5 Guitar Picking Exercises That Increase Your Picking Speed

by Tom Hess

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Want to increase your picking speed?

This guitar speed article shows you 5 guitar exercises that do just that.

And here is what makes these guitar exercises so helpful for your picking speed:

I don’t just teach you what notes to play…

(Like most guitar picking tutorials do.)

…I show you what to focus on as you practice them, so you know exactly what to do increase your guitar speed quickly.

That means:

Once you understand what makes these guitar exercises so effective…

…you can create your own guitar exercises anytime you want.

And when you get good at this, sky is the limit for your picking speed and guitar speed in general.

To begin, watch this guitar speed video that walks you through these guitar exercises in detail:

Here are a few bonus picking speed concepts (NOT from the video) to help your guitar picking improve even more:

Picking Speed Tip #1. The Big Secret Of Guitar Speed Few People Think About

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One of the big secrets to picking speed is picking hand efficiency. That means:

Instead of trying to move your guitar pick faster when practicing your picking speed exercises…

…concentrate on moving move your guitar pick less.

And guess what? The less your pick moves, the faster your guitar speed increases.

Watch this video about tremolo picking guitar exercises that shows this in detail:

Here is what to do to make your picking hand more efficient:

Keep your pick inside the string trench when practicing your guitar exercises.

The string trench is the space between strings where the pick ends up when you play guitar speed drills.

For example:

When you practice guitar picking and play 3-note-per-string scales to build your picking speed, you don’t want your pick to come out of the string trench at all.

If you do, your guitar picking motion becomes less efficient and this limits your guitar speed.

Question: “But Tom Hess, what about building guitar speed with the pentatonic scale? (Or building guitar picking speed with scales that have an even number of notes per string.) Doesn't the pick have to come out of string trench on those scales? And doesn't this limit one’s picking speed?”

Answer: Yes, your pick does come out of the string trench when you play picking speed drills with 2 (or 4) notes per string (like the pentatonic scale). And yes, these licks are slower to play than 3-note-per-string runs.


You can still play these guitar exercises very fast. All you do is minimize the distance the pick moves out of the string trench when you play these picking drills.

See this video to understand this in detail:

And speaking of efficiency: don’t let the pick move in your hand when you practice guitar picking exercises.

When your pick moves, it disrupts your 2-hand synchronization. And that makes it impossible to build serious picking speed.

Picking Speed Tip #2. Use Directional Picking

What is directional picking?

It’s the most efficient way of using guitar picking motions for building guitar speed. What you do is: alternate pick on a single string…

… but when you change strings, you move the pick in the direction of the string change.

For example: when you ascend in pitch, your guitar picking motion to change strings is always a downstroke.

When you descend in pitch, your guitar picking motion to change strings is always an upstroke.

Why is directional picking the best way to build your guitar speed?

It helps your pick stay in the string trench more often (which is key if you want efficient guitar picking technique).

And it reduces the chance of mistakes in your guitar picking licks when you start to increase your guitar speed (because your pick moves less).

Question: “But Tom Hess, if directional picking is so great, why do most guitarists build their guitar speed using alternate picking?”

Answer: Many guitarists use alternate picking out of tradition – not because it’s a superior guitar picking technique. Electric guitar is quite a new instrument and its guitar picking techniques evolved over time.

Question: “But Tom Hess, doesn't directional picking give you weaker articulation when building picking speed with guitar exercises?

Answer: No. In fact, the opposite is true. Directional picking exposes articulation flaws in your guitar picking chops. It challenges you to accent different parts of the beat in your guitar picking exercise with both upstrokes and downstrokes.

And if you have a hard time accenting notes the way you want, directional picking forces you to fix this problem and improve your guitar picking technique .

Question: “Tom Hess, what are the best guitar exercises to practice directional picking?”

Answer: Directional picking is not about guitar exercises. It’s a philosophy of guitar picking motions you can use with any guitar exercises you practice.

This makes it very simple to master. Because no matter what guitar exercises you use – you can use directional picking all the time to improve your picking speed.

But here is the process I suggest following to master directional picking

How To Master Directional Picking

Want even more help with mastering directional picking? Check out this free eGuide on building lighting fast guitar picking speed.

Picking Speed Tip #3. Mute Excess String Noise In Your Guitar Picking Licks

Know anybody who loves the sound of sloppy guitar speed?

Yeah, me neither.

That means, as you build your picking speed, you better be on the lookout for excess string noise.

My favorite way to achieve clean & accurate guitar picking speed is:

Thumb Muting

(It works on all guitar exercises, not just guitar picking.)

Here is what it is and how it helps your guitar picking:

Rest your picking hand’s thumb on the strings and slide it up and down the strings as you play your guitar exercises.

It looks like this:

Muting guitar string with thumb finger

And besides making your picking speed clean, it also helps make you guitar picking more efficient. That’s because with thumb muting, your pick must stay down in the trenches of the strings when you play guitar exercises.

This makes your motions way more efficient and helps your picking speed to increase much faster.

As an aside, the reason I don’t mute string noise using my palm is because it makes your guitar picking less efficient.

Here is how:

With palm muting, your palm is at rest with the pick outside the string trench. This makes your guitar picking motions less efficient and hurts your guitar speed in big ways.

Question: “Tom Hess, when I practice guitar picking drills with thumb muting, I hear a lot of pinch harmonics on all my guitar exercises. What can I do?”

Answer: Change the way you hold the pick when you work on your picking speed. Slide the pick from the side of your finger onto the pad. Hold the pick like this for all guitar exercises.

This not only helps with your guitar speed, but also makes your picking speed a lot cleaner (by making thumb muting possible).

That said, as good as thumb muting is for cleaning up your guitar picking technique…

…it only mutes excess string noise from the lower (in pitch) strings in your guitar exercises.

And that means:

You need another way to mute string noise from the higher (in pitch) strings in your picking speed licks.

Enter: fretting hand index finger muting. And like thumb muting, it works on all guitar exercises.

What you do is touch the thinner strings with the fretting hand index finger, like this:

Muting guitar string with fingerprint side

Use index finger mute with thumb muting on all your picking speed drills and guitar exercises.

These techniques make your guitar picking much cleaner and helps you avoid sloppy-sounding guitar speed.

Picking Speed Tip #4. Guitar Picking Articulation

Contrary to popular belief, building a lot of guitar speed has much to do with strong pick attack.

Question: “But Tom Hess, I heard you are supposed to practice guitar picking with little tension. Should you use light articulation on your guitar exercises?”

Answer: Not at all. It is true that you should avoid excess tension when practicing guitar picking licks (and all guitar exercises).

However: if you use weak pick attack, it becomes harder to keep your hands in sync when you increase your guitar speed on your guitar picking licks. (More on this below.)


One of the keys to making your guitar picking sound good is dynamics. And dynamics come from powerful pick attack.

Here are some ways to improve your guitar picking articulation:

- dip your guitar pick deeper into the string trench when you play guitar exercises. This helps to make the notes of your guitar picking licks louder without hitting the strings any harder.

Also, don’t try to build guitar speed by picking with the very tip of the guitar pick (as some people recommend). This way of practicing guitar picking hurts articulation and synchronization.

- angle your pick 30 degrees as you play your guitar picking licks. This helps your pick to slice through the strings, boosts your guitar speed and makes your picking speed sound good.

- keep your pick tilt neutral (on all guitar exercises). Don’t tilt the pick up or down as you play your guitar picking licks. Here is why: when you tilt the pick in either direction, it makes one pick stroke easier to do and another pick stroke harder to do. This makes your picking speed sound sloppy.

- practice your guitar picking licks unplugged. This is every bit as humbling, as it is GOOD for guitar speed gains. What you do is: turn your amp off and play your guitar picking licks with loud pick attack.

Be prepared to reduce your guitar speed for this (that is totally normal). But the upside is: your guitar exercises will feel much easier to play when you turn distortion back on. 

- practice varying your articulation while keeping your fretting hand relaxed. One of the challenges with using strong guitar picking articulation is relaxing your fretting hand.

To practice this, repeat any guitar picking lick over and over and change your guitar picking power from soft to medium to maximum attack. (And focus on keeping your fretting hand relaxed as you do it.)

You may also need to lower your guitar speed for this at first. But after you master this skill, your fast guitar picking will feel nearly effortless.

Picking Speed Tip #5. Practice Your 2-Hand Synchronization

There are 2 types of guitar picking speed:

Potential guitar picking speed

…and usable guitar picking speed.

Potential guitar picking speed is the fastest guitar speed at which you can move your hands.

And usable guitar picking speed is… the guitar picking speed you’d ever want anyone to hear.

How do you increase your usable guitar picking speed?


Work on getting your hand s in sync on all your guitar exercises and guitar picking licks.

Here are a few ways to do just that:

1. Double Pick Your Guitar Exercises. 

Example (regular scale):

How increase guitar speed

Double-picked scale:

How increase guitar speed

How increase guitar speed

Here is how this helps your guitar picking speed:

Double-picking temporarily makes it harder to keep your hands in sync. That’s because the most important part of your guitar playing mechanism (your picking hand) must pick each note twice…

… while your fretting hand only frets 1 note.

But when you go back to picking every note one time – your synchronization suddenly feels much tighter (this is true for all your guitar picking licks). And the tighter your synchronization is, the faster your guitar speed becomes.

- Practice guitar exercises on a single string. Guitar picking licks on a single string challenge your synchronization in unique ways. Single string guitar picking exposes weaknesses in your synchronization and forces you to fix them.

- track your 2-hand synchronization top guitar speed as you practice your guitar exercises. Your goal in this area of your guitar speed is to close the gap between your potential guitar picking speed and usable guitar picking speed.

This is how you fully master your guitar exercises and become the guitarist you want to be.

Now you know how to build you guitar picking chops. The next step is to transform the rest of your guitar playing (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.

Tom HessAbout 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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