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Lewis Turner - Back To Basics Part 14: Developing Technical Ability - Alternate Picking Part 1

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 38 **

However you look at it the guitar requires some kind of technical ability to play it, even from the very start. To get a note from a piano all you need to do is press a key and hey presto you have a good sounding note, beyond that point is a different matter! To get a good fretted note out of the guitar is not easy; correct hand position, pushing down hard, holding a note near the fret, etc. Even with all these things in place, there is still a strong chance those early day notes will suck. I'm sure we can all remember the hellish struggle of trying to get all the notes of a G chord to ring out, master that then someone shows you an F, where does it all end?! The guitar is not a natural instrument to play, your hands are not used to doing those kinds of things hence the struggle we all go through at the start and throughout the rest of our playing lifetime. Whether you want to be the next John Petrucci or the next BB King, some practice time devoted to the mechanics of playing (technique) will help no matter what style you play. Be sure to check out the video where I explain and demonstrate the alternate picking technique, as well as going through the exercises attached, plus you will hear how they should sound against a click.

Practising technique and making music should be two different pursuits. No one wants to hear a string of metronomic alternate picked lines strung together at 200bpm for 3 minutes, it's not music. The art is to incorporate the newly learnt/developed technique into your playing. Think of it like a footballer practising “Kick Ups”, he wouldn’t do a load in the middle of a game, but that technical skill is under his feet to recall and use in the heat of match. You may not ever need or desire to pick at 300bpm, but if that ability is there then everything else will feel more relaxed and you won’t be playing at your technical limit constantly. I will share with you the wrong way to practise technique from personal, bitter experience.

Back in the day I got sucked into the whole technique thing, believing it was the most important aspect to work on. I would spend around three hours a day working on just one type of technique before moving onto the next. When you consider all the mainstream techniques, that's a hell of a lot of practice time per day devoted purely to the mechanics of playing! What was the outcome of all this practice time? Well I became a monster alternate picker, all my playing buddies were massively impressed with how well I had this technique down, then they would say “that's really cool, let’s jam”. That's when things went wrong, I couldn’t make music! I had nothing musical to say. Only a bunch of exercises that sounded forced and unmusical when put into a making music situation. So for me it was a matter of reassessing my priorities and going back to the drawing board. I haven’t sat down and practised technique for years, but it's still all there under my fingers, I may not be as quick as back then but that really doesn’t bother me. I use this example when talking about dividing up your practice time. If I did it all over again, I would probably devote only 30 min a day to technique and decide the rest of my time around all other things to do with playing and being musical. Therefore, it's important to remember that the exercises in this lesson are just that, an exercise not a musical example. It’s up to you to come up with the musicality, which is the hard part!

Likewise don’t be swayed by the guy that comes out with “I don’t practice technique, It takes away my feel” This will be the same guy who tells you that you don’t need to learn loads of scales or read music “Just vibe it man”! Ever listened to Yngwie Malmsteen play Blues? That guy oozes feel and has terrifying technique and there are ample of other players that do the same. Knowledge is power, don’t be the guy that can only play a bunch of exercises, trust me that's not cool!

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