Before I had ever taken a single guitar lesson, I was self taught for about three years. I thought I knew a lot about guitar because I could play quite a bit of chords, a couple scales, and a handful of songs. I did in fact know a lot, but some of the things I had learned on my own were not quite as effective or efficient as they could have been.
Today, I want to share one of those things that I -sort of had right-, but when I re-learned it the “expert” way, my playing was set on a path for some really crazy growth.
So what was this one thing that changed my guitar playing so dramatically? One of the single best things I EVER learned was something called the “shred style” way of playing. Now, “shred style” may not be the technical term, but that’s what my teacher back then called it so that name has always just stuck with me.
What it means is this:
Whenever possible, arrange any phrase or line of single notes into an odd number of notes-per-string pattern.
Let me show you an example of this using the G Major Scale. (As a side note, I pretty much always show the G Major Scale when explaining this technique to people because this scale ties into so many other things I like teaching later on. Plus, the musical key of G is also really common in music, so that helps too!)
Okay. So let’s take a look at this G Major Scale.
The first thing I want you to notice about this scale is the pattern of notes. Notice how there seems to be three distinct patterns on these six strings. The:
- 3 5 7 pattern on the first two strings
- 4 5 7 pattern on the middle two strings, and the
- 5 7 8 pattern on the last two strings.
These patterns are SUPER helpful to notice right off the bat because they literally cut the amount of notes you need to learn in half. Instead of learning three notes multiplied by six strings, you really only have to learn three notes multiplied by three strings. The other 3 strings are just repeats of the same patterns.
And honestly, when you venture into other scales and modes, these three patterns keep showing up over and over again. So it’s definitely worth learning them now as patterns instead of fret numbers. I may get some back lash for suggesting that you learn patterns instead of notes, but I do feel like it’s helpful. At least in this situation.
Anyway, try playing through this scale a couple of times, taking note of these patterns that you’re playing. When you feel like you’ve got the notes down, then it’s time to use the right fingers.
This stretch looks pretty intense, I know. But don’t worry, there is a really simple way to go about hitting it.
Instead of starting with your first finger on the 3rd fret and trying to stretch your way up to the 5th fret, and then the 7th fret, the first thing you’ll want to do is find the middle point of the line you’re playing (I like to call this the “center of balance“) and expand your fingers out to hit the others. So in our 3 5 7 pattern, our middle note is 5. Also, looking back at the G Major Scale tab we can see that this note is supposed to be played with your middle finger.
So let’s start out by placing your middle finger on the 5th fret of the Low E string and consider this your “center of balance”. Now bring all your fingers in close together. Try and get them all to touch each other and stay within a fret or two, like this:
Now, from this point, let’s expand your fingers out from this center of balance (your middle finger). Take your first finger (your pointer finger), and move it down to the 3rd fret without changing anything about the rest of your fingers.
Now move your pinky up to the 7th fret in the same way. You should now have a hand position that looks really similar to that first finger stretching picture up above.
One more tip to help out with that big stretch, –because I know it feels weird right now-, is to lower your thumb on the back side of the neck. My thumb usually rests right behind where my middle finger is but down really low to the bottom edge of the neck. The lower you go with your thumb, the more space you give the rest of your fingers.
So as you go through these notes, the main take away here, –and definitely one of the biggest challenges-, is making sure that you leave your fingers on the already played notes as you go up. What I mean by that is make sure you continue to press down on the 3rd fret AND the 5th fret, even when you’re playing the 7th fret. It may sound strange, but this is a really good playing habit to get into. As you go backwards down the scale, it’s “proper” form to already have your fingers on the notes you need, and not just floating around in space while they wait for “go” time.
The last thing I want to show you is the very heart and soul of the “shred” playing style. Here is that G Major Scale again so you don’t have to keep scrolling back and forth!
Notice those symbols above the tab. These are your picking patterns. That first one, the one that looks like an upside down U is a down pick. The V symbol is an up pick. But, the most important symbol of all is that little slash in between the two down picks, or if you look more closely, when you transfer from string to string.
As you play your down-up-down pattern, notice that it keeps repeating that same picking pattern on each string. Pretty easy, right? Well, once you give it a try you may think otherwise (maybe at first at least!). This double down picking motion should feel like it’s flowing from one string to the next. It’s a slash symbol because its technically one movement. One down pick between two strings. Sort of like playing a two note chord.
And that right there is one of the most important concepts I ever learned on guitar. It WILL take some practice to get the hang of it, so just be prepared for that. But, once you master this concept of playing odd numbered amounts of notes per string (so that you can flow through strings, whether down-up-down-down, or up-down-up-up when you go the other direction), you will dramatically be able to increase your playing speed.
Whew! I know this was a tough one today, and a lot to take in so make sure if you have any questions, that you leave a comment down below. And don’t forget, if you know someone that would benefit from this one, or would just enjoy reading it, be sure to share it with them as well. Just remember, this one will take some time to get good at, so don’t give up if it seems to hard at first. Just keep practicing at it a little bit here and there, and before you know it you will have gained an incredible picking technique that will allow you to play as fast as you’ll ever need.