This lesson will give you some more efficient alternate picking exercises and strategies for guitar.
Most lessons on getting a better right-hand technique only focus on repeating patterns and picking exercises that are easy to speed up. Of course, you need to build that, but one thing that is left out is flexibility, and you need that for most kinds of interesting music it is not enough to be only fast and robotic.
Speed Is Not The Only Goal – What You Really Need
When you are developing techniques and you are trying to figure be precise and improve something in your playing, and often the only measure is speed, but this can also become a way to fool yourself into doing exercises that are not helping you solve the actual problem, simply because you can measure that you play some pattern or scale faster every week.
Of course, it makes sense to spend some time working on stuff like that helps you do easy patterns faster and more clean, but when you are playing solos then the melodies might be like this:
II V I lick
And here you are not really using those easy patterns and your right hand has to solve much more complicated problems.
This is where flexibility becomes a much more important part of your skill set and where you need to practice some different things to be able to play like this fast and clean, even if it is not as fast as some easy repetitive scale pattern.
How Do You Get Flexible Technique?
There are many ways to work on becoming more flexible and able to play more complicated picking patterns, playing etudes of different kinds are very useful so you can get into Bach or Kreutzer etudes and use those as technical puzzles to improve your right-hand technique
Another option is to work on taking melodies or structures through scale positions. Scale positions will often manage to make life difficult for your right hand and force you to solve some problems. This type of exercises can be as simple as playing the scale in 3rds or Diatonic Triads:
Exercise #1a – Diatonic 3rds
And you can add the Diatonic triads as well: (voiceover)
Exercise #1b – Diatonic 3rds
Remember that you can easily go back and check exercises if you want to really hear what they sound like or check how I play them. This material is very basic but also much closer to what you come to want to use in your solos
The goal here is to play the exercises cleanly and with good phrasing. Since these exercises are less systematic and therefore more difficult you probably can’t play them as fast, but working on them is helping your right-hand to be able to deal with the types of melodies that you come across in the Jazz lines and it will make it a lot easier to play less predictable melodies.
Let’s look at some other exercises that will really open up your playing.
Focus On The Difficult Bits
So instead of putting the focus on things that are really easy to play then it makes sense to work on the things that are difficult, and for alternate picking the easy part is to play more notes on one string, changing strings is a bit more annoying, but you can make some exercises that work really well for that:
Exercise #2 – Drop2 voicings
Here I am playing 1 note per string so playing this with alternate picking is forcing you to work on one of the most difficult.
You can also do this with other arpeggios but the drop2 voicings are very nice dramatic for lines like this:
Am7 Lick with Cmaj7 arpeggio
When you start working on this and think it is really difficult but you start to get somewhere then you should try two things:
Check out how amazing Bluegrass guys like Tony Rice are:
And then try to play the whole thing backward which is really difficult
Exercise #2 backward
Now we can start looking at some of the really annoying exercises
Annoying But Makes You Play Better
With the previous exercise then you were working on moving string to string while alternate picking. A good next step for this would be to work on this but also skipping strings. You can do this with spread triads. This is something that I thought of from seeing this video of Pat Metheny:
And if you want to see someone play some very dry technical stuff and get it to sound like beautiful music then go watch that video, Pat Metheny is another level.
I have two exercises with spread triads, one that is difficult and another one that is much more difficult.
When you practice these, then make sure to not play too soft. I have seen, with students and for myself, that it works better to have a nice clear attack on the note so that if you are not precise then you really mess it up.
In the previous exercise, there was a lot of string skipping and a lot of 1 note per string and that makes it difficult but it is also building precision and the flexibility to move like this in solos, and you can make it even more tricky by not always having the string skips in the same place.
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