** As featured in issue 3 **
When I started to develop my legato guitar technique and really worked on my speed and accuracy, I used a very useful phrase as my guide. The phrase went something like this: ‘speed is a by-product of accuracy and relaxation’. Whilst practising my alternate picking as a shred-minded 16 year old I found that my goal was speed, rather than accurate execution of the technique.
I used to play along with my favourite solos on records, trying to match every note as best I could, but I never really focused on the technique in a slow, detailed way for any length of time. Instead, I would play slowly for short periods of time and then fixate myself on this ever-increasing pursuit of speed! As a result, my picking technique suffers many flaws that I am all too aware of and have great difficulty breaking down after 15 years of playing guitar. As a 22 year old wanting to develop my legato playing into something close to its current state, I approached things from a more mature perspective. My goal shifted from raw speed to one of accuracy, relaxation and timing. I found that by practising the movements involved in legato technique very slowly and deliberately, using the same right hand techniques that I would use were the technique to be played at a faster speed, the speed element came as a by-product. By practising the finger movements very slowly and accurately for long periods of time, in a repetitive fashion, my fingers and brain learnt the movements in a sub-conscious, relaxed and accurate manner. When it came to speeding up the movements I remained relaxed and accurate as the technique had become second nature. In other words, I was in control of the technique.
I’ve presented you with a lick that I used to practice as part of the routine I used for this style of technique development. I would, however, encourage you to write as many ideas of your own as you can, then practice them slowly for around five minutes with no breaks if possible. Only stop if you feel pain or if you are making lots of mistakes. The idea is to repeat the lick or phrase slowly enough that you make as few mistakes as possible – ideally none. This way, over time, the technique will become unconscious for you and speeding up the movements will be far easier. You should practice until the technique feels easy to you. You can check this is by trying to hold a conversation with someone whilst performing the lick slowly. If this is easy for you then you know the technique has become sub-conscious and the conscious part of your mind can think about more important elements such as phrasing, time feel, note choice and responding to the other musicians around you.
The amount of time this takes will vary greatly from person to person. I practised this way for months and the benefits were enormous. Finally, I would always recommend you practice technique with a musical backing. In other words some kind of drum groove, a backing track - or even just a friend playing chords for you. A metronome is great but will never allow you to grasp how the technique feels over a groove or in a real musical situation A metronome can never inspire you in the same way a real musical backing will.
I wish you lots of success developing your technique!