The truth about "elbow picking"



"Picking from the elbow", "elbow picking", and "arm picking" are some terms for what is considered by most lead guitar players to be taboo when it comes to picking technique.
So why do so many beginners automatically start picking from the elbow when they attempt to increase their picking speed? Simply put, the brain and body work together to find the easiest and quickest way to produce results. Usually this is fantastic! But unfortunately in this case, elbow picking turns out to be the quickest and fastest way for a beginner to start tremolo picking. They get results and the bad habit is reinforced. This article will explain why you should avoid locked wrist elbow picking, but then surprisingly it will explore how a combination of wrist and elbow is actually a very synergistic method.

The motions

On the left you can observe what I refer to as "side-to-side wrist" picking in my popular ebook PDF "Lead Guitar Practice Methodology", and on the right you can see how "elbow picking" works. When pivoting from the wrist, the side-to-side motion is very precise, efficient, and easy to do. Very little mass is being thrown about the fulcrum (wrist).
Compare this with pivoting from the elbow, where the entire mass of the forearm has to rapidly move about the fulcrum.



The case against strict elbow picking

Locking the wrist and pivoting purely from the elbow is a disaster for many reasons:

First, elbow picking genuinely risks tendon injury later in life.
One could assert "[insert guitarist here] picks from the elbow and he/she has never had an injury!"
In response one could argue that "[insert person here] drank and smoked all their life and lived to 100!"
Individual exceptions can and will occur, but on the whole, elbow pickers are putting themselves at risk.

Secondly, it breeds tension and is pure overkill. Why? Because firing large muscles in order to move an entire forelimb back and forth is wasted energy. It actually takes very little force to pick a note. Using the arm to pick is overkill, akin to attempting to sign your name on a document using a house painting brush.

Third of all, elbow picking lacks the precision of the wrist.
One could argue "[insert guitarst here] picks super fast and with complexity!"
I have seen these guitarists' picking hands up close in slow motion and I can tell you that they aren't as clean as you'd think. Strings are often sloppily clipped by the pick as it travels over during string crosses - something I make a huge effort to avoid for the sake of purity. The challenges of pickslanting are very troublesome when approached with a locked wrist and pivoting elbow.

The secret synergy

Although I fervently try to stick to pure "side-to-side wrist" picking for the sake of purity and "good form", continuing to elbow pick but also freeing up the wrist creates a synergistic relationship which many famous players use with great success to shred like mad! Have you ever noticed how players like John Petrucci play with the wrist up to a certain speed, and then inject elbow motion to take it to the next level? Let's take a look:

The wrist is freely picking side-to-side, but now the elbow picking creeps in, too. They both work together to execute the pickstokes. The reason these motions complement each other in such a way is because both "side-to-side wrist" picking and "elbow picking" operate along the same axis. They both move the pick along the same line through space. Energy provided from one fulcrum feeds the other, and vice versa. Rest your arm on a table and pivot at the elbow. You will notice that if the wrist is relaxed, it will pivot passively in response. That's evidence of this wrist and elbow synergy.

In summary

Don't pick purely from the elbow with a locked wrist. I recommend you use the "side-to-side wrist" picking method outlined in my ebook PDF "Lead Guitar Practice Methodology" as default. I can pick with pure wrist at about 240bpm 16th notes. Which in all fairness is about the fastest I've ever needed to play. With elbow assist I can get up to 280 - 300bpm. Because of the strength of the muscles involved, you will always play fastest with an elbow pivot assist. This is just a fact. Nevertheless I must urge you to resist the temptation for as long as possible.

Purchase and download my ebook PDF right now for just $15USD! Check out the trailer and description in this promo video to see if it's for you:

 

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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!

 

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How to read guitar TABs

Reading and writing guitar tablature (TABs) is essential for learning other people’s music and for keeping a record of your own creations. I would even argue that it’s more practical than standard music notation as TABs dictate the exact and intended way in which a passage of notes should be played. How/where we play our notes is a vital aspect of lead guitar playing – there can be no ambiguity or confusion! TABs make everything crystal clear. Their only downfall is that timing isn’t represented very well (if at all) but if a video accompanies the TAB then it’s not a problem in the slightest.

While it won’t include absolutely everything, this article will at least teach you the majority of info related to TABs - certainly everything you’ll need to know to read my TABs in particular.

 Which string is which?
The first task is to understand how the strings of the guitar are visually represented by the horizontal lines on the TAB. Observe the image below: the top line corresponds with the high e string (thinnest string) and the very bottom line corresponds with the low E string (thickest).

 
  

Fret numbering
Now that the relation between TAB lines and strings has been established, notes can be dropped into the TAB. See below how a number “4” has been written onto the b string’s line? That simply tells you to play the 4th fret of the b string. At this point it doesn’t specify any further regarding how to execute the note (downstroke, upstroke, hammer-on etc) so play it however you wish. 

 NOTE: When you encounter a “0”, read it as an instruction to not fret anything (play an open string):

 

 Chords
Chords are expressed any time you encounter vertically stacked numbers in a TAB. The fact that they’re vertically stacked tells you that the notes are played simultaneously. See below an example of a “diad” (double-stop) and a C chord:

 

Chords are most commonly strummed. Their strum direction (downwards or upwards strum) can be specified in the TAB by adding either an upward pointing arrow for a downward strum or a downward pointing arrow for an upward strum. While the arrow directions may seem incorrect, opposing or nonsensical at a glance, you’ll find they do actually make sense when applied physically.

For example: A strum from the thinner strings to the thicker strings would be considered an upward strum. A downward pointing arrow represents this perfectly as it shows the strum originating from the thinner strings and traveling towards the thicker strings.
 

Passages of notes
TABs read from left to right. The provided example instructs you to play the 2nd, 4th, and 5th frets on the D string, followed by the same fret numbers on the g string – all in order. See the image below for further clarification.

Picking instructions
As lead guitar players we use picks (plectrums) as our super precise surgical tools of choice. How something is picked is extremely important and must be conveyed in the TAB. The “V” symbol is an instruction to perform an upstroke, the half-square symbol tells you to perform the opposite (a downstroke). These symbols accompany the notes directly underneath the TAB. Observe the previous 6 notes updated to include picking instructions:

 

Legato playing
Legato (use of hammer-ons and pull-offs) is represented by archs over or under the notes being affected. The arch is written underneath the notes if they are on any of the three lower strings, and written above the notes if they are on any of the three thinner strings.
In the example below you are instructed to: Play a downstroke to sound the 2nd fret of the D string, then use legato to hammer-on to the 4th fret and then again on the 5th. Then repeat the same idea and execution on the g string.

Fingering instructions
While these examples aren’t complicated, it’s still a good idea to mention that fingering instructions for the fretting hand must sometimes be provided to further specify how a passage of notes should be played. Numbers will appear underneath the TAB to assign certain fingers to certain notes. “1” is the index finger, “2” is the middle finger, “3” is the ring finger”, and “4” is the little finger.

 Tapped notes
Tapped notes with the picking hand can easily be introduced and tie in with legato well. The tapped note gets a capital “T” above it to notify the reader that a note in the legato chain is to be played with the picking hand.

 

Bends
Bends are represented by curved arrows directly on the TAB to the right of the note being affected. Accompanying the arrow will be a “½”, “full”, “1 ½”, “2” and perhaps beyond though I don’t have the courage to bend beyond 1 1/2! A “½” is a half-step bend where you raise the pitch by one semi-tone, a “full” is a full step bend where you raise the pitch by a whole tone, and so on. See in the example image, the first note is bent upwards a half-step, the second is bent a whole step, the third is a full bend and release, and the fourth is a full prebend and release.

Shift slides and legato slides
There are two ways to perform slides: the “shift slide” and the more common “legato slide”. Most people don’t know the difference so I am very pleased to be writing a short section on these to set the record straight.

When you fret a note, pick it, and then move to another note on that string without unfretting, picking the next note upon arrival, that’s a “shift slide” and is represented very plainly with a sloped line connecting the two notes.

When you fret a note, pick it and slide to another note on that string but DON’T pick again upon arrival, as in you just allow the string to keep ringing from the slide, that’s a “legato slide”. While it too is represented with a sloped connecting line, it also requires a legato arch to tell the reader that it’s the latter type of slide.

Whammy bar note contouring
Dives are represented by straight lines directed down and away from the note being affected. Dips are represented by jagged Vs under and next to the note being abused. Pre-dip and releases are represented by a flat broken line rising up. Notice the “-1” accompanying all three examples? This lets you know to lower the pitch by a whole step.

Pickslant change instructions
This may be confusing to most players. In order to execute complex/advanced licks or passages, 2-way pickslanting is often required. In my TABs I chose to indicate where a change in pickslant occurs with an exclamation mark “!” above the note. For example, to strictly alternate pick the following tab in a looping fashion you’d need to change pickslant on the indicated notes to prevent the pick from getting trapped behind or in front of any string at any point. In the following TAB you’d need to use upward pickslanting on the D string and downward pickslanting on the g string. The “!” simply tells you where to change slant. 

 

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Tapping Arpeggios Lesson #2

Welcome to the second lesson on two-hand tapped arpeggios! Last time we covered the fundamentals such as: muting, string transitions, and a small 2-string example arpeggio to begin with. Now it's time to delve further into the technique and learn some larger arpeggio shapes. This lesson will teach you the tapped arpeggios for the four 7th chords of the major scale: The Maj7, the Dom7, the Min7, and the Min7b5 arpeggio. I will provide you with a TAB and also a fingering diagram (where the blue notes are the tapped notes) for each arpeggio.

NOTE: Use your picking hand's middle finger to execute the tapped notes for the following 4 arpeggios. Using the ring finger for tapped notes on the high e string is optional.

Maj7

 Dom7

Min7

Min7b5

As always, check out the video below for a more in-depth lesson and to see/hear these arpeggios in action!

 

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Essential Scale Sequences

What are scale sequences?

A sequence is a repeated and ordered pattern applied to the notes of a scale or arpeggio.

Imagine walking in a straight line for 8 steps. You could go ahead one step at a time like you normally would or you could decide to mix it up. For instance, you could step forward 3 times and step back once. You could step forward 4 times and step back twice. You could even leap forward a distance of 2 steps and then take a step back. All of these would be different ways in which you could walk ahead 8 steps. They are different patterns. They are different sequences.

Why learn them?

From the moment you learn a scale, it is your duty as a musician to convert it into music. Playing scales up and down the same way forever simply won’t cut it. And so the use of scale sequences is the answer. Sequences are an essential part of fretboard freedom and musical freedom. The more you master, the more interesting and creative sounds you can make with scales. Using sequences can change the way in which your guitar leadwork affects a track/song/jam. For instance, simply playing up through the notes of a scale produces a rather bland and straightforward result, represented below by a straight line. Whereas by applying something powerfully intervallic like the second example in this article: the "Pentatonic 4ths" sequence, you can produce a far more jagged and melodic sound to the ear, represented below by the jagged rising line.

How to use them

Play through the examples. Alternate pick everything. Apply them to different positions/scales/modes/keys. Familiarise yourself with the different sound of each sequence. Next time you jam, make sure to incorporate them into your leads. Perhaps between licks, melodies or scale runs you already know. Remember to mix it up: play examples as 16th notes (4 notes per beat) but also try them as 8th note triplets (3 notes per beat). Different notes of the sequence will land on different beats and can change the sound. You may be very pleased with what you discover! Pay very close attention to the fretting fingering instructions under some ambiguous tabs. Play examples exactly as specified to avoid unnecessary difficulty and confusion.

Example #1: "Linear Fours" in C Major

Here is the first of four examples. Instead of playing the C major 3-notes-per-string (3NPS) scale up and down, we apply a sequence called "Linear Fours". The pattern goes like this: Forward 4 notes, back 1 note. When you step back that one note, the sequence begins again. Give it a go!

Example #2: "Pentatonic 4ths" in A minor

Now we will try out a pentatonic idea. This one is trickier as it requires you to employ finger rolling to hit adjacent notes. In other words, you'll need to rock a small barre back and forth with a fretting finger to play notes which have the same fret number but a different string. Go really slowly to ensure a clean sound. And make sure you follow the fingering instructions under the tab.

Example #3: "Skipped 3rds" Diminished Arpeggio

This example shows that sequences aren't limited to scales - they can be applied to arpeggios as well. Starting on the D note on the low E string we play through the 4 notes of the diminished arpeggio (Root, Min3, b5 & 6 AKA bb7). But we don't play them in order. Instead we play the first note, then jump over the second to play the third (Hence "Skipped 3rds") and then we step back a note to play the second. And from that note we skip up a third, then step back one, and so on it goes. Once again, pay attention to the fingering instructions below the tab. Love this sound!

Example #4: "Root, 7th & 5th Triads" E Lydian

This is the most complex example by far, and sounds amazing! I'll try to explain this one as simply as possible. We are basically sequencing an E Lydian scale by building triads of root, 7th and 5th off every note of an EMaj7 chord. But don't get too caught up with the technical aspects of this if you don't want to, just follow the fingering instructions (Slowly!) and enjoy this beautiful sound.

Check out the video lesson!

 



 

 

 





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Clean Note Transitions

This is a lesson on how to play passages of notes in
a perfectly clean and intelligible way. You must eliminate silence between notes
to create a seamless stream of sound. Picture your notes as a brick wall. You
want to lay the bricks so tightly that there are no spaces in between them.

The problem:

When a guitarist first begins learning, every movement is very deliberate and
conscious. When they play single notes one after another they have to stop,
find the next note, move their fingers there, and prepare to pluck the string.
All of these conscious actions lead to a period of silence/shuffling around
while they prepare to play the next note. And so a satisfying flow of notes is
not achieved.

The solution:

The solution to technical problems is always to tackle the problem directly and with a targeted
exercise which is as small as possible so as to reduce the workload on the
brain and fingers and to ensure faster results.

Ex #1 - Basic single string clarity:

Let’s achieve a loop of two perfect notes on a single string. On the high e string, the thinnest,
pluck the 12th fret. Let it sound for a moment. Now press the string
against the 15th fret with your pinkie, and the MOMENT you do, as in
instantaneously, pick the string. If you did this correctly you should have
heard the first note stop and the second note begin almost seamlessly. The only
sound in between should be the gentle percussive click of the pick striking the
string. Now lift your finger back off the 15th fret and immediately
pick again to return to the 12th fret. Again the notes should
transition seamlessly. Go back and forth between these two notes slowly and
perfectly. Remember to palm mute the other 5 strings to kill string noise.

Ex #2 – The “See Saw” exercise. AKA “The Siren”:

This exercise is exactly the same as Ex #1 except that the second note is on the b string
instead of the high e. The purpose of this exercise is to keep the same clean flow
of notes going even while crossing strings. Keep both index finger and pinkie
touching the strings at all times. Never lift either finger off its string. To
fret a note simply press down gently and then pick. The other finger will be
gently resting on/muting the other string but NOT fretting it. To play the
other note simply reverse roles. So put simply, both fingers will be touching
the strings at all times but only one will ever be fretting at any given
moment. When the b string is being played, your palm should be muting the 4
lowest strings. When the high e string is being played, your palm should be
muting all 5 lower strings. Loop this.

Ex #3 – Pentatonic scale section:

You are now ready to apply your one and two string transitions to a scale fragment. Very slowly play
through the three highest strings of the E minor pentatonic scale. Focus
diligently on starting the next note as soon as the previous begins. Build that
perfect wall of notes. No space in between the bricks. Go in one direction.
Have a rest. And then return.

Check out the video lesson:

 

 

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Tapping Arpeggios Lesson

I proudly present an in-depth technical guide to basic multi-string two-hand tapping arpeggios. Learn how to tap, how to cross strings and how to perform a basic 2-string, string skipped diminished arpeggio on the g and e strings. From there you are free to branch out to bigger shapes and more exciting opportunities on your own and with the help of my lick videos.

However before we proceed, make sure that you've seen my video below on string muting. Keeping your playing free of unwanted string noise is essential! 

Single String Tapping Recap


Now that your muting has been addressed, let's apply it to some single string tapping before moving on to multi-string tapping. See the tab below. We're going to do some simple back and forth legato and tapping. With your index finger on the 10th fret of the G string, make sure that the underside of the finger rests flat across the b and high e strings - muting them. Use your palm mute to keep the D, A & E strings quiet. Zero in on that G string and make it the only one ringing out. Tap with the middle finger of your picking hand to the 16th fret, tapped pull-off to the pinkie on the 13th fret, pull-off to the index finger on the 10th fret, hammer-on back to the pinkie, and then tap the 16th fret again to loop.


String Crossing Exercise: "Seesaw"


Tapping is rather straightforward on a single string. But things get tricky as soon as you attempt to cross strings i.e multi-string tapping. But never fear, I have created a basic 2 note exercise to tackle these challenging string transitions. Introducing the "Seesaw" exercise:


Start by tapping the 16th fret of the G string as before. Let it ring for a moment and then when you're ready, hammer-on to the 10th fret of the high e string with your index finger. The moment you do, unfret the tapped note on the G string. That doesn't mean pull-off. It means raise up the tapping finger so that the string separates from the fret and is silenced by the tapping finger. Your tapped finger is now safe to leave the string.

To return, simply do it in reverse. Tap back onto the 16th fret of the G string. And as soon as you do, unfret the high e string. Go back and forth between these two notes very slowly. Focus on perfect note separation. As soon as one note ends, the next one starts. And with that let's move onto multi string tapping.

2-String Diminished Tapped Arpeggio

The reason I chose this arpeggio is that the shape is nice and symmetrical and easy to remember. The fret numbers and fingers are the same so we can focus more on the technique than on the actual arpeggio shape.

Start out the same as the single string example: tap, pull-off x2, hammer-on, tap. And then execute the string cross maneuver to get you to the 10th fret on the high e string. Now at this point you will need to move up your picking hand mute/palm mute a bit so that every string except the high e is silenced by your picking hand. From here, pinkie hammer-on to the 13th fret and then tap onto the 16th fret. You may use the same tapping finger or do what I do, which is to utilise the ring finger. Now just pull-off to the 13th fret and again to the 10th.

Do the string cross maneuver once again to return to the G string. Careful of string noise here: Keep your fretting hand low and vigilant as it ducks back to the G string to end the tapped arpeggio by doing a tapped pull-off to the pinkie on the 13th fret and then pull-off to the 10th fret.

I hope this helps!
Check out my video walkthrough below:

 

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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

 

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