** As featured in issue 16 **
All guitarists sweat blood to improve their guitar technique. Even when you get it to a high standard, there is still be the hunger to improve. Once the guitar bug bites you, it can often become more about technique rather than the music. After all, a guitar is meant to make music, not torment you with how much technique it takes to use it. Younger players tend to associate speed with better guitar technique, forgetting all about feel, timing, rhythm, tone, groove, which all have different techniques to master. So if you do think playing incredibly fast will make you a professional guitarist who gets the gig and ends up getting paid, then you will have a shock in store. The guitar player that gets the gig will be the one with the best feel, tone and rhythm!
What technique does give you, is choice. Especially when it comes to creating or improvising a guitar solo. Being able switch between alternate picking, hybrid picking, sweep picking, economy picking and finger style picking, can create an exciting and interesting sound within one solo, or give you a choice on which way you want to take things, when it comes to your big moment.
Just to clarify what each picking technique actually is. 'Alternate' is your picking hand continually using up and down strokes. 'Economy' picking also uses up and down strokes, except that you continue the direction of the pick, 'sweeping' from one string to the next. 'Sweep' picking enables you to pick larger distances, good for outlining arpeggios and individually strong chord tones. 'Hybrid' picking is using the down stroke with the pick, and the up stroke with your finger. 'Finger style' is the very cool Mark Knopfler, Jeff Beck sound, and is probably the hardest to master and make sound convincing. Each have their own sound and approach and all require, hours, months, years of religious practice.
Just to speed things things up for you guys, I have shown some licks and runs that illustrate the sound of each style. Separately they are small enough to be mastered. Mixed up together, they create an exciting sound full of twists and turns, that give colour within a solo, or even just within a small incidental ad lib ( I love a guitar ad lib!).
I personally find it helpful to set up a riff, chord sequence or groove that you can mentally play over. It gives form to what you are trying to achieve. Ideally you want to throw down a backing track to work over, but sometimes, by the time you get all that done, the practice moment could have passed, and for me, I can keep it all going in my head as I explore whatever the lick or run is, that I want to store in my own muscle memory. So you may or may not find the riff helpful that I give you to work over, but while we look at the licks, the riff is what I have at the back of my mind. It is also one of those grooves over which we can use major and minor pentatonics, plus the ol' mixolydian mode. All in the key of E.
So have fun with the ideas. There should be at least one in there you can play and use straight away. Some of the others may take some work. They all require a certain amount of technique, and over the years I have made a point to develop the different picking styles in equal measure, because if you are serious about playing, then versatility is certainly something you should be aiming for.