How To Make Fast Guitar Playing Easy Using Directional Picking

by Tom Hess


Play-Guitar-Fast-With-Directional-PickingYour guitar speed improves faster when your picking hand technique becomes more efficient. Using directional picking makes fast guitar playing feel easy. Your motions become smaller and faster - leading to more guitar speed with less effort. This video demonstrates why directional picking helps you master guitar speed more easily:

Important: watch the entire video to understand the rest of this article!

Question: “Tom Hess, does directional picking only work for 3-note-per-string scales? What if I want to play pentatonic scales or other scales that don’t have 3 notes on every string?”

Answer: Directional picking works for everything you play (with zero exceptions). The principle of directional picking is to use the shortest possible path to the next note you need to play. Sometimes the shortest path to your next note is to use alternate picking. Other times, the shortest path is to use sweep picking to change strings and NOT use alternate picking. Integrating both mechanics achieves maximum efficiency and speed with the least amount of effort.

The principle of strict alternate picking is to alternate your pick strokes no matter what…even if doing so forces your hand to make larger and inefficient motions. This forces you to work much harder (and practice a lot longer) to achieve the same amount of speed.

How To Master Directional Picking

The key to directional picking mastery is integration between alternate picking and sweep picking. Practicing 3-note-per-string scales forces you to isolate this element of playing and master it most quickly.

These 5 steps help you master directional picking with 3-note-per-string scales:

1. Isolate The Picking Motion

Mute all the strings by laying your fretting hand across them. This prevents them from making sound when you pick. This helps you focus only on the picking motion and programs the correct muscle memory into your picking hand.

  • Play an upstroke on the muted high E string (the thinnest string).
     
  • Play a downstroke on the high E string.
     
  • Play another upstroke on the high E string and pull the hand back towards the B string in ONE sweep picking motion. Play an upstroke on the B string.
     
  • Play a downstroke on the B string.
     
  • Play an upstroke on the B string again, pulling the hand back towards the G string in one motion. Play an upstroke on the G string.
     
  • Continue this pattern to play the rest of the scale.

Watch the video (starting at 0:50) to see a demonstration of these picking hand motions (so you know how to practice them correctly).

2. Transition To 3-Note-Per-String Chromatics

After you learned the string change in isolation, begin to play 3-note-per-string chromatic patterns. Example: use fingers 1, 2 and 3 to play frets 5, 6 and 7 on every string. This trains your 2-hand synchronization while keeping your focus 100% on your picking hand.

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3. Solidify The Picking Motion Through Many Focused Repetitions

You must train the correct motions into your muscle memory to form a new habit. Practicing with a focused mind helps you go through this step quickly. Focus your mind on:

  • Correct Pick Position: Don’t play with just the tip of the pick. Hold the pick higher up and dig it deeper into the strings. This gives the notes more volume with no additional effort.
     
  • Correct Pick Angle: Slice the pick through the strings at a 45-degree angle. This makes picking easier and gives you better tone.
     
  • Articulation: Pick with more force to give the notes more articulation and help you hear inconsistencies in your 2-hand synchronization.

4. Integrate Directional Picking Into Context With Scales

Begin to practice all scales you know using directional picking. Mastering string changes on 3-note-per-string chromatics enables you to play any 3-note-per string scale smoothly and fast.

5. Use Effective Speed Building Strategies To Build Your Speed Even Higher

Building your technique foundation is the first step towards playing guitar fast. You also need effective speed building strategies that help you reach your guitar speed potential.

This guitar speed guide shows you how to double your guitar speed while cutting your practice time in half.


Become a faster guitarist by taking lessons for electric guitar players.

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