It’s rare to meet a guitarist who isn’t on the eternal hunt for better technique, but you’d be surprised to find that some of the best guitarists in the world actually don’t have a strict practice schedule.
Practising to improve your technique is sometimes a pretty surefire way to stifle creativity and can actually lead a guitarist to overlook a few home truths.
The classic mistake is practising speed exercises without focusing on what actually gives you speed. Players like Guthrie Govan avoid going through too many rigorous technique or speed exercises and instead explore musical composition and themes.
But if you’re looking for better technique as a lead guitarist, here’s three simple ways you can improve almost instantly.
Get The Microscope Out
Okay, don’t literally get your microscope out, because that probably won’t help. But try not to look at what you are playing so much, and have a look at how you are playing it.
There’s no use in practising a triplet scale ascension at 200bpm if your plectrum work is sloppy, because it will sound like you’re struggling, and as you get your faster your technique will get worse.
Instead take a look at some of the ingredients that make up a great player. Unplug your guitar and play acoustically, is each plectrum stroke of an equal volume, are you tensing your forearm and shoulder when you try and increase in speed, you shouldn’t be.
Also try to practise your legato technique while unplugged. If your hammer-ons and pull-offs are barely audible then there’s a problem.
You need to be hammering on and pulling off with a precise and snappy movement, you should be able to hear a ‘thud’ sound as your finger hits the fretboard. Make sure you aren’t lifting your fingers too far off the fretboard when you pull off, this is just a waste of energy and will reduce your efficiency.
Look at your right hand when you are using alternate picking, are you being economic in your picking? The right picking technique is slightly different for every player, but the key to speed is not to tense up and attack the notes harder. The key is to relax and use less effort. Sounds weird doesn’t it? But the principle is simple.
Your movements should be small but precise, think about using economy picking. This is the same as alternate picking, but when you change string you pick in the direction of the string change. This means that if you are playing three notes on the D string, and then one on the G string, your picking pattern would be down, up, down, down.
Or you could stick to alternate picking but think fast by starting with an up stroke. Then you get an up, down, up pattern on the D string, and will naturally be on a down stroke when you move down to the G string.
Another technique that can trip people up is tapping, again there are many different ways to tap, but make sure you choose one of them. So many people hear tapping being used and then try and guess how it’s done.
Most of these people end up using their index finger (which is okay) and then pushing down onto the fretboard and flicking down towards the ground.
My recommendation would be to tap hard onto the fretboard with your middle finger so that you still hold your plectrum between your thumb and index finger. The tap is essentially a hammer on and pull off, hammer hard onto the fretboard, and then flick up towards yourself (without bending the string).
Don’t flick down! This is a much more awkward movement, and when you are using legato simultaneously with your left hand the coordination might feel a little odd.
Flicking towards yourself might seem a strange principle at first, but it’s about the most economic way of doing it. Remember to flick with purpose, but not to take your finger too far away from the fretboard, as this is just creating unnecessary work.
By analysing the microscopic parts of your technique you will become a better guitarist, and eventually you will get into these good habits.