There’s nothing magic about it. All it takes is work and consistency. If you do the following every day (not every third day, not every other day. Every day), if you keep working even when you’re pretty sure that you won’t succeed, then success will be yours.

Not everyone wants it badly enough to do this.

Procedure #1

  1. Get a metronome. There are plenty of free apps. Or you can buy one at your local music store.
  2. Choose a scale
  3. Put the metronome on a really slow speed, slow enough that you will be able to play the scale perfectly at least 10 times in row. The game most people play is that you make any sort of mistake along the way, you have to go back to the beginning. So if you make a mistake on the 9th repeat, you go back to number 1.
  4. When you can play it perfectly 10 times in a row, bump the metronome up 5 clicks. Some people say 1 click. That might be necessary at higher speeds, but at the beginning – with the metronome between 60 beats per minute and 120 – progress by 5 clicks.
  5. Keep raising the tempo until you can’t go any faster. Go back to the last speed you could play perfectly, and play the scale 10 times. Stop once you’ve done that.
  6. Do this every single day.

This procedure works for a lot of people. It takes a lot of self-discipline and honesty. It’s common to convince yourself that the mistake you just made isn’t a big deal. If you want to do this right, every mistake needs to be counted.

Procedure #2

This procedure is a lot more detailed. I use it with students who need to work on efficiency in their fretting and picking hands.

The left hand

The point of this exercise is to train the fingers to move as efficiently, as independently, and in as relaxed a manner as possible. Keeping the fingers relaxed and as close to the strings as possible ensures maximum speed. They don’t need to travel as far, and they maintain stamina longer.

The exercise

Place your fingers lightly on the sixth string at frets 5, 6, 7, 8. Don’t push the string down. Concentrate on relaxing.

Move your index finger to the fifth string without taking your other fingers off the sixth string. Don’t lift the index finger any higher than you need to. Just let it kind of fall to the fifth string.

Again, without moving any other fingers, move the middle finger to the fifth string in the same way you moved the index: efficient and relaxed.

Do the same with the ring finger and the pinky.

Moving up

Continue until you reach the first string. Then, starting with the pinky, move to the second string, again not pressing down. Leave the pinky in place and move the ring finger up to the second string. That’s the most difficult move for most people. Continue with the middle and the index.

You won’t have gravity working for you on the way up. Pay attention to how different it feels. Stay as relaxed as possible, and go all the way to the sixth string. Be aware of the difference in how it feels at the top of the neck, as opposed to the bottom.

Depressing the strings

Now do the same exercise, but depress the string just enough to make a tone. Don’t press any harder than you need to. Very slowly press into the fretboard while plucking the string. Stop pressing as soon as you get a tone. People are often surprised at how little they actually need to press.

Let each finger relax as the next finger depresses the string (i.e. Press with the index, pluck the string, then press with the middle while relaxing the index finger. Relax the index finger just enough to leave it resting on the string.) Pluck the string with the middle finger down. Continue this process with ring finger and pinky. Be patient. This is extremely detailed work.

When you start on the way back up from the first to the sixth string, you’ll need to lift each finger off the string so you don’t mute the tone. The best (and most difficult) way to do this is as follows: starting with the pinky depressing the string and the other fingers resting lightly on the strings….

  1. Play the note that the pinky is covering
  2. Lift the pinky and place it lightly on the second string while at the same time depressing and playing the note under the ring finger. This is a difficult move. Go really slowly. Remember, you’re training your fingers, not making music.
  3. Lift the ring finger and place it lightly on the second string, while at the same time depressing and playing the note under the middle finger on the first string.
  4. Lift the middle finger and place it lightly on the second string, while at the same time depressing and playing the note under the index finger on the first string.
  5. Lift the index finger and place it lightly on the second string.
  6. Continue up to the sixth string.

This exercise produces extreme finger independence and efficiency. It will drive you crazy at first. Be patient.

Throughout this exercise, try to eliminate tension as much as possible.

The right hand – alternate picking

Alternate picking is arguably the most common and effective picking technique. It basically consists of moving down and up with the pick.

Hold the pick between the thumb and index finger as shown here. The pick is held on the edge of the index finger, not on the pad.

You can pick from the wrist or the arm. The wrist motion is the one you use when turning a key in a lock. The faster you play, the smaller the movement. At a certain point you will start moving the forearm up and down, using the elbow as a hinge.

Always start slowly, and concentrate on staying relaxed.

One string

Use the following exercise to start. As you can see, the whole thing is on the high E string.

After the downstroke, try to get the pick back to the string quickly enough to stop the string vibration, and create a staccato effect. You’re not plucking it again; you’re just resting against the string. Same with the upstroke: get the pick back on the string quickly. No tension!

Move from stroke to stroke slowly. Make the stroke, get the pick back on the string quickly, and rest there for a second. Then continue. Then gradually speed up using the metronome. At a certain point, you won’t be resting the pick on the string.

The point here is to eliminate extraneous pick movement, and getting to the next pick stroke as quickly as possible. This is fundamental to shredding.

Two strings

Same idea, but go from the E string to the B string and back.

Getting from one string to another is where the majority of mistakes happen. This is because you need to make a larger movement with the pick than the one you make playing on one string. This inconsistency in distance initially confuses the picking hand. 


And finally, the scale, circling back to beginning of this post. You can choose any scale, but I like to go with aeolian, otherwise known as the natural minor scale.

I like aeolian because you have to shift when you go from the fourth string to the third, and again from the third to the second.

And like all of the modes, one of the strings has only two notes. All of the others have three. This is a common asymmetry that you need to get used to.

And yes, you can learn three-note-per-string scales and eliminate this asymmetry. Do that too, but allow your hands the training that enables it to switch gears from string to string.



Inventing Scales

There are so many scales. Many are useful. But at some point you’ll want sounds that those scales can’t give you. What do you do?

Invent your own. You can do this by coming up with a simple algorithm. For scales you use an interval sequence.


Common sequences

Most scales are made of consecutive major or minor seconds. For example, the major scale is maj2, maj2, min2, maj2, maj2, min2.

The minor pentatonic uses minor 3rds and major 2nds: min3, maj2, maj2, min3, maj2.

Here’s how to make your own.


Interval sequences

Simply make up an interval sequence.

Choose a starting note and two intervals.


Starting note: A.

Interval sequence: repeat maj2, min 3 until you return to the starting note.

Scale: A B D C# E F# A


Play around with that, and see if you like it.


Starting note: C.

Interval sequence: repeat min3, maj3 until you return to the starting note.


C Eb G Bb D F A C


These are repeating scales. Some interval sequences produce non-repeating scales. This means that they don’t repeatedly return to the starting note after a certain number of notes like the scales we’ve seen here.

Try inventing scales using three intervals. Then make a few with four intervals. Or five. Whatever you want. The point is to generate melody that you can’t find in regular scales.


Warmup Exercises

Alternate picking

This is one of my favourite warmup exercises. It’s intended for the right hand given all the adjacent string movement. Use alternate picking throughout, and go as slow as you need to in order to eliminate any mistakes. Remember, your fingers will learn the wrong way to do something as easily as they will learn the right way. They’ll do whatever you tell them to do. GO SLOW!


Directional picking

You can do this exercise with directional picking, too. This means that when you have consecutive notes on adjacent strings, you use the pick direction appropriate for the direction of the notes. So if the notes go from string 1 through string 2 to string 3, you use an up-stroke for each of those notes.

An exception to that rule is if you have to go from one string to a non-adjacent string. For example, the first note in bar 2 (G) is an downstroke even though it’s part of a 4-note sequence moving in the same direction. An up-stroke at that point is inefficient since the next note is on the B string. Try that move with consecutive up-strokes if you want to see what I mean.