Virtuoso Guitar Techniques

Guitar techniques make it easier to play quickly and efficiently. Virtuoso guitarists have complete control over their instruments. They know the right approach for each situation and can switch rapidly and seamlessly between several different techniques. To become a virtuoso, you must first master the traditional method of guitar playing, then learn to play the advanced techniques comfortably. Any serious guitarist must learn virtuoso techniques to play at a high level.

Alternate Picking

The typical guitarist will play the guitar using only downstrokes or upstrokes. This is perfectly normal and an acceptable way of playing. Virtuoso players also know how to quickly alternate the stroke, using a mixture of down- and upstrokes. This technique allows players to perform exceptionally quickly since they don’t have to wait for their arm to return to the original starting position. To perform this accurately, you should use the tip of the pick to increase your speed. Start slow and gradually begin to increase your speed. A good rule of thumb for increasing speed is to use a metronome and increase the speed by one tick per day. At the end of the week, drop down 4 ticks, and continue the process. In this way, you will continue to build speed and accuracy. Timing is important, so you should always use a metronome. 

String Skipping

String skipping produces a sound that utilizes the individual qualities of each string to play a melody over a wide interval range quickly. For instance, the lowest and thickest strings on the guitar have a darker quality, while the higher strings have a light and thin quality. By skipping between strings, the guitarist gains the characteristics of each string in a single melody and dramatically increases the distance between pitches. This technique creates large melodic leaps in the melody, since moving from one string to the next creates a significant change in pitch. Without the string-skipping technique, the guitarist would have to jump from one end of a string to the other. However, it's also important to be able to play a piece on one string as much as possible. Skipping between different strings may change the timbre, making the piece seem less coherent. Knowing when to artfully apply a string skipping technique is essential to mastering your instrument. 

Sweep Picking

Sweep picking is similar to strumming on the guitar, but it allows the guitarists to play sections extremely quickly. The technique requires the guitarist to be able to use both hands equally well. Unlike strumming, with sweep picking, you want to make each note clearly heard. In a strumming technique, one hand will firmly hold down the strummed pitches, creating a blurred effect. With sweep picking, you still hold down the pitches, but you must immediately let go of each pitch when articulated. This establishes the independence of each pitch and allows all of the notes to sound clear. Again, it's critical to use a metronome for any new technique that requires agility. You will gain better control over your fingers by playing in time with a metronome. Slower is always better at first. 

Economy Picking

Economy picking uses a mixture of alternate and sweep picking to play even faster than with either technique by itself. With alternate picking, the hands move up and down regardless of the string. Economy picking uses a single string, which gradually changes timbre as you move along the string. One possibility for economy picking requires the guitarist to use the alternate picking technique as long as the music stays on one string. The moment they switch to another string, they switch to sweep picking, then continue with alternate picking.

While you can often learn to play guitar without an instructor, your instructor can help guide you and ensure you aren't making mistakes with your technique. Once you learn a technique incorrectly, it becomes more difficult to correct.


“Guitar Techniques”; Michael Mueller; 2008

Guitar Techniques


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