Guitar techniques is a huge subject, a world on its own, it requires years over years of practice to know them all and implement them in an acceptable manner. Some techniques are used more on classical guitars, such as fingerstyle picking, and some are more exclusive to electric guitars, such as bending and picking. In this article of guitar tips and techniques, we are going to showcase and discuss 5 interesting techniques most commonly used on electric guitar, and tips on how to practice and implement each one of them. So stick around, grab your guitar, and try to follow up!
1) Alternate Picking
Alternate Picking is the act of playing one note with the pick moving in one direction, followed by the pick moving in the opposite direction for the next note. For example if you are playing a series of 7 consecutive notes one after the other, alternate picking them would be like this:
If you start with pick-down (you can also start with up-picking, it depends on the composition itself, sometimes it's easier to start with up-picking because the following notes would be easier to play. This is a thing you'll learn and get used to the more experienced you get, and the more you exercise alternate picking) it would look like this:
note-1 pick-down, note-2 pick-up, note-3 pick-down, note-4 pick-up, etc etc.
In its core this is alternate picking, whether you are playing on a single string, or multiple strings altogether. Playing alternate picking on multiple strings, is definitely harder than one string, because it also requires relocating your hand in addition to the wrist movement used in alternate picking. But for starters, practice alternate picking on one string, then move to practicing combining multiple strings together, and so on.
There are few picking techniques that you can use for alternate picking, but the most common way is picking with your wrist. You lay your muting palm on the strings that aren't in use, place your wrist and pick to face the string you want to play on, and sort-of “lock” your wrist in place, and allow for a rotational movement of the wrist only. This technique is used by most guitarists, including accomplished professional guitarists such as Paul Gilbert, John Petrucci, and others.
Other techniques include elbow movement, and “finger” movement where you control the pick up and down with your fingers. A couple of great videos I found to really explain and demonstrate alternate picking techniques is one by Guthrie Govan, and one by Troy Grady.
Guthrie shows how he likes to hold the pick for alternate picking and why, and demonstrates the technique with a good example using a flat B scale:
In the other hand, Troy Grady demonstrates 4 different picking techniques for alternate picking, of which he called the four essential motion mechanics, with an excellent close-up of his picking hand using a camera mounted on his guitar:
Legato is the act of playing the notes with your fretboard hand only – no use for a picking hand here. Some players would pick down on a string once in the middle of a legato play just to keep the rhythm up, or to emphasize on a particular note. But basically in Legato technique, all the work and the creation of the sound is being done only by the left hand (the fretboard hand).
Using one hand to play legato does not necessarily translates to less difficulty than say, alternate picking, where you must use both hands and synchronize them well together with speed and accuracy. With legato, muting strings is a little bit harder, because you are only using the left hand here, and also you have to practice and exercise hammer-ons and pull-offs quite intensively, in order to achieve a clean, nice tone.
Rick Graham demonstrates Legato, and how to achieve a better legato technique, using 5 simple steps in the video below:
3) Sweep Picking
Sweep Picking is the act of playing single notes on consecutive strings, with a fluid, sweeping motion of the pick. Ascending notes are played with pick-down picking style, while descending notes are played with pick-up, unlike alternate picking where no matter what notes you are playing, ascending or descending, you are always using a pick-down for one note, followed by pick-up for the next one.
Sweep Picking technique is used a lot for playing arpeggios, and going down and up on a specific scale very quickly. The whole technique looks like the pick is sweeping down and up quickly on the strings, it is most commonly used in heavy metal tunes and shredding.
Perhaps one of the most popular metal guitarists to incorporate great sweep picking technique is Ynqwie Malmsteen, check the arpeggios article here with a mention to Malmsteen in this regard. (Hint: Arpeggios from Hell)
However, before Sweep Picking was popular and a common “thing” in heavy metal compositions, it first was used and developed by Jazz guitar players such as: Les Paul, Tal Farlow, and Barney Kessel in the 50's.
Josh Middleton demonstrates the Sweep Picking technique in the video below, called the “Ultimate Sweep Picking Lesson”, I think it's worth to look at if you are curious about sweep picking and want to learn more about it:
4) String Bending and Vibrato
String Bending is, well, bending strings with your fingers, to achieve a continuous, “analog” increase or decrease in pitch. Using bending skillfully in your solos and improvisations will give them a distinctive sound that is similar in quality and fluidity of a singing voice.
You can bend with one finger, but normally you want to use two or three fingers, or even four fingers to bend, to be able to put enough physical force on the strings to bend them correctly.
Vibrato is “technically” like bending, in a way that you fret a string and bend it with your fingers, but only slightly enough and in a regular manner to give it a vibrating, “pulsating” effect. Hence the word, “vibrato”.
String Bending and Vibrato are so commonly used together, but both can also be used individually without the use of the other, depending what you want to do with the guitar. You can bend a note a whole scale up and stay there, or you can add a little bit of vibrato while you are there. Those two techniques can give your playing so much versatility and make your tunes sound much more alive and vivid, if you know how to use them wisely and when.
Steve Vai discusses those two techniques combined together in one of his video lessons, and you can find it here with my own interpretation of the lesson (including time-setting for each topic): Steve Vai Video Lesson
Another guitarist that explains beautifully how to bend and vibrato properly is Rob Chapman, I highly recommend checking his video on this matter, which can be found below:
5) String Skipping
String Skipping technique is skipping a string during a riff or an arpeggio, to create a more complex and more diverse melody. Usually when playing a certain solo or an arpeggio, you normally start with one string and then move to the adjacent string, sort-of like a linear style of playing, with string skipping you break that agenda and add even more interest and complexity into your tune. It's an expert technique and not an easy one to implement, and certainly requires a lot of practice and attention.
Here's a good video showcasing the technique with example tabs, while explaining how to execute it properly with both of your hands, and slowly, so you can see exactly what's happening and learn:
There are more techniques to learn about for playing the guitar, such as rhythm guitar techniques, fingerstyle picking, and so on, but we can't talk about all of them in one single article. So I picked 5 techniques that I find quite interesting and challenging, and shed some light on them with a little explanation and pointing to proper video lessons.
If you want to become an accomplished guitar player, you have to know all these techniques and execute them well. Some techniques are quite difficult to get done, some are less challenging, it's quite a personal thing to each individual, but the key here is time, and lots of practice.
A good book that deals quite intensively with these techniques, providing many exercises for each technique in a daily and weekly schedule, is called the Guitar Aerobics, and can be found in my books reviews article here: Books Reviews – Guitar Aerobic
Another way to practice all these techniques and master them is by using an online guitar teaching program. I always stress this point because I think having a professional source to teach you how to play properly, what stuff to learn and when, with a coherent learning system, is the best approach for learning the guitar. Because it's a process, and not something you can learn over night or over a month by playing tabs.
In the menu above you can go to Reviews and then to Courses and Lessons and check the numerous online programs that I personally reviewed, that you can subscribe to, and start or continue learning the guitar properly. Pick whichever you think suits you best, or if you have other programs in mind and want me to write a review on or give my opinion on, you can ask so in the comments section below and I'll do my best to fulfill that request for you. You can also leave a comment with your feedback or personal opinion on this article and the techniques we discussed, I always appreciate feedback.
Have fun and best of luck practicing these techniques!