Path of Least Resistance: Finding Easier Ways to Alternate Pick — Video

These videos and audio files are bonus content related to the April 2015 issue of Guitar World. For the full range of interviews, features, tabs and more, pick up the new issue on newsstands now or at the Guitar World Online Store.

I used to do a lot of things the hard way.

As a young man studying jazz guitar in college, I went through a period of several years during which I was obsessed with alternate (down-up) picking and being able to “muscle through” the most difficult patterns and shapes with the goal of attaining technical virtuosity.

To that end, I would spend long, lonely hours, seven days a week, dedicated to practicing every conceivable scale and arpeggio I learned, drilling on every possible fingering shape and melodic interval pattern and repeating each exercise in all 12 keys. Then I would do it all over again, starting on an upstroke!

Much of this practice time spent in the prime years of my life turned out to be a big waste of effort. While the campaign was beneficial for learning the fretboard, the technical benefit was ultimately disappointing. I did all this picking-practice drudgery with the hope and expectation that one day I would wake up, pick up my guitar and be able to fluently rip through any melodic pattern like a chainsaw.

It never really happened. Instead, my picking hand became chronically fatigued and sore. I’m fortunate to have not developed tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome during this period! The fact that I had always been athletic and had good circulation probably helped my hands cope with the repetitive stress I was subjecting them to on a daily basis and saved them from ruin.

My touch and feel, which I was so proud of as an unschooled, hard-rocking teenager, became rather stilted and mechanical sounding. I’d go to play some real music but, because my chops were worn-out from doing battle with difficult exercises all morning, my playing would sound tired and lifeless, and, even worse, I would sometimes, when jamming with a drummer, inadvertantly “turn the time around”—slowing down or speeding up to the point where the downbeats and upbeats are reversed. It was unfair and maddening!

For the rest of this column, including the tabs, check out the April 2015 issue of Guitar World.

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Jimmy Brown

Over the past 30 years, Jimmy Brown has built a reputation as one of the world's finest music educators, through his work as a transcriber and Senior Music Editor for Guitar World magazine and Lessons Editor for its sister publication, Guitar Player. In addition to these roles, Jimmy is also a busy working musician, performing regularly in the greater New York City area. Jimmy earned a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies and Performance and Music Management from William Paterson University in 1989. He is also an experienced private guitar teacher and an accomplished writer.