Building Strong Picking
I often get new students who have been playing for quite awhile. There is a serious flaw that I fix in literally every long time player I teach. I call it “wimpy picking”. It means the inability to play fast AND loud. Whenever the speed goes up, the picking gets weaker and weaker, until the pick can hardly make contact with the string.
It is a syndrome that begins in the beginning of our playing life. It begins for very good reasons.
When we place force on the string with the pick to play a note, the string, being an elastic medium, returns force back into our pick hand, arm and shoulder, and entire upper body.
This returned force causes a necessary tension reaction in the hand and arm. We must tense in reaction in order to maintain position.
Force equals Volume. The more force we place, the louder the note, more force is returned, and more tension is generated. So, the louder we play, the tenser we get.
Speed increases overall tension because the faster we play, the more tension per moment is produced.
Students are never taught to feel this tension and release it after every note during slow practice, as they should. They play each note with the tension held from the last note, often even holding the breath. The longer and louder they play, the tenser they get, until they lose all control.
The player unconsciously starts applying less force to the string as they play faster, in an effort to reduce tension and maintain control. If they try to play fast (even 16th notes at 60 bpm), the tension forces them to play lighter and lighter, until the pick cannot even make contact with the string, resulting in weak and missing notes.
Unless this syndrome is interrupted, the player will never develop professional guitar ability. All developed players can play fast and loud, all undeveloped players cannot. How do we do this?
We do this by having a regular practice routine where we play extremely slowly, with no tempo, and place maximum force on the string for each note. We push the string so hard it reaches the next string. As we do this, we focus on the whole body, and relax as much as possible. Even though we must tense, we keep it to a minimum. I call this “relaxing into the effort”.
We gradually work up the speed with a metronome while continuing this procedure until we reach our top speed. If you do this correctly and consistently, it will transform your picking ability. It should be noted that all of these playing dynamics apply equally well to fingerstyle.