of these 2 exercises, working on our weaker pickstroke will bring us balance.

The other area of alternate picking which is prone to imbalances is string crossing (playing a note on one string and then switching to another to continue playing). There are 4 ways to cross a string: Outside picking away from you, outside picking towards you, inside picking away from you, and inside picking towards you. Here is a graphic to explain what I mean:

String crossing is the biggest hurdle when it comes to fast, accurate, multi-string picking runs, and all 4 of these string crosses need to be mastered evenly. If even one of these aren't as good as the other 3 then you will be imbalanced and severely restricted.

And so I designed a short, repeating exercise to address this. The exercise includes all 4 string crosses. You will feel what I mean the moment you try it!
Exercise 3

Here is the video for the final exercise with in depth explanation:



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