Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Guitar Technique: Remember the Fine Art of Down-Picking

I did a post awhile back extolling the virtues of alternate picking (striking the string with your pick both on the down stroke and upstroke) as a technique you can't do without. Then, I ran across an article by Dave Mustaine in the February Guitar World pointing out that many of today’s players overlook the art of down-picking. Hmmm.

I have focused almost solely on alternate picking in my practice routine. But, if anyone would know about picking technique, Dave Mustaine, one of the pioneers of thrash and speed metal would, so I decided to give it a try.

I used the intro for Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” as an experiment. I had been using alternate picking for it and though I had tweaked all the elements of my signal chain I was still not satisfied with how it sounded. It just did not have the authority I hear in the recorded version. With down-picking I found an immediate improvement both in punch as well as consistency, I’m into this! So, why did this work so well?

When it came to the improvement in punch I think it goes back to the adage that the most important part of your signal chain is the guitar itself. So, what would have more influence on the tone than the pick attack? Seems reasonable.

As to consistency, I think that improvement came simply because down-picking is the best pick technique for that particular intro. By attempting to emulate the tone using the wrong technique I ended up struggling at speed and running off the rails.

What this experience shows me is that while alternate picking is still an essential tool, I just need more tools for the toolbox! Continuing to add to the toolbox really helps us latecomers to the hobby make up for lost time.

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Gary said...

It always depends on the kind of tune, the style you are actually playing, whether it's best to use down strokes exclusively, or alternate picking.
Although I prefer the first (best for funky rhythms, rhythmically complicated lines etc.), and deem it an indispensable tool to keep the timing, I came to learn the advantages of down strokes. Main thing is, as you mentioned, consistency. If you are playing anything like punk or metal, it's the only way to go!

VintageP said...

I think when I learned the concept of alternate picking I was under the mistaken impression that anything else was poor technique. This just reinforces the notion of reading what the experts have to say!

Ryan said...

This is interesting stuff. So, I've been a rhythm player all of my life but I would really like to start learning lead. What's the best place to start?

VintageP said...

Thanks for visiting! I’ve only played for a couple years at this point but interest in folks like Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page and learning lead was my motivator. My instructor focused me on learning the scales (Pentatonic and Diatonic) and outlined enough theory (this is still my biggest challenge) so I could understand the mechanics of how to play on top of chord sequences for various styles of music. I then work on learning songs from various artists, which turns out to be a treasure trove of technique to add to the toolbox. He then had me work on improvisation against backing tracks in each practice session. The one I use is “Let’s Jam”.

I think Jimi Hendrix was one of the best rhythm players ever and much of my exploration lately has been trying to learn rhythm by referencing tunes such as Little Wing and Bold as Love.

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