How To Make Clean Guitar Playing Easier Using Optimized Picking Technique
To play guitar fast and clean, you need to build a lot of speed in your hands, right?
The secret is in moving your hands more efficiently than they are moving right now.
More efficiency = more speed.
And besides enabling you to play fast – greater efficiency makes your playing sound better and feel a lot easier.
Check out this video:
Click on the video to begin watching it.
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Here is a story to make this point more clear:
One of my guitar students once asked me to help speed up his scale playing.
So, I asked him to play for me at his current comfortable speed.
When he finished playing, I asked him:
“Let’s say, we took what you just played at your current speed and put it on a record. Would you be happy?”
“Heck no”, he said. “Because my playing is horribly sloppy too.”
“That’s right”, I nodded. “And the reason it’s sloppy is because I see a lot of inefficiencies in how your hands are moving.
So, why don’t we make your current motions more efficient first, clean up your playing at your current speed… and THEN work on playing faster?”
He agreed. And we spent the rest of the lesson training him to make his current technique more efficient and fix his sloppy playing.
A month later, he emailed me and sent me a recording of his progress – bragging about his new speed breakthrough and how clean it sounded. (He went from 600 notes per minute to 690).
Want to know the elements I trained him on?
Here they are:
Guitar Technique Element #1: Wrist Vs. Forearm
The general rule is: Use your wrist to pick on a single string and use your forearm to change strings.
There are some exceptions to this (such as when doing ultra-fast tremolo picking, for example)…
… but before you worry about exceptions – get the general rule down first.
And here are some common mistakes to avoid:
1. Moving the pick only with the wrist.
When you do this, your wrist gets out of alignment with the forearm. This causes your hands to get out of sync. Plus: string noise becomes a lot more likely.
It’s important to keep the wrist and the forearm in line and avoid excessive bend in the wrist.
2. Moving the pick only with the forearm.
Here is the problem: your forearm is a large muscle group. It takes a lot of energy to get it moving and a lot of energy to stop its momentum.
So, if you pick every note using your forearm, you use way more effort than necessary to play notes.
The result: slower and less efficient playing.
3. Moving the pick with the thumb and index finger.
If you pick this way, the string is not in the same place consistently when the pick is attacking it.
This makes it very hard to tell if your hands are in sync or not. (Because you don’t have a consistent reference point of feeling your pick strike through the string.)
Watch the video at the top of this page where I describe it in detail.
Fast & Clean Guitar Technique Element #2: Thumb Muting
What is thumb muting?
It’s where you rest your picking hand’s thumb on the lower (in pitch) strings– muting them.
The thumb then slides up and down as you play, keeping your playing clean.
I first started using thumb muting because I wanted to clean up sloppy string noise in my sweep picking.
But when I saw how effective it was, I began using it all the time on all lead guitar techniques. (String bends, vibrato, scale playing, string skipping and everything else.)
And here is what I found:
Besides keeping your playing clean, thumb muting also makes your picking technique more efficient.
Think of it like this:
When you mute with your palm (instead of the thumb), the default point of rest for your hand is…
…away from the strings
It’s outside of what I call: “the string trench”.
What that means is: your pick has to travel a much greater distance to play notes.
This inefficiency makes it very hard to play guitar fast and clean.
But when you use thumb muting, the default point for rest is with the pick DOWN inside the trenches of the strings.
This gives you a lot of efficiency and makes your guitar playing feel much easier and sound a lot better.
Question: “Tom Hess, I hear pinch harmonics when I use thumb muting to play lead guitar. What can I do?”
Answer: If you are hearing harmonics, it means your thumb is hanging over the edge of the pick. When this happens, your pick strikes the string you are attempting to play.
To fix it, change the way you hold the pick. Pull your thumb back, so it does NOT hang over the edge of the pick.
This way you’ll only play the string you want to hear with the pick. While your thumb rests securely on the lower strings.
(You can roll the thumb towards the tip of the guitar pick when you do intend to play pinch harmonics.)
Question: “Tom Hess, I don’t know of any famous guitarists who use thumb muting. Who else uses it besides you?”
Answer: Thumb muting is a relatively new technique which I invented. I teach it to all of my guitar students, many of whom play guitar at well over 1000 notes per minute.
Check out what some of my students (to whom I taught thumb muting) have to say:
“I just love guitar lessons with Tom, he literally takes the time to make a specific lesson plan and sends you lessons as you need it.”
My last lesson I took with a local guitar teacher before joining Tom, I was struggling with a sweep picking pattern, which was the 5 string root major, I was really struggling to get the rolling technique down. I took it to my guitar teacher and I was like “Help me with this, I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.” This is his exact phrase: “At high speeds, it doesn’t really matter if you can play it clean or not, no one can hear it anyway.” At that point, I was just like, “Ah man.” But thankfully, in that same message, he mentioned Tom’s name. Then the doors opened. That very night, I went home and looked at every single lesson Tom had, had my guitar in hand, every YouTube lesson on you know “correct motions”, “play this over chords”... just applied it instantly, and it was instant results within an hour... just from his free stuff. I was like, oh man, I’ve got to do lessons with this guy.
I remember when I first started out with lessons, I instantly jumped on the forum to greet myself, and it’s amazing how there’s like 30 responses. Just like, “Hi welcome.” and stuff... “Hi Dan, great musical tastes”. That made me feel really at home and welcomed into Tom’s forum and community. Every time I’ve had an issue when I was first starting out be it like theory or technique, there’s always been someone there who’s helped. Otherwise it could’ve been this potentially awkward process where I’d have to wait a whole week to get an answer from my teacher, who even then may not have answered it correctly and may have never solved it. Whereas there are guys on there who have been with Tom and have been through exactly what I’ve been through. They know exactly how to help, in what order, what information you need... it’s just a friendly atmosphere really.
Dan Mayhew, Stowmarket, UK
“When I met Tom Hess, I knew that this is the guy. Just going through the evaluation form, all the questions, different questions, and he was digging deeper and deeper into all my goals and all that stuff... and no one has ever done that with me before, so I felt right away that this is the guy.”
The level that I was at before I went to Tom for lessons was that I could play pretty fast, I could play sloppy, I didn’t know nothing about music theory, so I was kind of unbalanced, I was uneven. I was a good player technically, but I knew very little about music theory. So I wanted to even that out, and Tom has helped me, not only evening that out, but also exceeding my expectations. So now I’m playing at a level that I didn’t expect that I could play at. So that’s... I’m very happy with that.
I like lessons with Tom because of the format basically. He gives a variety of formats... not just one format, like video for example, but also pdf files and audio files that you can take with you if you’re doing something else... you have to do labor that day, laundry or whatever... then you can listen to the sessions and while... you can actually benefit when you’re not even practicing, so it’s a no brainer.
Gottfrid Norberg Waxin, Sweden
(Dan and Gottfrid are two of hundreds of guitar students I had the pleasure of helping transform their sweep picking (and other areas of their playing) in Breakthrough Guitar Lessons.
Fast & Clean Guitar Technique Element #3: Directional Picking:
Directional picking removes all the inefficiencies from strict alternate picking.
It works like this:
You use alternate picking when you are on a single string. But when you change strings – you pick in the direction of the next string.
Here is an example of alternate picking vs. directional picking on playing a scale:
Question: “Tom Hess, does directional picking work only for 3-note-per-string scales? What if I want to play blues or pentatonic licks?”
Answer: You can use directional picking on everything (including blues or pentatonic licks).
That’s because directional picking is not “economy” picking. With economy picking, there is a strict rule.
The rule is: always sweep pick when you change strings.
Obviously, this isn’t always possible. So, that means: you have to preplan all your guitar licks
Directional picking doesn't require any planning. Nor does it require you to sweep pick through every string change.
You simply move the pick the shortest possible distance to the next note from where you currently are.
And yes, when you are playing 2-note-per-string licks, your pick will have to skip over strings. There is no way around it.
But this still follows the philosophy of directional picking:
“move the pick the shortest distance to the next note”.
You now know what it takes to make your guitar technique more efficient and play cleaner and faster.
The next step is to apply these elements into your guitar playing and learn other things you need to fully reach your musical goals.
I can help you with this in my Breakthrough Guitar Lessons.
Here is how it works:
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.
To begin, go to: https://tomhess.net/Guitar
Here is what my guitar students are saying:
"Tom Hess very quickly and consistently got me really massive results as a guitar player."
I had been studying on my own at that point... I had been studying on my own for about 5 years, and from other guitar teachers really hadn’t gotten anywhere as a guitarist whatsoever. And Tom Hess got me more results in the first couple months than I’d had in all those previous years, so basically everything that Tom Hess is delivering since then has been consistent with that. So, he’s got proven results.
Leo Smith, Iowa City, Iowa, USA
“I've played guitar for several years and I think I've taken it as far as I could take it and I was going on the internet and found Tom, I take Breakthrough Guitar Lessons from him and I have to say it was the best thing that I've ever could have done. There is nothing better than Breakthrough Guitar Lessons with Tom.”
Tom has the innate ability to hone in on whatever problems you have and immediately fix it for you. The lessons are very goal oriented, very detailed and Tom is very approachable. I consider Tom to be a master teacher. A master teacher is someone who cares about their students, who talks to their students, who shares with their students and gets them to the place that they need to be as a guitar player. And Tom, I will tell you, does all of that and more.
Rovan Deon, Rahway, NJ, USA
“I found Tom Hess on the net through articles, and I read quite a few of those before I went to Tom’s website. Even though I’m not a metal player at all, and Tom is obviously a metal player, I could still see that his ideas and way of teaching could really benefit me. So I pretty much signed up for online guitar lessons with Tom straight away once I’d gone through the website, and it’s just been a real eye opener with the way he teaches…”
... the integration of concepts that he’ll give you and having a really structured strategy… not just week to week lessons, but things that - you can see from one lesson to the next - really develop and continue to work on your technique and your theory and aural skills and those types of things. So I’d played a long time… 20 years before I really caught onto Tom, and I’d had a lot of lessons, and I’d taught and played but I can really see improvements in my technique, sweeping, and picking which weren’t strong parts of my playing.
I feel like Tom has a good gauge of where you’re at as a guitar player and what you need, and there just seemed to be so much more stuff in the lessons week to week than what you’d ever get in an hour or so in a one on one lesson… way more. So yeah I think that and the forum. I think, I’d pay the money just for the forum. That alone would be fine… I wouldn’t have a problem with that at all. So that alone is massive!
The price for the lessons, that’s nothing... nothing. You know, I think it’s, pretty cheap to be honest. I don’t mean that in a bad way, cheap. Cheap is not a good word, but I just think it’s great value… awesome value. I mean, you know, you could pay that for one-to-one lessons and you just don’t get the same results and support of the forum and the content and the strategies.
Other teachers I’ve had have been good players, and some have become good friends too. But when I’ve started lessons with Tom I’ve got something to compare that to and a lot of it is just sort of teaching songs from week to week… a lot of the lesson will be left up to you… you’ll go to your lesson and they’ll be like what do you want to do today? At the time I said, oh do this song or that song, but with Tom you start to realize that you know, there’s more to it… the goals and you know he’s sort of more in contact with what you want to be able to do as a player, because he’s asking you the questions and then setting up the strategies, so I find that really good.
Yeah I can see more results in 18 months in a lot of areas in my playing than you know 20 years. So it’s sort of, you know, would’ve been great 20 years ago to have met Tom.
Simon Candy, Melbourne, Australia