Michael Angelo Batio: On The Double
Orginally printed in Guitar World, July 2005.
The fastest guitarist on the planet, Michael Angelo Batio, shows you how to increase your fretboard speed in record time.
In the fleet-fingered world of shred guitar, Michael Angelo Batio needs little introduction. When he burst on the music scene in the late Eighties with metal outfit Nitro, Batio was a young shredder who played with a remarkable level of speed and precision. What set him apart from the crowd was his impressive talent for both right- and 0left-handed playing. He could play not only with equal proficiency in either fashion but also simultaneously, as he demonstrated on two- and four-neck guitars that he designed for this purpose.
When it comes to sheer speed, Batio is among the fastest guitarists out there. But his ambidextrous shredding on his custom-made Dean Double-Guitar is his unique calling card. The guitar sports two necks affixed to one body and pointing out in different directions. Batio can simultaneously fret notes on both necks, creating complementary hammered guitar parts and blazing harmonized solos.
Batio started his musical education at the age of five, becoming proficient on the piano as well as guitar. He began studying jazz guitar at 14 and, by the time he was 19, was an in-demand L.A. session player. Today, Batio can burn up a fretboard—or two—with the best of them, and he’s used his talent to make his mark in the instructional video field: Star Licks: Michael Angelo, his first video, has sold in excess of 100,000 copies, and his 2003 instructional DVDs, Speed Kills and Speed Lives (available from angelo.com), are must-have guides for shredders everywhere.
In this exclusive lesson, Batio reveals the secret elements of his shredderific style, focusing on speed picking, string skipping, sweep picking and fretboard tapping, among other techniques. So without further ado, let’s hand it over to Michael Angelo Batio.
Hello all…Michael Angelo Batio here. The secret to shredding is contained in a few essential techniques. In this instructional article, I’ll explain and demonstrate the basics to help start you on the road to becoming a shred monster.
I learned at a very young age that melodic lines can be played fastest by employing alternate picking, a technique that involves a continual down-up-down-up picking motion. I like to use heavy, teardrop-shaped Dunlop Jazz 3 picks, because if you hit the notes right, these picks will always make them sound big.
In my formative years as a guitarist, I became obsessed with picking. I have a degree in music, but I also studied the playing styles of guys like Jimmy Page, Robert Fripp and Eddie Van Halen the same way I studied Bach and Beethoven. In doing so, I learned that the joints of the index finger and thumb that hold the pick should never flex. This is true whether you pick with the fingers of your picking hand resting on the guitar’s body or with your hand “floating” above the strings. Whether you watch Van Halen, George Benson, Al Di Meola, Django Reinhardt or Charlie Christian, you will find this to be the case.
When I made my first Star Licks video, I coined the term “PPS”—potential picking speed; it refers to a technique I developed by listening to the fastest jazz and jazz/fusion players, which, when applied to rock, eventually became known as shred. I discovered that the fastest picking speed is achieved by alternate picking one note repeatedly, a technique known as tremolo picking [FIGURE 1]. When I tremolo pick, I “anchor” the ring finger and pinkie of my picking hand against the body of the guitar for stability and to give my hand a close point of reference.
Whether you’re playing slow or fast, your picking technique should remain the same. I tell my students to begin by picking as fast as possible, and then slow down. This way, they can build up their own personal PPS right from the get-go. In doing so, they’ll learn to use the same efficient technique for playing fast as for playing slow, and for playing at all speeds in between.
I came up with another good exercise to help guitarists play very fast and effectively when string skipping. The technique requires that you become proficient at beginning a picking pattern on a downstroke as well as on an upstroke. If you were always to play four notes per string, the picking pattern would be “down-up, down-up… ,” and the initial picking motion on each successive string would be a downstroke. But if you were to play three notes per string, the pattern would be down-up-down followed by up-down-up.
Here’s the exercise [FIGURE 2]: start very slowly and gradually build up to where you can play the pattern as fast as you possibly can. The idea is to get to the point where your picking motion is as consistent as possible, regardless of the speed at which you pick.
These next two speed-picking examples [FIGURES 3a and 3b] are based on the A minor blues scale [A C D Eb E G] and are played in 7/4 meter. (There’s my King Crimson upbringing for you!) These exercises are especially good for developing speed and dexterity with the fretting hand’s ring finger and pinkie and the relationship between these fingers and the index finger. Developing this kind of speed with the pinkie and alternating between the ring finger and the pinkie is difficult for most guitarists, so I made up this exercise for that express purpose. Be sure to use alternate picking throughout both of these examples.
Playing with speed is all about economy of motion. When performing FIGURES 3a and 3b, be sure to keep the thumb positioned in the middle of the back of the neck so that there is a good amount of space between the fret-hand palm and the neck; I like to refer to this hand position as creating “daylight” between the hand and neck. This posture positions the fretting fingers so that they’re coming straight down toward the fingerboard, as opposed to wrapping around from behind it. Believe me, you’ll attain much more speed with the fingers coming straight down onto the fretboard.
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