How To Get Killer Guitar Picking Technique For Speed

Wouldn't it be great to have guitar picking technique that makes playing fast feel smooth and effortless?

You bet!

The secret to doing this is developing a solid foundation of efficient picking hand movement that allows for the fastest and most consistent playing possible.

How can you do this?

The easiest way is to learn what NOT to do when you practice your picking.

Here is why:

When you avoid common picking hand mistakes, it’s much easier to arrive at optimal picking hand technique without trying.

Watch this video to see what I mean:

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Here are the biggest no-nos when it comes to picking fast & clean on guitar:

Guitar Picking Speed Tip #1. Don’t Move Your Guitar Pick With Your Thumb & Index Finger

Here is why:

When you move the pick with your thumb & index, you don’t get a consistent feeling of your 2 hands being in sync.

That’s because the string is in a different place each time your pick is bringing it into motion. This inconsistency makes your guitar playing sloppy.

Question: “But Tom Hess, what should I do if I have this problem in my guitar playing today? I tried slowing down, but it didn’t help.”

Answer: Try making the problem worse temporarily (move the pick even more with your thumb & index finger for a few seconds. Then back off and you’ll find your issue is more under control than before.

You can also try slowing down even more (to make the issue easier to control).

One other solution I tried with guitar students is have them practice with gaff tape over their thumb. Then moving your thumb becomes impossible and you are forced to learn to pick in a new way.

Guitar Picking Speed Tip #2. Don't raise your shoulder

Your shoulders should form a letter T with your torso. This ensures you can stay most relaxed when you pick fast.

Don’t let your picking shoulder come up (at any point) when you play guitar.

If you can’t tell whether or not you are raising your shoulder when you play, get a mirror and watch yourself practice.

Question: “Tom Hess, I tried making my shoulders level, but my technique is inconsistent. Sometimes I can keep my shoulder relaxed – other times I can’t.”

Answer: This is normal. It takes awhile for your muscle memory to learn a new movement (or posture change). Just be patient and problem will become less and less overtime.

Fixing the shoulder position takes anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of months (and everywhere in between). But when you do, you’ll play cleaner and faster - guaranteed.

Guitar Picking Speed Tip #3. Don’t let your guitar pick bounce away from strings

The biggest secret to guitar speed isn’t moving your hands faster – it’s moving less.

It’s simple physics.

The less your pick moves – the more frequently you can hit the string. The more often you hit the string – the faster you can play.

And on top of having more raw speed – greater efficiency makes your fast playing sound cleaner and more articulate.

That’s why, your pick should stay inside the “string trench” (space between strings) most of the time when playing scales.

Only let it come out of the strings when you are string skipping (or doing inside picking).

Yep – just like in World War I (where soldiers stayed in the trench for as long as possible).

Use a mirror and watch your picking hand like a hawk to see your pick is moving more than it should.

Then correct it slow tempos and gradually bring your efficient technique into higher speeds.

Guitar Picking Speed Tip #4. Don’t practice slowly all the time

This relates to the previous tip.

When you practice slow, it’s very easy to let your hands make big, sloppy & lazy motions. You can get away with this at slow speeds, because there is a lot of time between notes.

But once you start speeding up?

You’ll keep hitting your head against the same speed ceiling and not know what to do.

Here is the solution:

Find the fastest speed you can play without mistakes and do most of your practice there.

Question: “Tom Hess, are you saying to never do slow guitar practice?”

Answer: No, not at all. But you don’t want to do too much practice at speeds that are too easy either. When you play at speeds that are too easy, you get used to practicing mindlessly and you aren’t being challenged at all.

Guitar Picking Speed Tip #5. Don’t use strict alternate picking

If you want to pick fast, stop using alternate picking. Use directional picking instead.

Here is why:

- directional picking is 33% more efficient than alternate picking (when you play 3 notes per string). That’s because your pick only moves 2 times to play 3 notes on every string. This efficiency translates into greater speed.

- directional picking helps you train sweep picking too. That’s because it contains elements of sweep picking on (some) string changes. The more you practice directional picking, the more this helps your sweep picking as well.

- directional picking is great to practice when your time is limited. That’s because it contains a high degree of “Transferability”. Transferability means: improvement in other techniques as a result of practicing the technique you are working on now.

Question: “Tom Hess, is Directional Picking the same thing as economy picking?”

Answer: No. With economy picking, you have to do a sweep pick on every string change. This requires a lot of planning (and makes some licks unplayable).

With directional picking, you don’t have to pre-plan anything. All you do is use alternate picking when you are on a single string…

… and when you change strings – pick in the direction of the next string.

This means sometimes you are going to have to pick the notes with strict alternate picking.

And other times – you’ll be able to use sweep picking to make your motions ultra-efficient (and therefore: faster).

Guitar Picking Speed Tip #6. Don't mute with the palm

If you want to play guitar without sloppy string noise, the best technique I found for this is:

Thumb muting!

To do thumb muting, you rest your thumb on the lower (in pitch) strings of the guitar. The thumb then slides up and down the strings as you play – keeping them quiet.

Question: “Tom Hess, I am so used to muting with my palm. I’ve been doing it for years. Is it even worth it to switch to doing thumb muting?”

Answer: For most people, the answer is: yes, it is.

Here is why:

When you thumb mute, your pick is always at rest in the string trench.

That means your pick is set up for maximum efficiency (while you are muting excess string noise).

But when you mute with the palm?

Then the opposite happens. 

Your hand is at rest naturally with the guitar pick UP in the air. (Outside the string trench.)

And that means:

You have to move more to get the pick back down to the strings. This is very inefficient.  


If you mute with the side of palm like many people do, it’s hard to avoid muting the strings you ARE playing. 

(Which isn’t a sound you want al the time.)

The result is: your playing stays sloppy (and building speed becomes harder and more frustrating).

Thumb muting helps you bypass this problem. 

Now you know the dos and don’ts of fast guitar picking. Want me to help you transform the rest of your guitar playing? I can do that for you in my Breakthrough Guitar Lessons

Tell me about your musical goals and guitar playing challenges. And I’ll create a customized lesson plan to get you playing guitar the way you want. 

Plus: I’ll track your progress, give you feedback on your guitar playing and hold your hand every step of the way to nearly guarantee your results.

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