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  • How To Develop Better Tremolo Picking

    By Team HC |

    How To Develop Better Tremolo Picking

    A Guitar Practice Regiment


    by Bobby Kittleberger




    To be really good at playing guitar solos you need to be able to pick every note. Hammer-ons and pull-offs are great, but you shouldn’t need them to play fast.


    Skilled players, Eric Johnson being one of the best examples that come to mind, are really good at making sure they can pick each note.


    Over the years (I’m 30 years old at the time of writing this and started playing guitar when I was nine) I’ve picked up on several “ingredients” that are required to cultivate this ability. They’ve helped me form a kind of gameplan to play faster and stop missing notes when I try to speed things up.


    The most helpful such ingredient has been tremolo picking.


    In this article I’ll show you the tactics I’ve used and how I went about practicing tremolo picking, as a means of playing more accurately and being able to actually pick every note while soloing. Among a litany of guitar lesson topics, I’ve found it to be one of the most helpful in regards to achieving a more polished lead technique.


    Supplemental Material for Alternate and Tremolo Picking

    Guitar Tricks has some great beginner guitar lessons that focus on alternate picking, which is a technique that helps lay the groundwork for tremolo picking and faster playing in general.



    If you don’t want to buy a membership, they’ll let you try it out free for 14 days, which is plenty of time to make it through those three picking lessons. Even after that, you’ve got 60 days to cancel (for any reason) with a full refund.


    It’s worth a shot as they’ve got tons of other material worth checking out and even a library of cover song tutorials.


    The Technique Involved with Tremolo Picking and Playing Every Note

    Remember, the issue is picking and not left hand speed. At least not yet.


    While your left and right hand need to be closely synced, we’re not as worried about fast fret movement in this instance.


    Thus, it’s important that when you start to practice tremolo picking, you avoid things like triplets. At most, play two notes at a time. Eveh one is fine to get started. The more important issue is to get your right hand moving in a functional and consistent manner.


    The Right Hand Movement

    Tremolo picking is basically alternate picking, but faster and with an equal amount of time given to each note. You’re synchronizing each movement to occur at the same rate.


    One way you can picture it is by imagining the “tick-tock” sound of a clock going back and forth somewhat faster than it normally does. That’s the cadence of tremolo picking, where the idea is to get fast enough that you can pick eighth and 16th notes while running through soloing patterns.


    You’ll want to hold the pick with your right hand just loose enough that it kind of glides back and forth across the strings.


    Try starting with a single run of eighth notes at a slow pace, something like this:





    At 120 bpm, the speed of this pattern is quite manageable.


    We’re avoiding triplets and going in a straightforward 1-2 pattern which allows you to concentrate fully on your right hand. There’s no need to move the left hand yet. Try repeating this exercise at a similar speed at several other fretboard notes of your own choosing.


    Now, let’s add some basic note changes in without changing the speed or note duration.


    In the following example, we’ll jump to the seventh and eighth fret on the same string.







    If you need to slow this one down, feel free. It’s a little more difficult with the note changes, but we’re still not moving around much and the pace should be manageable, even if tremolo picking is new to you.


    Try a few different variations of this pattern as well, perhaps using intervals that are a greater distance from one another.


    Tremolo Picking while Shifting Strings

    Once you’ve gotten comfortable and developed some modest speed with your picking hand, the next logical step is to incorporate note changes where you’re actually shifting to different strings while tremolo picking.


    There are a couple things to avoid when practicing this:


    1. Avoid economy picking
    2. Avoid hammer-ons and pull-offs


    We’ve already mentioned avoiding hammer-ons and pull-offs, but what about economy picking? If you don’t know what that is, you might be doing it without even realizing it’s happening. Basically, all tremolo picking, at least in the early stages of practicing the technique, should be done via alternate picking.


    What this means is that every time you pick down, you pick again on your way back up.


    Using the example from before, alternate picking would go something like this:





    The “downstroke” symbol is the squared off line and the “upstroke” symbol is the one that looks like a tall V.


    Now, how does this explain economy picking?


    Basically, economy picking can occur when you’re alternate picking and changing strings. For example, let’s say you’re playing the following pattern:





    In a traditional alternate picking pattern, you would go downstroke, upstroke, downstroke, upstroke. However, notice that you go down on the third fret, up on the fifth then back down on the third again. At this point you are going down towards the note on the fourth string that you have to play next in the tab. Economy picking is the act of continuing to pick down through that next string, whereas continuing to alternate pick would require that you go past that string to come back up again.


    Here’s how the economy picking chart would look.





    Notice that the last two notes are both downstrokes. This is because economy picking would dictate that you pick down through both those notes to maximize your movement.


    When practicing tremolo picking, I’d advise not to do this and to instead stick with alternate picking each note.

    Why shouldn’t I use economy picking?

    Part of the reason I advise against using economy picking during practice sessions, particularly while practicing tremolo picking, is that it needlessly complicates the task at hand. Having to think about whether or not to economy pick when switching strings takes focus away from your right hand, which is not what you want at this point.


    Simplifying what’s going on via the fretboard is a good habit to keep in the early stages of practicing tremolo picking.


    Aside from that, it often just doesn’t sound right and can throw off your picking speed. There are other guitar lessons out there that cover economy picking as a standalone topic, so I’d recommend digging into those only after you’ve got the alternate and tremolo picking techniques under your belt.


    Here’s our first “string jumping” exercise.




    New Gallery 2017/8/16Harmony Central Tremolo Techniques #3



    Again, we’re using eighth notes to work through two measures of tremolo picking. Start with a tempo that’s easy for you, then build up speed as you go.


    As you increase speed, you’re a little more likely to miss notes and start having half-muted pick scrapes. When you start hearing those, slow down and work to eliminate them. While this pattern isn’t complex, jumping from string to string during any kind of tremolo picking pattern is going to be difficult since it’s introducing variance in both your left and right hand.


    Once you’re more comfortable with this pattern, you can try introducing more string changes.




    New Gallery 2017/8/16Harmony Central Tremolo Techniques #4


    Once you’re comfortable shifting through different frets and strings while tremolo picking, the final step is to practice tremolo picking through each individual note as they change, both between frets and strings.


    One of the easiest ways to begin practicing this is by using scale segments.

    Tremolo Picking Through Scales

    We’ll build our first scale exercise using the C major scale positioned at the eighth fret. Our goal is to tremolo pick through a segment of this scale, which essentially means we’ll alternate pick through each note as they change, moving to different frets and different strings as we go.


    Here’s what the tab looks like:







    We’re using eighth notes in both measures, but the idea here is to play through the pattern significantly quicker, which is something that tremolo picking (when mastered and used effectively) should allow us to do.


    At 120 bpm, the pace is fairly slow and manageable. Yet if you kick the tempo up to 200 bpm, it sounds a lot more like a Joe Satriani or Eric Johnson style tremolo picking pattern.





    Another option is to use 16th notes all in one measure and slow things down to 90 bpm.







    Here it is bumped back up to 120 bpm





    Even at 90 bpm, this will challenge the cohesiveness of your left and right hands. What you’ll likely find is that getting close to this speed will cause you to miss notes or at least play them half-muted, which means you’ll need to focus on those problem areas.


    However, the more you do this while employing a proper tremolo picking technique, the easier it will be to play other solo and lead patterns in the same manner.


    We’ve started simple and built up to an acceptable level of complexity that can challenge us and help move our playing forward. Tremolo picking is a big part of the speed puzzle, so take the time to practice it and get it right so you don’t have to fall back of hammer-ons or pull-offs to sound faster than you actually are.


    In other words, play all the notes.  - HC -






    Bobby is Guitar Chalk's founder and a contributor at Harmony Central and  Guitar World. You can hit him up on Twitter or shoot him an email to get in touch.



                                                             Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of  Flickr/Darren Russinger


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