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by Carlos Diez Macia 4 Comments
One of the most valuable skills when it comes to guitar playing is versatility.
Versatility allows you to adapt to different environments and enriches your playing, making a difference in the final result.
Music is about staying dynamic and monotony kills dynamic. Therefore, the most logical step for you as a guitarist is to expand your repertoire of guitar skills to keep that vital, engaging sound that makes music so joyful.
If you have decided to use a guitar pick for playing guitar, there are seven techniques that are a must.
They will take time to learn and master, but believe me, they make the difference.
If you have listened to the music of the last 70 years, you can probably recognize this guitar technique in most rock classic hits.
Tremolo is an Italian word which means “to shake” or “to tremble”.
In the context of guitar, it involves striking one (sometimes more than one) guitar string very fast with alternating strokes. Therefore, this technique is a form of alternate picking. Tremolo picking is very easy to learn but it requires strong discipline and practice to master.
Tremolo picking is essentially useful for any style of music and obviously a big part of the surf guitar sound (I’m a big fan of it!).
In guitar literature, sometimes the words tremolo and vibrato are reversed. This technique has nothing to do with a “tremolo bar” or a "tremolo effects box".
WHY IS TREMOLO PICKING IMPORTANT?
If one of your long-term goals in your guitar learning process is to increase speed, tremolo picking is a good place to start.
It is not only very fun but also can add new textures and some dynamics to your compositions. You would be surprised how well this technique fits even in metal or hardcore music.
A FAMOUS SONG WITH TREMOLO PICKING:
The surf rock version of the song “Misirlou”, from Dick Dale, is probably the greatest example of tremolo picking. The original one is a traditional song from the Eastern Mediterranean area dating back to 1927!
The version of Dick Dale got very popular after appearing in the soundtrack of Pulp Fiction in 1994.
BEST PICK FOR TREMOLO PICKING:
The most influential factors when choosing the best guitar pick for tremolo picking are thickness, material, and grip.
It’s important to have a snappy, responsive guitar pick. For this, medium picks with a medium/pointy tip are my recommendation.
However, there is no consensus in the guitar world for this. Many players have reported preferring thick, rigid picks.
In my case, I have found the best stability and speed using Rombo Origami. This pick can be described as: Flexible but still rigid enough for note control. Right amount of flexibility for a snappy fluid attack that's bright and crisp. The concave surface on the hold area ensures an ergonomic and comfortable hold.
Everyone’s hand is a little different in how they hold the pick and move. The best way to find out is to test different shapes and thicknesses, and then try them out
One very extended technique often performed in the rock, metal, and punk genres is pick slides or pick scrapes.
By holding the edge of the guitar pick against the guitar strings and moving it along the edge, the pick catches the strings’ windings, causing the strings to vibrate and produce a very pleasant textured noise.
Usually, guitar pick slides start near the bridge and end over the higher frets. However, there are countless variations of pick slides depending on the direction, the angle of the pick relative to the strings, and other variables.
Unfortunately, performing pick slides completely ruins the edges of the guitar pick, especially on thinner ones. This won’t directly affect the tone or control of the plectrum, but the damaged sides will develop some dents.
What makes a guitar pick durable? Find our here.
WHY ARE PICK SLIDES IMPORTANT?
Guitar pick slides are not the most relevant aspect of your playing. Nevertheless, a correctly performed slide in the right place will add so much to the moment.
The noisy textures produced by this technique are the perfect weapon of choice for songs using high distortion levels.
A FAMOUS SONG WITH PICK SLIDES:
The first use of the pick slide is attributed to Bo Diddley and can be heard in the opening of his song "Road Runner" from the 60s.
Today, some guitarists have taken this technique to a new level and have created signature variations. A shining example of pick slides from the last years is the metal band Gojira with their famous signature “Gojira-Scrape” that was created by accident and combines several guitar pick techniques
BEST PICK FOR PICK SLIDES:
If you are going to do pick slides frequently, then you need to consider two things:
Otherwise, your guitar picks will be inoperative after a couple of sessions. The dilemma is that most players get better noisy sounds with a medium guitar pick.
I have found a solution that works for me: medium-heavy picks that are large enough to scrape with higher areas of the pick that won’t touch the strings. From our picks, I prefer Rombo Horizon the most for pick slides. Also, the curvy edge creates different pressure on different strings and that’s nice.
Do you know any guitar player who does not like pinch harmonics? I do not either.
Pinch harmonics are created by the picking hand. Playing this technique produces high-pitched tones. This phenomenon occurs when you stop a part of the string vibrations in the right position and create a "node".
There is a simple way to test this; pick a note and apply a small pressure anywhere on the string such that the vibration doesn’t stop completely.
WHY ARE PINCH HARMONICS IMPORTANT?
Pinch harmonics are often related to high gain tones and metal music but they are a powerful tool to add dynamics and textures to any genre of music or type of guitar; electric or acoustic.
It is considered one of the most abstruse techniques for intermediate players. Common problems are pinch harmonics that aren't loud enough or additional noises that make the harmonics not sound clean enough.
Root causes of this problem can be:
the guitar player does not know the right places on the strings to play pinch harmonics
there is unwanted noise coming from unmuted strings
the pinch harmonic is produced isolated, without combining it with other techniques like vibrato.
Most guitar players (including me) played their first pinch harmonic accidentally.
A FAMOUS SONG WITH PINCH HARMONICS:
Guitarist Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top is considered the father of pinch harmonics. Not because he invented them, but because he brought them to the mainstream. Although he is a well-rounded guitarist with a focused skillset based on blues, he is best known for his pinch harmonics.
BEST PICK FOR PINCH HARMONICS:
There is no special pick to do pinch harmonics. The pinch harmonic is technically produced by the thumb of your picking hand.
However, this technique is widely used in lead guitar in combination with other advanced techniques that work especially well with thick, small guitar picks.
Therefore, although you can learn pinch harmonics using thin picks, I recommend using thick picks.
#If you want to learn more about the differences between thin and thick guitar picks read our article "Thick guitar picks vs thin guitar picks".
Palm mute is a very regular technique used by most guitarists. By placing the side of the picking hand on the strings close to the bridge and dampening the guitar strings (when necessary), the strings produce muted sounds.
You can control the dampening effect by moving your hand to a different position further from the bridge.
Although this technique isn't seen as a very difficult one, these are common mistakes that prevent players from learning it properly:
WHY IS PALM MUTE IMPORTANT?
As a guitarist or bassist, you are always on the lookout to make your music sound natural, creative, and exciting.
Palm-muting is a great skill for dynamic control exercises. This means you will automatically learn how to shape your sound using fluctuations in volume and intensity.
With this skill in your repertoire, your music will sound more vocal and dynamic.
A FAMOUS SONG WITH PALM MUTE:
This technique is very old. As old as the invention of the electric guitar (1936). Most classical players have been using it for centuries with all kinds of instruments.
Today, palm muting is widely used in heavy metal, thrash, speed, and death metal. It is often found in music that features distortion effects.
Is there any good song to practice palm muting for getting better at it? “Master of Puppets” from Metallica—it’s a masterclass in palm muting and down picking.
BEST PICK FOR PALM MUTE:
I recommend using a thick guitar pick for this. They provide high volume, a broader dynamic range, and more control over single notes (in case you use palm mute arpeggios). In addition, palm muting is a demanding technique that causes a lot of guitar pick wear. As you might know, thick guitar picks are more durable.
My favorite choice for this technique is Rombo Diamond.
Guitar pick strumming is a way of playing guitar. A strum is a sweeping action where a pick (or finger!) brushes over the guitar strings and generates sounds.
For most guitar players, this is the first technique they learned and the technique that caused most headaches as a beginner.
Learning how to strum correctly takes time and practice. Most beginners lack the necessary muscle memory it takes to play while remaining relaxed or having a good posture.
WHY IS PICK STRUMMING IMPORTANT?
In many ways, understanding this skill is essential for understanding guitar. Great strumming skills mean being a great rhythm guitarist. Therefore, this should be your number one goal as a beginner.
Learning chords is important, but they are just static shapes. The diversity of the hundreds (if not thousands) of strumming patterns available will inject musicality and rhythm into your playing.
A FAMOUS SONG WITH PICK STRUMMING:
“Bad moon rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, is a good place to start. It combines easy chords (D, A, G) with a very simple progression and a very catchy, bluesy melody.
BEST PICK FOR STRUMMING:
My best advice for beginners is to start with a very thin guitar pick. It can help to practice with something below 0.6 that’s nice and bendy. As you improve your skills, you can try with thicker picks, as they will add more bass to your tone.
For all the beginners out there, my best choice would be Rombo Classic.
However, if you are in the very beginning of your guitar journey, please read this article where I explain, why starting with medium guitar picks can be a better choice for you. "Medium Gauge Guitar Picks".
Downpicking or down-stroke picking is a very beloved guitar technique in which the player moves the guitar pick only in a downward motion. The tip of the pick does not brush the strings as the hand moves back to the original position for the next down-stroke.
It is one of the most underrated skills on guitar and although performing this technique might seem easy, the required endurance for long passages with fast tempo is very often a problem even for advanced guitarists.
WHY IS DOWNPICKING IMPORTANT?
But first, why would you want to remove the upstrokes (alternate picking) and then increase the necessary effort for the same number of strokes? Why would you torture your wrist muscles in this way?
This technique is widely used in metal and punk guitar and the main reason is that when mastered, downpicking can make the guitar’s sound very powerful and rhythmic.
A FAMOUS SONG WITH DOWNPICKING:
Famous punk guitarist Johnny Ramone used this technique in the mid-70s in combination with fast tempo (180 to 200 bpm). The technique was very innovative at that time and influenced many current guitarists like James Hetfield who has been regarded as “the King of Downpicking”.
Many beginner guitarists start with songs from Ramones because of their simplicity in terms of chords and lack of tempo variations.
BEST PICK FOR DOWNPICKING:
For downpicking, there is a basic rule: the more mass the guitar pick has, the thicker and more aggressive the sound.
Therefore, a thick, large guitar pick with a pointy tip will be the loudest and most rhythmic one.
I recommend Rombo Diamond.
The interesting thing about hybrid picking is the fact that the player uses a plectrum as well as one or more fingers. This can be done alternately or simultaneously.
Typical styles for this technique are rockabilly guitar, country and bluegrass, and more classical passages with acoustic or classical guitar.
Hybrid picking can be very hard if you are a beginner. Before you think of learning this technique, you will have to learn how to play with your fingers and with a guitar pick. This is a requirement you cannot avoid.
WHY IS HYBRID PICKING IMPORTANT:
Three major arguments should convince you to learn hybrid picking:
The pick is generally used to play bass notes with a longer duration and very noticeable timbral differences caused by variations in the vibration of the strings. Therefore, your playing will sound more interesting combining pick and fingers.
Hybrid picking allows you to pick two to four strings simultaneously. This makes it very different from strumming and gives an approach much more similar to piano techniques.
Managing this technique, you will be able to change between fingerstyle playing and guitar pick playing within the same song or passage.
A FAMOUS SONG WITH HYBRID PICKING:
Hybrid picking was popularized by guitarists like Steve Howe some decades ago. Most players that learn this technique today start with a more classical approach.
A great song to start with this technique is “Amy” by Tommy Emmanuel. However, the complexity of the chords makes this song only possible to play for intermediate and advanced players.
BEST PICK FOR HYBRID PICKING:
There is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” pick for hybrid picking. You can use the pick you think fits the best for the song you are playing.
Because this technique is widely used by rhythm guitarists, there is a consensus that picks around 1 mm will perform well. However, it is up to you to try and decide which one is best for every passage.
Discover more about guitar pick thickness here.
For some reason, sweep picking is the trend. Every guitar forum gets new threads with this topic week after week. Perhaps it’s due to the high speed and visually nice arpeggios that make the guitar produce cyclical sound patterns and put us in a status of trance.
This technique describes the action of playing single notes on consecutive strings using the same motion, either all down-strokes or all upstrokes.
Sweep picking has been recognized as a difficult technique. It is more for advanced players and it can take years to master it.
WHY IS SWEEP PICKING IMPORTANT?
Sweep picking is used by guitarists to play arpeggios at high speed. The phrasing sounds produced by this technique sounds typical of other instruments like the piano.
Although sweep picking is a very important technique for building speed and fluency on string instruments, my advice would be to not learn this technique unless you have mastered other techniques that can give you more versatility.
Sure, it is ok to use sweep picking occasionally but that is not what you are going to play most of the time. In my opinion, a lot of bands overuse this technique. Therefore, you should reflect if the time needed to correctly learn sweep picking could be used for other more relevant skills.
A FAMOUS SONG WITH SWEEP PICKING:
Although often regarded as a “modern guitar technique”, pick sweeping has been around since the 50s. The technique was first used and developed by jazz guitarists.
Today, it is commonly used in metal but many students start with the song “Give Me the Night” by George Benson. Practicing sweep picking with clean tones can help you develop a more accurate technique.
BEST PICK FOR SWEEP PICKING:
What qualities are you looking for in a pick to perform sweep picking? Small and easy to handle, good maneuverability and stability, and good string separation. This means: Thick, pointy guitar picks like Jade or Horizon.
However, I have a bonus for you: We have received some E-Mails from professional guitarists using Rombo Prisma for their sweeping techniques, a pick that wasn’t developed for this. However, its sharp tip, combined with a very large, beveled edge, and the total “mass” of the pick (variable thickness), makes this pick a great candidate for bright tonal sweep picking solos.
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by Carlos Diez Macia