I’ve been working on my down picking technique a lot lately and I just can’t figure out why I have to work harder than other guys on this. I can easily play all those alternate picking, sweeping, tapping, etc. licks but fast down picking I have trouble with. It’s weird because I can alternate pick a note let’s say 220 BPM (Beats Per Minute) 16th notes but I can’t down pick 8th notes at the same tempo without some struggling. I am trying to relax my picking hand as much as I can. Also, to let you know, I hold my pick a bit different than other guitarists. I hold it with my thumb, index and middle like Steve Morse as I just find it easier this way but maybe this plays a factor in down picking? Did you ever specifically practice this or did this just come more naturally to you? Also, how much do you stress down picking? I know players like Mustaine, Hetfield and all those guys do. I read in a Guitar World that Devin Townsend had some trouble with this too so I don’t feel so bad now. Haha!
Down Picking Doom Rider
Dear Down Picking Doom Rider,
Down picking is probably the most important thing I learned how to do well when I was learning the guitar. It’s your wrist technique (or the way you pick) that affects your overall tone. I don’t care how many sick amps you try out, if you have a weak or soft wrist your shit is never going to sound thrashtastic! To me, if down picking is the holy grail of guitar skills than James Hetfield of Metallica is Jesus! He is my number one guitar idol when it comes to rhythm playing. Dimebag was sick and much respect, but no one lays the riffs down like the HET! I spent many a day researching and practicing Hetfield’s style, and I believe it is the reason why the guitars on the first 4 or 5 Metallica records are so crushing!
When I hold a pick I use my thumb and pointer finger bent with the rest of my fingers fist closed. This is how I learned to riff from my first and only guitar teacher. It always seemed normal and felt comfortable and it never even occurred to me to hold the pick different until I saw Marty Friedman play guitar for Megadeath. Check out this video of this dude, because he holds the pick in the most unusual way, and no one will argue that that mother fucker can riff with the best of em’. Unfortunately, Mr. Friedman is the exception not the rule. MOST instructional DVDs and clinics I have studied, on heavy metal guitar playing, all suggest to hold the pick the way I was taught. My first suggestion is to try holding the pick this way or the way James Hetfield does. Maybe this will make it easier, maybe not. I think a lot of playing guitar is about being comfortable with your technique, and you have to be willing and able to trust your first instinct.
Down picking hard, consistent, and fast are all things that I have had, and still have, to work many hours on perfecting. The ability to do it with ease comes form one thing, repetition. You have to keep playing all the time to build up those muscles. The best advice I can give to someone who wants to play something really well, really fast, is to perfect playing it SLOW first. So, I would say slow those BPM’s down and start practicing down picking consistently and evenly. If you’re looking for a fun way to learn try downloading some Metallica tabs and jamming along. I suggest the song Master of Puppets or Am I Evil (the Diamond Head cover). I must have played both these songs a million times. Like I said when it comes to down picking Hetfield is Jesus, and nobody fucks with the Jesus!