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Tips For Improving Lead Guitar Technique

Updated on February 2, 2015

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, [1], 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.

Pick Tecnique

    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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    • joecseko profile image

      Joe Cseko jr 3 years ago from New York, USA, Earth

      I'm not sure what you mean by 'video'. I haven't posted any video to this hub.

      As far as writing more, I always try to give just the right amount of information at one time.Information overload is the best way to teach someone nothing, I feel. I have written several more articles on guitar technique.

    • profile image

      GeorgeJr 3 years ago

      Write more, that's all I have to say. Literally, it seemsas thugoh you relied on the video to make your point.You clearly know what you're talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videosto your blog when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?

    • Robert Erich profile image

      Robert Erich 6 years ago from California

      Appreciate this post Joe. I'm definitely interested in music and need to improve my guitar skills a bit. I think I'll be referring to this article now and again. Keep writing!

    • joecseko profile image

      Joe Cseko jr 6 years ago from New York, USA, Earth

      The tenets of this technique can be incorporated into every aspect of technique. It's good to "go back a few steps" from time to time.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

      I guess I have to go back a few more steps before attempting this one. :D:D

    • joecseko profile image

      Joe Cseko jr 8 years ago from New York, USA, Earth

      Lou, you are a great student, a great player, and a great teacher!

    • profile image

      lou 8 years ago

      great advice, but remember not everyone is a musical madman like you! For that matter you might be a madman in general. Very strong and forthright with your conviction......which shows on your guitar.The mark of a great student of music is one who will go out of his way to get his ass kick so that he might learn something more. I'm trying to be a great student............boy does my ass, I'm straight.