I would like to discuss a very serious epidemic that is sweeping the guitar community and has done so for a long time now. An affliction so foul in nature, so malicious in intent, so voracious in appetite and far reaching in magnitude, that I hardly dare let it fall from my tongue. Alas though, I shall impart what I have learned of it’s loathsome essence to the one or two of you who faithfully follow this column ... okay, the one of you who faithfully follows this column.
I submit for your careful consideration the diabolical GIFO disease. Many Bothans died to bring us this information.
Let me explain further.
Throughout my travels, I have encountered many styles and methods for picking. Some involved using an axe to extract ore from the earth. Some involved using a finger to extract ore from a nose. But since we’re talking about guitar here, I’ll stay on topic.
Picking is one of the topics I’m asked to address on a fairly frequent basis. Many guys work extra hard on their picking and I believe there may be some compensation going on here, but alas, that discussion is for another time and column.
Sadly, though, picking is also one of the primary targets for the dreaded GIFO disease. Now, I have had the good fortune to play with some of the best guitarists alive and had a chance to sit and inspect their various ninja techniques in close proximity.
Marty Friedman mesmerized me with his uncanny ability to wrap his arm around the guitar in some crazy unnatural feat of deviant gymnastics that somehow reminds me of that bird stance at the end of the first Karate Kid movie. But when he let loose with the picking, people within a five-mile radius went spontaneously sterile. Paul Gilbert maneuvered his wrist as deftly as a ninja whipping shuriken into the hearts of his unlucky enemies. I found out later that a passionate pastime of his is online chess, and the deft motions of his wrist began to make more sense. That is another story entirely, however. The real question is, did the audience spontaneously lose control of various bodily functions from the sheer intensity of his picking onslaught? Let’s just say the janitorial staff was busy for days. And subsequently had to burn their outfits when finished.
The list goes on and on, and includes many personal friends whom you may not have heard of, but who pick at the same level as the famous guys. I’ve seen people anchor three fingers to the face of the guitar, people use their entire arms (cough … some guy named Terry … cough), people use the wrist, and even something I’ve affectionately nicknamed “bunny picking,” in which the guitarist holds the pick daintily between the thumb and index finger and moves the first joint of each rapidly. When done quickly and properly, it looks like a rabbit sniffing its own poop.
The point is—and perhaps this will be good news for many of you—they all work.
Don’t let anyone tell you that there is one way to pick. It’s a very individual thing. And I’ve seen many styles work. And work very well. So, the real problem is not how you pick. The real problem comes in the form of the dreaded GIFO disease.
During my little stay of four years at the Berklee College of Music, I saw the black tendrils of the horrible GIFO disease snake their way across campus and into the unsuspecting hearts of the guitar population. It went something like this....
Let’s use a made up name to protect the innocent, shall we? We’ll call him Skippy McFarlane. Now, one day I encounter Skippy in one of the hallowed halls of Berklee. “How’s the picking going?” I ask.
“Well,” replies Skippy excitedly, “I’ve got it figured out! I saw Yngwie play and he used his wrist. So, that’s what I’m going to do, too. Yay!” I simply smile and nod. And help him adjust his crash helmet a bit, then go on my way.
A day later, I see our friend Skippy in the cafeteria. “Hey, how’s it coming along speed racer?” I ask.
“Well,” he begins, looking somewhat downtrodden. “It wasn’t working.”
“Ah,” I nod sympathetically.
"But,” he continues, his former exuberance spreading like the sun emerging from behind the clouds, “I saw Michael Angelo Batio pick and he uses three fingers anchored on the face of his guitar! That’s what I’m going to do. I got it figured out—yay!”
I smile and nod.
Three days later, I encounter our friend again. “Hey!” he says excitedly, “I scrapped the Batio picking, but I got it figured out! I saw Steve Morse pick with his fingers in a circular way using a rotation of the parallel axis of the diametric conjecture based on the pitch and yaw coordinates of a four-dimensional hypercube. Yay!”
I stare blankly at Skippy, wondering how he learned so much about theoretical physics. But also, because I know that the dreaded GIFO disease has firmly taken hold of him. Bless his little crash helmet.
Got It Figured Out.
So, you will see the sad pattern here as our friend Skippy became dreadfully afflicted with the deadly GIFO disease. Perhaps you may know friends or even teachers who are horribly sick with the GIFO, as well, and want to spread it to you. Remember, there is no right way or wrong way. It’s very individual and what works for Paul Gilbert, doesn’t necessarily work for you (incidentally, he has magic hands made from unicorn poop and rainbows). The trick is, don’t run from thing to thing like a dog in a room full of fire hydrants. Find something that is basically comfortable and stick with it. Have patience. GIFO is bad.
That said, I must give you something this month besides the valuable advice on GIFO. So, since we’re discussing picking, once I moved past the GIFO stage, I divided my picking practices into three main categories, based on various feels and challenges each created for me. Let’s explore one category this month.
Fig. 1 is great practice for flat out speed. It emulates tremolo picking on a single string, but with the added coordination of using your left hand. That’s the important part. I find that just doing a tremolo on an open string can get your right hand moving fast, but when you try to use it in some kind of musical way, the fretboard hand has a really hard time catching up. The whole thing can sound like a moose with a colon problem.
For example, do this: start humming. Push your lips out in your best Mick Jagger pout face. Keep humming and bring your index finger up to your lips, rubbing it quickly and vigorously up and down.
Interesting sound, eh? Imagine talking to someone this way. Someone asks you a question and you do the flicky lip thing. “BAWABAWABABAWABAWABABA!”
That’s pretty much equivalent to the sound made by someone having a really fast right hand and no synchronization with the other hand. I mean, hey, if you’ve devoted your life to black metal, then maybe you can stick with the open-string tremolo as your practice weapon of choice. But you have to promise me you’ll do the lip thing at some point in your set each night, covered in corpse paint. And film it. And send me the YouTube link.
Here’s another example (Fig. 2).
Remember, the picking hand does not flail. Both hands must work in unison and be equally as fast and agile. The single-string practice is great for this because we eliminate all other stuff, such as crossing strings, and simplify the motion of just going up and down with the pick. Because of this, I’ve found I can usually bump single-string exercises up a bit in speed as related to other multi-string exercises.
Good luck with this stuff. Hopefully this helps take away some of the mystery around picking. Most of all, though, don’t GIFO!
Oh, and because I love you, I’ve included a jam track entitled “Attack of the GIFO in A Minor,” so you can unleash the fury of your black-hearted, single-string debauchery upon a canvas of metallic glory.
Terry Syrek has been teaching guitar for over 25 years and is a senior faculty member of the National Guitar Workshop. He is the author of Shred Is Not Dead and continues to punish all comers with a combination of blistering speed, over-the-top distortion, and boyish charm. For more information, visit terrysyrek.com.