How string skipping can supercharge your lead guitar playing

String skipping guitar lesson
(Image credit: Future)

This special tutorial focuses on the art of string skipping with a guitar pick. The aim is to develop your picking hand accuracy and also to provide you with some interesting new soloing ideas.

String skipping is a simple concept: the notes you play are on non-adjacent strings, so you have to ‘skip’ over certain strings as you play – and this calls for accurate picking. 

We’re focusing on lead guitar here in our lesson, but it’s worth noting that string skipping also applies to arpeggios in a chord/accompaniment setting too. For example, Radiohead’s Street Spirit (Fade Out) uses the develop your picking technique extensively.

As inspiration for our lesson we’ve chosen some well-known guitarists who use string skipping to great effect. The idea is to learn our tab examples and then practice them with a metronome at a tempo to suit you. You can stretch yourself by gradually increasing the tempo and charting your progress over a series of days and weeks.

Minor pentatonic string skipping 1

(Image credit: Future)

The minor pentatonic scale places two notes on each string so it’s easy to create string-skipping patterns. This example works on the easiest string skip of all – the single-string skip. Start slowly and follow the picking directions and fingering shown in the tab. Dialing in an accurate technique at slower tempos is the key here.

Minor pentatonic string skipping 2

(Image credit: Future)

Things are getting tougher here as you skip two strings with your pick. Dial in some distortion and it’s an impressive sounding lick, but it may take some time to perfect. Repetition at a slow tempo is the key so your brain can learn how far to move your pick from one string to the next.

C Major scale intervallic exercise

(Image credit: Future)

This pattern uses the 6th interval in a descending pattern. You can also play this type of idea with finger slides and continue it ascending or descending as long as you like. The idea in the last two bars will stretch your picking technique as it uses two string skips.

Nuno Bettencourt-style string skipping with a scale

(Image credit: Future)

This example places three notes on the third string and three on the first string. You can ascend or descend with this idea and it is possible to build up a lot of speed with this concept. Practise slowly to begin with and consider reversing the pick strokes, starting on an up-stroke.

Carl Verheyen-style octave displacement

(Image credit: Future)

Octave displacement is a nice way to spice up the sound of scale runs. The idea is to take various intervals of the scale you are playing up or down the octave. This can be quite challenging at first but is a great way to implement the string-skipping concept. This example simply ascends up and down the major scale but sounds way more interesting with the various intervals displaced.

John Petrucci-style arpeggios

(Image credit: Future)

This John Petrucci-style exercise is great practice for the picking hand. The fretting hand work is a bit fiddly so we have notated a suggested fingering in the tab. Once you have this exercise mastered, see if you can incorporate it in a solo.

Paul Gilbert-style triad arpeggios

(Image credit: Future)

Paul Gilbert established a clever way to play triad arpeggios with string skipping. This method often sounds cleaner than sweep picking and it is also possible to apply patterns and sequences that would be impossible with the sweep picking technique.

Frank Gambale-style 7th arpeggios

(Image credit: Future)

Frank Gambale has many great concepts under his fingers and string skipping is no exception. This example showcases a clever way to play 7th chord arpeggios with two string skips. For extra speed you can play this idea with hammer-ons and pull-offs.

Eric Johnson-style open-voiced arpeggios

(Image credit: Future)

The arrangement of the notes here make these EJ-style triads sound way more colorful than their closed voiced counterparts. These are fiddly to finger but there is an almost inexhaustible amount of permutations you can play with this idea. As always, accuracy is the key.

Matt Bellamy-style string skipping

(Image credit: Future)

This example is another good work-out and involves playing a down and an upstroke on each string before skipping. Again, the permutations available from this idea are endless, but accuracy is vital to creating an industrial sounding lead line like this.

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Total Guitar editors

Total Guitar is one of Europe's biggest guitar magazines. With lessons to suit players of all levels, TG's world-class tuition is friendly, accessible and jargon-free, whether you want to brush up on your technique or improve your music theory knowledge. We also talk to the biggest names in the world of guitar – from interviews with all-time greats like Brian May and Eddie Van Halen to our behind the scenes Rig Tour features, we get you up close with the guitarists that matter to you.