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Lewis Turner - Back To Basics Part 15: Developing Technical Ability - Alternate Picking Part 2

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 39 **

In the last issue's lesson we looked at dipping our toe into the world of technique and how to develop one's technical ability on the instrument. It was all done with a firm grounding of making things musical and not just trying to be “the fastest”. Let’s re-cap on some key points;

The Exercises are purely mechanical motions that need to be practised to increase muscle memory, they shouldn’t form part of your musical repertoire.

Practise in short bursts, don’t spend 3 hours just on alternate picking, you could be working on a variety of things in that time.

The listener doesn’t care what technique you are using, they just want to hear good music.

Apply a newly learnt technique in a musical way.

Do practice to a metronome but don’t become a “slave” to it.

We started looking at alternate picking (consistent down, up picks) which I believe is the very backbone to good technique. Last issue we had single string lines and were just focusing on getting the picking hand comfortable with that motion, through a variety of rhythmic subdivisions. This lesson we are continuing with alternate picking but across strings, which presents some problems with this technique. As always be sure to check out the video to see and hear the exercises and a more in-depth description of the technique used for each exercise.

Alternate picking on one string is relatively straightforward. We started looking at 3 note phrases, but if we take a 3 note phrase across two strings then things start to get tricky. For example going from 3 notes on the B string – Down, Up, Down, means if we are sticking to strict alternate picking we must cross to the E string with an up pick which means jumping over the E string, this is not a particularly easy motion, (Techniques like Economy picking eliminate this problem, but that comes at a later date). However, just because it's hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it! If we can train the right hand to be comfortable picking in any direction including starting a phrase with an Up pick, with any note grouping, then eventually you can forget all about your picking hand and it will find the easiest route all by itself. Practising technique and then forgetting about it really is the key, so you can just concentrate on the music (much like scale knowledge), but we have to put the laborious time in for this to eventually be the outcome.

I personally never found this kind of practice boring, once I had the exercise down I found it quite hypnotic to play them and push myself against the metronome. I think this is because I'm naturally quite a competitive person and so using the metronome gave me something to gauge myself against and try to beat. Looking back now it all seems a little crazy to me, as music really isn’t a competition but I certainly get how people can get sucked into this and continue to try to get faster and faster. But to what end? At what point does it stop being music and start sounding like a '90's computer game, and who really wants to hear that? I think keeping a level head is the key thing, yes we all want to get better technically and so you should, but using it musically should always be the very foundation to anything you practice. Work on the mechanics of alternate picking and then try improvising using only this technique, same thing with legato etc. As mentioned before you should be able to play and make music without being concerned about what particular technique you are using as the listener centrally isn’t.

A break from technique talk next time, when we start to delve into the GAGED system.

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