Picking Technique 

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Jazz Guitar Technique
Andrew Green
Paperback: 112 pages
Publisher: Microphonic Press
ISBN: 0-9700576-1-X

The interesting thing about picking is that there are different ways of doing it. George Benson has a different technique than Pat Martino. Wes Montgomery uses a different technique than John Scofield. There are no hard and fast rules about how to pick effectively, even if certain techniques have staunch advocates.

In figuring out what works best for you there are a few options to consider: Most players use a heavy pick to get more control, as there is less movement of the pick itself. The size of the pick is based on what is comfortable.

The physical motion of picking is accomplished in one of three ways:
Moving the fingers that hold the pick
Moving the wrist
Moving the forearm from the elbow

I suggest trying all three, and eventually they will all come into play, depending on what musical idea you are playing. Try playing the same phrase each way. It could even be just one note repeated. I think that for most people, moving the fingers is more difficult than the wrist or elbow. With practice however, it is very economical motion when playing something that covers from one to three strings across the neck. The wrist is usually involved to some degree, particularly when accenting. As you move across more strings, the elbow naturally becomes involved (all of these parts are connected after all).

The next issue is up stroke/down stroke. Again, there isn’t one way that works for all people. Try both alternate up/down and all up or all down strokes (sweep picking) when playing one note per string. There are successful players that advocate always moving in the direction of the next string you are going to play (i.e., moving from a lower string to a higher string would always be a down stroke, and vice versa). You may end up with a combination of techniques depending on the idea that you are trying to execute.

I think it is a safe generalization to make that playing ideas that involve one note per string are more difficult than ideas with multiple notes per string. There are those who advocate never playing one-note-per-string ideas. This means limiting your creativity and, as a student of mine put it, letting the guitar play you.

Rather than limit your ideas, expand your technique. Play the thing that is difficult every day. If someone told you to play the exercise below in your first lesson, it would be no big deal after you had been playing for a while.

Practice this exercise with a metronome at a slow tempo, which necessitates control. It also lets your body know when to play a note. Each note should ring until the next note is struck, but the notes should not sound simultaneously. Practice this every day as a warm up, and after a while (it doesn’t matter how long, unless you’re in a race) it will feel natural and you will have the option of using this newfound ability in your improvisations.