Tips For Improving Lead Guitar Technique
Me back in the day
Fretboard Hand Articulation
Left hand technique (right handed players) is a commonly overlooked constituent of virtuosity. By separating the two hands, synchronization will improve. Overall clarity and accuracy, too.
The idea is very simple, but careful attention to detail necessary. Before I explain the technique, I'll start with an overview. Much of this will be basic, but very important.:
The fingertips should land as close to the fret as possible. Thumb behind the neck at all times (bending and some pentatonic shapes are an exception). The fingers should be articulated in such a way that they dampen the strings that you're not playing on (particularly important when playing loud, or with distorted tones). Use a light touch, but a positive connection every time. I recommend a clean, flat tone, but alternating with more gain, too. Using gain (if your a player that plays with distortion) will be helpful in determining how effective your dampening skills are, but both hands play a role in this. the first finger is the primary for all strings above (tonically), while the meat of each fingertip mutes the string directly below. That's primarily done with the right hand, though. Do not use the right hand at all, nor anything else to dampen the strings during these exercises. That means no draping anything over the nut, either.
Once you've done this, now you can start the exercises. The idea is to be able to play every passage you'd normally play without any pick attack at all. This includes sweep arpeggios, too. Yes, not only is that possible, but necessary! The basic 1,2,3,4 chromatic exercise is the best place to start. Begin slowly, with a metronome! Play the exercise by hammering every note ascending, including crossing to the next string with the first finger. Sometimes exaggerating the movement will help with your meter, but as little movement (distance) from the string is what you should strive for. That will be referred to as "economy of motion". The same principle used descending, but the fourth finger will hammer, as the others will pull off.
Now, apply this same thinking to your two note per string pentatonics, three note per string scales (best formula for alternate pickers, though as a sweep picker, I do the same), and sweep arpeggios. Without the luxury of staff paper here (yet), use a basic A minor triad arpeggio at the twelfth position, starting at A on the G string (hammer 14 [3rd finger], 13 [2nd], 12, , 17- A on the E string, then pull off to E, hammer descending, and reverse direction, in time, A on the downbeat. Make the sound mostly legato, but a staccato approach is plausible, and obviously entirely more difficult.
Odd shapes like the traditional blues scale should follow.
Pay careful attention to clarity, dynamics, and the down beat. Make sure that your three note per string passages sound like fours, not threes. This is what gives players like Alan Holdsworth the fluidity they possess. Amongst players that use this technique, I consider him The Bar, or for anything else, for that matter.
Once you grasp this (nevermind saying you've mastered, nor perfected ANYTHING) staccato and syncopated patterns can be your next endeavor.
After developing some skills on the fingerboard, let's isolate the pick hand. Some of these ideas will be similar to the aforementioned left hand techniques.
To start, we'll look at the two most commonly accepted forms of playing with a plectrum, at least as far as rock goes. Starting with the most common; alternate picking is playing consecutive down and up strokes at all times, not just when it's "convenient". What this means (again with three notes per string), is starting on a down stroke, you'd play and up, down, then up as you cross to the next string. As far as good meter goes, and in many cases, even speed-this is the best technique (though I very rarely use it). All two note per string patterns automatically default to alternate picking, though once you start sequencing them, things change. An example of such would be playing a pentatonic two notes per string-six notes up-returning to the third note-then six up-repeat. A sweep picker will hit that seventh note (third ascending) with an upstroke. This is a huge mistake, and where I fin the biggest flaws in sweep picking! That note should be a downstroke...
Keeping all of that in mind; now play two note per, three note per, four note per, and sweep patterns with the strings muted. Even playing a continuous pedal-tonne on one string (this MAY be embarrassing).Pay careful attention to one aspect at a time: Down strokes land on the down beat of the metronome (alternate pickers ONLY. this cannot be achieved through sweep picking with the same number of notes on every string, except single notes[ I also find Gambale's technique very limiting, as it's entirely too formulated for my taste- but DAMN is he good at it}), no "gaps" in time, muting portion of the hand is always in place, and every pick attack as audible as the last. If you're discerning enough, this is grueling, and will expose a great many weaknesses in your pick technique.
In many ways, I consider pick technique more complex overall than left hand technique. There are more often ergonomic limitations in the fingerboard hand, due to wide intervals and "crowding".
I'll leave that for now. Remember, YOU should always be your own worst critic. I'm not saying hate the way you play-enjoy it. But please, spare me the "I've gone as far as I can". schpeel. Love your instrument, and be the very best that you can. Learn from everyone-- EVERYONE, good or bad. This thinking should translate into every single facet of your existence!
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