Now let’s move onto chords. Make sure to apply the same principles: PPR. Frame each chord in Ex. 3 before you play it, mentally and physically. Visualize it and then make the chord in the air. Air guitar that sucker! Then touch the strings before you play the chord, push down to play the chord and release the pressure without leaving contact with the strings. To increase chord accuracy and speed, practice dropping your hand all the way off of the fretboard, visualizing the chord and building it in the air while your arm travels to the guitar, then PPR as usual.

The next aspect we’ll look at is pick movement. Prepare the hand by getting the pick just above the string you want to play. Play the note by plucking the string, then relax the arm, wrist, and hand—without dropping your hand—and get ready to prepare to play the next note.

Remember that because the guitar’s strings are all in a single (virtually) flat plane, in order to pick a note you have to start above a string, pass down into the plane of the strings, pluck the string, and then pull up and out of the plane of the strings to cross over to another string. So basically, unless you’re sweep picking a passage, every stroke makes a little U shape.

There are three basic areas to focus on when it comes to picking: the elbow, wrist, and fingers. Consider each one of these as you play through Ex. 4.

Elbow: The elbow has limited utility for picking because it’s so big and clumsy. But it can be useful for strumming and big gestures. (Pete Townshend, anyone?)

Wrist: The wrist is the main instrument for picking. You’ll need to decide whether or not you prefer to plant your wrist on the bridge. A floating wrist—à la Jim Hall or Barney Kessel—makes a nice sound, but sacrifices speed and dynamics. Since there’s no anchor for the wrist, you can move your hand around and get all kinds of tones, but when you want to play loud or pluck hard, you can only go so far before your hand wants to go flying off in the direction you are picking. By contrast, a planted wrist like Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, and Pat Martino, gives you speed and dynamics but sacrifices some tonal variety. Some players compromise by lightly planting on the low strings or planting fingers on the top near the high strings.

Fingers: You can use the fingers only to move your pick through the strings. That gives speed but not a lot of power. Hold the pick between two or three fingers—sort of like holding a pen—and actually use the fingers to move the pick through the strings.

Experiment making the U shape while focusing individually on the elbow, wrist, and fingers. Then observe how they work together.


Our final exercise (Ex. 5) covers string crossing. This is a huge issue. In general, alternate picking is the most versatile approach to skipping strings and playing arpeggios. That does not mean it’s the best, but it is the most basic and applicable to many different styles of music. However—and this is an important point—bebop guitar styles, bluegrass guitar styles, and many other traditional guitar styles often use a pick drag over two strings and that can really make certain kinds of lines easier to play. You will always have a little hiccup when dragging the pick over one or two strings. That hiccup is really cool in some styles, not so much in others.