Fast Picking: Everything You Need To Know Tuesday November 7 2023, 3:20 PM
Fast Picking: Everything You Need To Know

By Shawn Leonhardt for Guitar Tricks and 30 Day Singer

The main reason people learn to play metal guitar is so they can chug, shred, and play at lightning speeds. However it is not always an easy road to that destination, one of the main lessons a player needs to grasp is that it takes slow and steady progress. There are no shortcuts in music, just lots of practice! Here are some metal guitar techniques that will help you with fast picking.

Forget About the Metal Part

If you are taking beginner guitar lessons , it is important to focus on fundamental topics before you rush into fast guitar picking. Skipping ahead often leads to issues so be sure to learn some chords, scales, and work on playing clean notes with no buzzes or dead sounds. Use as little distortion as possible to make sure you can hear mistakes, that way later when you use effects the sound will be cleaner.

Practice different genres and picking styles such as alternate bass mixed with simple strumming. The “bum ditty” is a common movement where we hit the bass and then the treble to give it that signature sound. It may not sound like heavy metal yet, but it is on the way. Make sure you are hitting the correct strings that you want to pick and no other strings next to it.

Work on easy guitar songs like simple pop, kids, and folk tunes initially as you hone your fretting and picking, after a few weeks of basics you can move into some metal rhythms. If you attempt to skip beginner skills the heavy metal picking will fail.

Find the Rhythm

Now we can start with our goal of fast and clean metal picking, and the first step is to find the right rhythm. Play an E power chord and use only down strokes initially and counting to four before switching to an A power chord and count the same four beats. Switch back and forth not worrying about perfect fretting, just get that downward motion memorized.

The picking arm should have little movement as the technique will mostly be done with the wrist. Try different pick grips between your thumb and index finger to see what works best . In hard rock there is often a drive that propels the song along and in the old days it was created with triplets. Use the E chord again and play a strum like this.

Down (tri) Up (puh) Down (let) 

The word “triplet” can be broken down during the three strokes, start slowing and increase as you get better. This is not the only driving rhythm in metal but it is a hallmark. It also sounds good to play a downstroke followed by the triplet DUD, try different alternate strokes, and see what kind of rhythm you can find.

Pick Arpeggios

So we have an idea of the general picking method to have an underlying thrash or heavy metal rhythm but fast picking also involves higher treble string shredding. That is practiced initially with arpeggios, which is playing the chord by individual notes. Make a Dm shape and play the bottom three strings down and then up, doing this back and forth. Move that chord shape up the neck and keep playing the same pattern.

Work on chord progressions like Am - Dm - E7 and arpeggio pick the strings as you change chords each measure. As you slowly progress keep the notes separated so they do not bleed into one another. It’s fine to start with open and power chords, but eventually you will want to practice some chords up the fretboard.

Muting and Clean Picking

This guitar picking so far can be used in many styles but along with a solid rhythm heavy metal also needs very clean note changes. The best shredding has each note perfectly cut off from the last. This is done by slightly muting the strings with the palm after we pick them. The pick hits the strings exactly as the fretting hand also presses and then we shut the sound down before moving along.

Go back to the downstrokes on the power chord and palm mute right after hitting the strings, not too hard or it will be noticed. Dampen the strings just right and that heavy rhythm will sound better. In the beginning these muting techniques will need to be done slowly and deliberately but as time passes it will become second nature.

Look out for bad habits like moving your arm too much, resting your pinky on the guitar, and not using proper muting. Once you start making headway it will be tempting to jump into faster picking, but do not advance until you are getting clean sounds in what you play now.

Play Songs and Chord Progressions

The best way to learn guitar techniques is to play chord sequences and popular songs you know. Try different songs out and the ones that are too hard put them to the side. Be sure to stick to the suitable songs and use them as regular practice. Have something that you can succeed at, as that helps your confidence and gives you a boost for more practice.

There are also plenty of lessons or exercises for faster picking and shredding, these are all fine if they help. At the end of the day though copying and mimicking songs you know is the best lesson. Play the tune and find the picking rhythm with the help of tabs, let your ears do some of the work and your hands will learn to follow!

Put the Right and Left Hands Together

Once you find some perfect heavy metal songs that suit your level it is time to hone your skills at them, so don’t pick things that are too advanced. Start paying attention to every movement of the pick and make sure it is clean, smooth, and efficient. As each note is plucked, the fretting hand should cleanly sync, whether you are chugging along in a rhythm or shredding a solo it needs to be perfect.

Use a metronome as you get better and keep the speed at the slowest you can handle. During every practice make sure to devote time to picking through a solo or song chords, if your fingers can handle it then play daily. Fast picking is like juggling, it seems utterly impossible the first time you try it out! But if you keep at it and follow basic rules a breakthrough will occur!

Once you have a grasp on the clean picking and muting it is time to turn the distortion back on. Now your playing will begin to develop that proper sound and give you even more confidence. Dropped and alternate tunings will also be good to explore if you are picking and fretting properly.

If you follow the guidelines here you will be on your way to fast picking heavy metal guitar. It will take a few weeks, maybe even a couple months to start seeing real progress but stick with it even through the pain. Keep you picking movement and rhythm at a steady pace and only get faster when you aren’t making mistakes! Practice as much as possible and eventually shredding will be no issue.

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