The way of the pick: Essential guitar picking advice
By Strings Direct – 29 August, 2023
Picky with the plecy
Today, the mechanics of picking has been analysed into a fine science and I would like to share, but a drop in the ocean on this subject.
Great Pickers and Greater Pickers
Yngwie Malmsteen is arguably the wizard of master pickers, conjured from the dark world of neoclassical guitar, followed by perhaps Michael Romeo from the band Symphony X and then a host of other fast guys stand in line closely behind.
There is also a multitude of rock/metal players with a phenomenal and fantastic picking technique, like Rusty Cooley, Nuno Bettencourt and of course the great Paul Gilbert ala Racer X.
But I Hate Metal
Of course the word of fast picking isn’t isolated to the noisy chaos of the metal guitar hero.
Players like John Mclauphlin, Frank Gambale and Al di Meola are from the fusion world and fast picking is part of their trademark sound.
Eric Johnson is also an amazing picker from the blues-rock genre, his fast pentatonic picking is a real trademark sound for him and very hard to replicate.
Where to look for inspiration?
The collective picking techniques of todays guitarists can be found all over Youtube if you know where to look.
We as mad picking scientists are on a voyage of discovery and we need to know all of these almost magic formulas so we can do our own experimenting and find what works best for us.
Steve Morse holds his pick with two fingers and thumb, some hold the pick higher and closer to the first finger joint to get more strength, where as some hold pick right at the tip as an extension of their first finger.
The motion of picking comes from the wrist and some guys add a little thumb joint movement to push the pick into the strings, especially in economy picking.
Circular picking is another method that you can try out, it’s basically picking in a small tight circular motion, Malmsteen uses this motion for his style too.
I’ve heard it said that if you imagine you’re holding a pen, fast picking is like drawing a tiny area up and down rather than large scribbling.
Angle of the Dangle
99% of fast pickers angle the pick at a 45-degree angle to the strings so it reduces friction going through strings.
Some players hold it 45 degrees forward and some tilt the pick backwards, have a try and see how you go with just that but remember everything new feels a little strange at first.
I only recently made some really helpful discoveries on how these great players hold their picks in relation to either ascending or descending strings.
Pick slanting is the angling of the top part of the pick in the direction you’re picking to further avoid that snag that can occur when picking over strings at speed.
Imagine the picking part of the plectrum is the bottom of the pick and the fat bit you hold is the top.
When ascending scales, angle the top of your pick towards the floor in the direction you are playing, this will feel a little awkward at first, but as soon as you feel how much friction is gone when climbing across the strings you’ll want to get used to it.
When descending, angle the top of your pick toward the ceiling so you can glide down those strings.
You may find you’ve always been able to either ascend or descend much easier and that’s because of the pick slant you’ve favoured without even knowing it.
Economy picking or sweeping
The pick slanting stands out much more when using the same motion to change a string. When you play a chord for instance, you will automatically slant the pick.
Much like painting with a brush, your stroke will slant to accommodate the direction you’re strumming.
This is the same principal but in a microform that allows you a smooth transition when sweeping across strings.
Inside and outside picking can make a difference in how easy a lick can be executed. Inside picking is where your plectrum stays in between two strings where outside is picking outside the two strings.
Try picking a run you know starting on an upstroke, I’ve found I can play faster and smoother starting on an upstroke, if you find it hard to start on an upstroke, add another note to the beginning that is a downstroke.
Have fun experimenting with this stuff and remember that nothing comes over night and everything feels foreign and weird at first, know your goals and persevere to reach it with the right tools.
Here is a list of very good instructional materials, available on both pick slanting and picking in general.
Cracking The Code - by troy Grady http://troygrady.com/
Troy dives deep into the mechanics of all the major players with great visual animations and fantastic slow motion clips.
Chris brooks Picking Systems and sequences http://www.chrisbrooks.com/
Chris brooks has a really great lesson that looks into 3 separate mechanical systems that make fast picking much simpler. He talks about the slating and economy methods, plus more and has slow motion and a great way of explaining stuff effectively.
Economy Picking 1 + 2 by Rick Graham http://www.rick-graham.co.uk/
Rick is a master at picking and his 2 economy-picking lesson downloads are a great focused masterclass in this mechanic.
Rusty Cooley Chops From Hell the Art Of Picking
Shred fest of alternate picking and groupings, well worth getting
Old school Stuff
Here are the great oldies but goldies to look out for
Paul Gilbert “Intense rock 1 + 2”
Frank Gambale “Speed Picking”
John Mc Laughlin “ This Is How I Do It”
Yngwie Malmsteen Instructional (REH)
Vinnie Moore's "Speed Accuracy & Articulation”
Michael Romeo “The Guitar Chapter”
Chris Impellitteri “Speed Soloing” (REH)
Shawn Lane "Power Licks"
Guitar World article