If you are like me, you have probably never been much of a speed player on guitar. Sure, you can learn and play just about any song or solo you want to, but shredding has never come naturally. That’s totally normal! Shredding is just about the least natural thing for most people.
If you love metal music, this can be somewhat of a problem. You want the speed of Synyster Gates, but your playing style is more akin to Joe Walsh. It’s not a bad thing, but you’re thinking you may never shred along to an Avenged Sevenfold solo. Don’t discount your abilities just yet.
Until quite recently I had concluded that ultra fast shredding in the metal genre was above my capabilities as a player. That’s bullshit. It wasn’t the case at all. I just never used the correct techniques to practice speedy alternate picking, economy picking, sweeping etc. So here’s what made the difference for me.
When we first learn lead guitar we are taught to practice chromatic scale exercises for finger strength and dexterity. Usually, we do this with a metronome, and gradually increasing the tempo until we play faster. This is great for note clarity, competent playing, and rhythm. You should keep using this exercise. However it falls short when trying to achieve the fastest possible speeds.
I was struggling with the chromatic run section at the end of the “Bat Country” solo by Avenged Sevenfold. It’s easy enough to go (10-11-12-13-12-11-10(×2), 12-13-14-15-14-13-12(×2)) while alternate picking, but the speed is hard to get right. It didn’t matter how many times I practiced it using the chromatic scale exercises with the metronome. My left and right hands just wouldn’t sync up, and I didn’t know why.
That’s when I decided to go elsewhere for new exercises. Google lead me to Burst Exercises, and within 5 minutes I was hitting alternate picking speeds with the chromatic scale that I’ve never been able to. Sound interesting? Here’s how it works.
Burst Exercises are exactly what they sound like. The aim is to play 4 notes on a string as fast as you possibly can, screw the metronome(for now). This method has you separate the left and right hands initially, and then gradually sync your slower hand(fetting hand) to your faster hand(picking hand). You are forcing your fretting hand to adapt to your fastest picking speed. It will sound like dog$#!1 at first, but your getting hand will adapt. Let’s go over the procedure step by step.
Alternate pick any string 4 times as fast as possible. ( ) Don’t worry about fretting any notes yet.
Do that over and over, trying different strings, and increasing to the fastest possible speed.
Bring the fretting hand into the exercise. Try to fret each note and do not slow down. (ex: D string: 5-6-7-8) You can go anywhere on the fretboard, any string you want.
Repeat Step 3 over and over. Your fretting hand WILL catch on. At first, you won’t fret every note perfectly, but just keep going. You’ll be shocked how fast you really can play. Your fretting hand will adapt.
Once you get the burst going up the scale(1-2-3-4) then you can reverse it, (4-3-2-1). Don’t be surprised when you find that you slow down when you reverse it. Its normal.
Step 5 is where I figured out my Synyster Gates problem. My speed slowed a lot when going back down the chromatic section (13-12-11-10) of the solo. Now I knew where and why I was struggling, and how I could fix it.
As you get faster and more comfortable with the technique you can start adding strings to the exercise. Remember to go forwards and backwards. There needn’t be any pattern to the way you practice this, but if you want you can incorporate the burst exercise into your regular chromatic exercises. I hope this has helped you as much as it has me.
The Axe Dr.