Today we are going to go “back to Basics”, and talk about the technique of alternate picking. Even though alternate picking is usually the first technique one gets acquainted with when starting out with his guitar, few people can really master it and consistently better/faster/cleaner at performing it.
The main reason for that is that most guitarists are not able to identify or isolate their problem areas. Therefore, they cannot solve their problems through practice – since this practice is not well-targeted.
Today’s lesson is designed to solve one of the most common technical problems guitarists face – the coordination between the left hand 3rd and 4th fingers. I have used this specific exercise for several years with my own students and it has proven extremely helpful in hundreds of cases of students that had uneven development of independence between their fingers, as well as coordination challenges
In my lessons, Philosophy of Practicing is really NOT philosophical at all. It’s an essential part of your lesson and you should ALWAYS READ it BEFORE starting to work on the actual exercise. It is the reason each lesson is made up for, and therefore it is critical because it helps you understand why you’re doing it, how you should go about it and what the desirable goal is.
The coordination between the 3rd and the 4th is always trouble. The reason is pure physiology, since these fingers are the only pair of fingers that share the same tendon. For this reason, we emphasize working out almost all the exercises with this pair of fingers.
If you can play a pattern that requires cooperation from these two fingers, then this pattern is in your muscle memory; there’s no other possible combination of fingers in the same pattern that can make it harder for you to play it.
So we have a double goal here:
Build up your 3rd and 4th fingers’ stamina, so you don’t get tired when using 16th notes regardless of the fret board location you’re in and regardless of the amount of time you are supposed to play these notes!
Get this pattern recorded in your muscle memory, so that you’ll be able to use that in your playing whenever you feel like it!
You should familiarize yourself with the concept of isolating and practicing on your problem areas both on a mental AND an emotional level.
Basically you should understand you are working ON YOUR WEAKER POSSIBLE SPOTS. This means:
- on the musical/mental level – you are not going to sound cool in the beginning. You’re not even going to sound good the first day or the first week. Don’t expect to reach full speed overnight. The idea is completely different: STAMINA. You don’t build stamina by running at your full speed. You do it by mastering your body movements and by putting the hours in to make these movements your second nature.
- on the emotional level – A LOT OF FRUSTRATION. Don’t deny or fight this feeling. It’s a very important one. Every time frustration kicks in, progress is right around the corner. Frustration is just another name for your comfort zone screaming out of the top of its voice to let it be; you don’t want that of course. If you did, you wouldn’t be reading these lines.
Maximum frustration point is in many cases a sound indication of betterment. Embrace it. If you can somehow manage it emotionally and practice your way out of it, you will have done a very big step towards guitar mastery.
Consistency is #1 rule to follow here. This exercise is meant to build up your left hand’s stamina while maintaining rhythm, clarity and fluency. So, make sure to:
NOT play this at full speed! It’s both meaningless AND dangerous.
Meaningless, because we’re after stamina, not speed. As we’ve already explained, stamina does not get built by speeding, but by repetition of the pattern, so that they become your second nature.
Dangerous, because this lesson, no matter how simple it may seem to you, is a very good way to suffer an injury if you push yourself too much!
STOP if you feel pain! If you start hurting, stop and stretch for a few minutes, then resume. Getting injured is NOT going to help you become a virtuoso any faster!
Always make sure the notes you play sound crystal clear. If you don’t, you’re not on the right track, and this lesson won’t do you any good at all.
Do this with a metronome! Keeping check of the rhythm when fatigue sets in is a very important part of the lesson. Not ignoring your beat under ABSOLUTELY ANY circumstances is a biggie here!
Finally, make sure you work this pattern in all other strings as well. But always make sure you follow the aforementioned guidelines (1-4)