Picking Motions For Guitar – Fast Guitar Picking Technique

by Tom Hess
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Want to pick fast on guitar?

That starts with understanding the mechanics of efficient technique. 


You need to understand proper picking motions for guitar.

And this is where many guitar players (who want to play guitar fast) run into a problem. 

This happens, because many guitar teachers give conflicting information about fast guitar picking technique. (Specifically, where the picking motions for guitar come from).

start building lightning fast guitar picking speed
How To Build Lightning Fast Guitar Picking Speed e-Book
FREE Ebook

By submitting your info, you agree to send it to Tom Hess Music Corporation who will process and use it according to their privacy policy.

Some guitar teachers tell you to pick fast on guitar using your wrist.

Others say you should use your arm more when trying to play guitar fast.

My guitar technique philosophy behind picking motions for guitar is quite different (it doesn't follow either of these schools of thought).

I’ve used it very successfully to help hundreds of my guitar students become pro-level players (and learn to pick fast on guitar).

Today, I want to help you do the same.

Ready to start?

Watch this video about proper picking motions for guitar and I’ll show you how:

Now that you understand the basics of fast guitar picking technique, here are 5 more tips that’ll help you refine your picking motions for guitar and play guitar fast:

Tip #1 For Fast Guitar Picking Technique: Use Directional Picking

You’ll have a much easier time learning to play guitar fast, if – in addition to using the right picking motions for guitar – you are also using the guitar technique that was specifically designed to let you pick fast on guitar.

In my opinion, that guitar technique is: directional picking.

“What is directional picking?”, you ask.

It’s a special fast guitar picking technique, where you use alternate picking to play on a single string, but always change strings in the direction of the string change.

Meaning: when you move in the direction of the higher (thinner) string, you pick with a downstroke. (No matter what the previous note note was.)

When you move in the direction of the lower (thicker) strings, you pick with an upstroke. (No matter what the previous note was.)

This technique allows for maximum efficiency in your picking motions for guitar, making it very easy to play guitar fast.

Watch this video to see how to practice directional picking the right way:

Question: “Tom Hess, so is directional picking just like economy picking, but by a different name?”

Answer: No. Economy picking is another fast guitar picking technique where you have to change strings using a sweep picking motion all the time. This restriction limits the licks you can play (and how you can play them)

With directional picking you have no such limitation in your guitar technique. You only move the pick in the direction of the next note, with zero pre-planning.

Sometimes (for some licks) the motions of directional picking and strict alternate picking are identical (because there is no other way to pick through it). And other times – you use sweep picking to change strings. But there is no “having to decide” between 2 different techniques – you simply move ‘in the direction’ of the next note at all times. (Hence its name.)

This is what makes directional picking more efficient as a fast guitar picking technique compared to both alternate picking and economy picking.

Tip #2 For Fast Guitar Picking Technique: Master 2-Hand Synchronization

True story:

At one of my HESSFEST live events, a guitar player (Alessandro from Italy), got up on stage and asked me to help him fix his picking motions for guitar, so he could play guitar fast, like his hero Paul Gilbert. 

But when he played for me, I could tell that his real problem had nothing to do with his picking motions for guitar.

So, I told him:

“Your REAL problem is your 2-hand synchronization. Pushing your ‘speed’ up will only widen the gap between your top speed and the tempo where your hands are in sync. But if you close that gap first and ‘then’ increase your speed – you’ll sound way more like Paul Gilbert and can use your speed in real music.”

I then trained him to quickly get his hands more in sync and within minutes – his top speed began to sound cleaner.

So, what the heck is synchronization?

It’s the ability of your picking and fretting hands to strike the string at the exact same time when you play. 

To say it another way: 

Your absolute maximum top speed (with your picking motions for guitar) is simply your ‘potential’ top speed. Your top speed of 2-hand synchronization is your level of ‘usable’ speed on guitar. 

i.e. how much of your ‘potential’ you can actually use. 

So, the better you can keep your hands in sync, the cleaner your fast playing sounds and the more you’ll impress everyone who hears you pick fast on guitar.

Watch this guitar technique video to see what I mean:

Some of my favorite ways to train 2-hand synchronization include:

Double picking. As the name implies, what you do is pick every note of your guitar technique exercise 2 times. This exaggerates the difficulty of the exercise (and temporarily makes it harder to keep your hands in sync). But when you go back to picking each note once, your guitar technique feels easier (and your fast guitar picking technique sounds better).

Playing unplugged. This forces you to pick harder than you normally would (which increases your pick attack and forces your hands to be in sync). 

Single-string practice. If you can keep your hands in sync on one string when you pick fast on guitar, it’ll be easier to stay in sync when you change strings.

Here are a few more of my favorite 2-hand sync drills that help you play guitar fast:

Fix guitar playing mistakes

Tip #3 For Fast Guitar Picking Technique: Control Excess Muscle Tension

Even after you have refined your picking motions for guitar, excess tension can be the silent killer stopping your potential to pick fast on guitar.

Excess tension comes in 2 forms:

1. The guitar technique muscles being used to play the notes are firing with more power than needed.

2. The rest of your body is using tension where it’s not needed at all. (Common examples of this kind of muscle tension include: tension in the jaw, shoulders, triceps and biceps, stomach, thighs, calves and feet.)

The simplest way to relax excess tension (and make it easier to use your guitar technique to pick fast on guitar) is to relax tension in the parts of your body where it’s not needed at all.

You can do that by using a technique called “tension audit”.

Here is how it works:

Play the exercise you want to practice over and over at a steady tempo. As you play, focus your attention on one area of your body at a time until it is relaxed. For example: focus on relaxing your jaw. Then, when the jaw is relaxed, focus on your shoulders. Then – your biceps/triceps.

Continue through the rest of the body until you you’ve completed the ‘audit’.

When you are done – you’ll likely be able to use your refined picking motions for guitar to play guitar faster than you could before. 

Here is an example of excess muscle tension audit in action:

Question: “Tom Hess, I’ve heard some people say that you should have ‘no tension’ when you play guitar fast. But I'm having a hard time achieving that. What should I do?”

Answer: Ignore that advice. There is no such thing as playing guitar with ‘no tension’. Even holding a guitar pick takes some muscular effort, so playing with ‘no’ tension is physically impossible.

Not to mention, playing with too little tension can literally hurt your ability to play guitar fast (even when you have fast guitar picking technique). This guitar picking video explains why.

Tip #4 For Fast Guitar Picking Technique: Clean Up Excess String Noise

Similar to weak 2-hand synchronization and excess muscle tension, sloppy string noise wrecks your ability to pick fast on guitar (even with flawless guitar technique). It makes everything you play sound amateur. 

Just like excess muscle tension, sloppy noise comes in several forms (all of which limit your ability to play guitar fast):

- noise from the lower-in-pitch (or higher-in-pitch) strings (when they are not being muted).

- noise (bleeding) between the notes that shouldn’t be ringing together. (Common example: finger rolling in sweep picking arpeggios).

How do you clean up sloppy string noise in your guitar technique and play guitar and clean?

Here is how:

1. Use your picking hand’s thumb to mute lower (in pitch) strings. Simply rest it on the strings and slide it up and down as you play scale sequences and arpeggios. 

On top of cleaning up sloppy playing, it also makes your fast guitar picking technique even more efficient. That’s because the pick now stays at rest inside the trench of (space between) the strings. 

2. Use your index finger (of your fretting hand) to mute the higher-in-pitch strings. 

3. Focus on releasing the finger from the string after it has played the last note on that string. That will prevent the notes from bleeding together (during sweep picking arpeggios, as well as scale sequences you will play as you pick fast on guitar.)

These 3 techniques will help you get the most from your fast guitar picking technique I helped you develop in the video at the start of the article. 

Note: be careful about ‘releasing’ the finger from the string. Many guitarists make the mistake of ‘lifting’ the finger (jerking it up) instead of ‘releasing’ it. 

This mistake hurts your guitar technique, because: A. the finger ends up further away from the strings (which makes you play slower) and B. moving the finger far away from where it needs to be creates extra tension and limits your ability to use your fast guitar picking technique to its utmost.

Tip #5 For Fast Guitar Picking Technique: Integrate Your Fast Guitar Picking Technique With Other Guitar Techniques And Skills.

Many guitarists make this common mistake as they learn to play guitar fast:

They practice the same handful of guitar technique exercises over and over again. 

This makes it very hard to use your fast guitar picking technique in real-life playing and improvising.


Integrate (combine) your fast picking technique with other guitar techniques, such as: sweep picking, legato licks, string bending and vibrato and rhythm guitar riffs.

Here is an example of how to do this:

As you practice guitar technique integration, focus specifically on the connection point between the elements you are connecting.

This means: isolate the final 2-3 notes of one technique and the first 2-3 notes the second technique. If you are able to play through that transition bridge cleanly – the entire integrated lick will sound clean and smooth.

Now that you know the mechanics of efficient picking motions for guitar, the next step is to transform the rest of your guitar playing. I mean everything from your guitar technique to music knowledge, creativity, lead guitar soloing and more).

I can help you with that in my personalized Breakthrough Guitar Lessons.

Here is how it works:

You tell me everything about your guitar playing strengths, weaknesses, musical background, and musical goals. I then create your personalized guitar lesson strategy. As you practice your lessons, I give you a ton of feedback to help you master your guitar lessons and reach your musical goals.

To begin, click the green “Start Now” button below.

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Tom Hess
About Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher, music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He teaches rock guitar lessons online to students from all over the world and conducts instructional live guitar training events attended by musicians from over 50 countries.

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