The Nitty-Gritty Guide To Practicing Technique

We talked already about the high-level ideals of Badass Practice:

  • pick discrete tasks that you can get to 95% mastered in just a few sessions
  • avoid the pile-up of half-assed skills.

But I want to drill down a little further and have a granular look at how to approach these examples.

Start Big, Get Small

When you start out with these, I encourage you to make big, exaggerated motions.

Slant that pick a whole bunch. Plow into that next string, taking full advantage of the rest stroke. Get way above the plane of the strings when your pick stroke frees you.

It’ll help you stay relaxed and ingrain the basic idea.

But as you refine the mechanics for these, experiment with how much angle (or what-have-you) is really necessary—it’s usually less than you think.

The Gold Standard


The best way is to practice inside your DAW—GarageBand, ProTools, Studio One, etc.

Personally I use Ableton Live 9, but any halfway decent DAW will work. You’ll also need a way to get sound into your computer (phone, iPad, whatever). Sound quality is unimportant, so go with whatever’s cheap and easy to set up—even if it’s just your earbuds & the built-in mic.

The Process:

  1. Fire up your DAW, plug stuff in, etc.
  2. Turn the click on.
  3. Enable loop recording/playback.
  4. Record yourself playing the example.
  5. Play it back, and notice the transients that land ahead or behind the beat.
  6. Repeat steps 4 & 5, over and over.

You’re using your vision to improve your hearing.

(For a more detailed break down of how to do this, check out Metronome Boot Camp Day 15.)


How Much Time Should You Spend On This?

Let’s assume that picking technique is a bottleneck that’s holding back your progress elsewhere. So it probably makes sense to focus on this before anything else.

Consider this a sprint—everything else is on hold while you do this, for as much time as you have each day.

How many examples should you work through?

As many as you can get to 95% mastered in the time you have available.

(But don’t injure yourself! If it hurts, take a break or stop for the day. Your body will adapt over time, but not if you’re injured.)

But after that? After the big sprint is done, when technique is no longer your biggest bottleneck?

Well, I’m with Kelly Starrett:

You should have a movement practice.

Kelly means it in the general physical fitness sense—that you should do some sort of stretching, yoga, tai chi, or mobility work each and every day.

These picking exercises are the same way. After the initial burst of activity as you reprogram your hands (and ears), you should treat these as something you do for 5 to 25 minutes each day to keep your hands tuned up.

You’ll probably need to adapt them to make them more challenging and/or relevant to the music you’re working on.

Speaking of which…

It’s So Easy

Are you feeling like these examples are too easy?

First things first, double check how well you’re playing them.

We are striving for a stupidly high standard of perfection. When we say “95% mastered,” we don’t mean “hey, your mom thinks you’re doing a swell job!”

No, we mean: absofreakinglutely perfect, 95% of the time.

No flubbed notes, of course, but you’re also adhering to the prescribed picking directions. Your hands are relaxed. Your tone is solid. No extraneous ringing strings. Your time and feel are inspiring small children to do happy little dances. Perfect.

Ok, so you have all that down, but it’s still too easy? No problem.

Just Make It Harder

Most people assume that “just make it harder” means trying to play it faster. But don’t change the tempo just yet.

If the example is written as eighth notes, try to play it with quarter notes (without rushing, of course).

Sixteenth notes?

Sixteenth note triplets?

(You’ll probably have to slow down the metronome to get some of these.)

(If your feel is shaky when you first enter, try singing or beatboxing the division first.)

Ok, now how about alternating between these in real time?

Keep your ears on your feel—even when you’re playing a variant that stretches across the beat, there’s some note that lands on the pulse.

Does it still hit right on, or is your feel off?

Can you play it with different dynamics?

Rolls Rolls Rolls Your Boat

I’ve written theses exercises to avoid consecutive notes that are at the same fret/different string. Mostly because I want you to be able to focus on your picking hand.

But out there in the real world, there are all sorts of sounds you’re going to want that require these moves.

So take some of these examples and alter a note or two.

Make this…

…into this…

…and practice it with both fingertip rolls and displaced fingers.

Get It Together

Another good way to create new, more challenging exercises from these examples is to squish two or more together.

Once you’ve dialed in this…

…and this…

…combine them and practice them together:

Something People Get Wrong

If you’re an electric player, you should be practicing plugged in. With a clean tone. It’s way too easy to lie to yourself otherwise.

(Although maybe you should turn the dirt on once in a while just to make sure your muting technique is on point.)

Ok, that’s plenty to think about for now. Let’s get to it. See you in there.