A useable tremolo picking action is the first step to developing your picking technique, and if you don’t have that then you’ve skipped the most basic, fundamental aspect of picking straight away.
Imagine if you spend months building up slowly from 60bpm to 90bpm, trying to play everything perfectly, only to discover that your technique doesn’t allow you to increase that tempo. So, the first thing you need to establish is whether your picking action has the potential for higher speed.
The angle at which your hand approaches the strings will massively affect how effective your picking is. However, to feel the effects of different hand positions, you first need to put the pick to the strings.
We’re usually taught in a very exaggerated way, which shows in obvious up and down movement with quite a lot of pick travel. This is fine for low and moderate speeds but the faster you go, you don’t want to be doing that. Picking faster isn’t about moving your hand the same way but quicker.
The secret is this: Just imagine that when you’re playing alternating up and down strokes, you’re keeping your pick ‘on’ the string. You’re picking on the string, not necessarily through it. This is a psychological reference point you can use to remind yourself to focus on reducing the amount that the pick travels away from the strings. This allows you to speed up the rate that the pick changes direction.
So the first two elements of developing good tremolo picking ability are to keep the pick as close to the string as possible and moving your hand around until you find the position that allows the best result.
As you do this, you’ll naturally start to speed up. When this happens you’ll start to feel it physically. This is the point at which most people give up and stop trying.
Why is that? Well, certain things can get lost in translation, so when teachers give advice about reducing tension and being relaxed, this gets taken a little bit too literally.
I’m not advocating that you just furiously try and pick as fast as you can and tense up your arm and move it like an iron bar. What I am going to say, though, is that there’s some sort of psychological hurdle that won’t allow people to let go and take a leap into the ultra zone. You can be so focused on trying to be perfect and gentle to the point where you’re conditioned to avoid putting in any effort whatsoever.
Whilst you do need to eliminate unwanted tension and be as relaxed as you can be, first you need access to the raw power of the technique. You need to feel it and start building it whilst refining it as you go along.
So the third element of building tremolo picking is the mental aspect. Put those three elements together and nothing need stop you!
Ben Higgins started playing guitar at age 10. He’s released five solo albums and continues to teach guitarists from around the world. In 2012, he released the YouTube video “30 Shredders in One Solo,” in which he emulated the style of 30 of the world’s greatest guitarists. He followed it up with “30 Misplaced Shredders” and “Another 30 Shredders." In 2016, Ben developed his “Badass…” online courses, which are aimed at improving people’s technique in picking, sweeping and hand synchronization. To find out more about Ben and his courses, visit benhigginsofficial.com.