The idea that virtuoso players can play “anything” without really thinking about it is a fantasy. It’s a question of what your pick model can handle. Once you accept this reality, you can start to make the music you want to make, without worrying that you don’t have enough technique to do it.

What about all the guitarists you’ve interviewed? Is there something that ties them all together, that even they might not realize?

The concept of a pick model is what ties them together. I know this is a bit like saying the concept of gravity is what ties everyone together on planet earth, but it’s true. Even non-shredders have movements which are comfortable for them based on their default hand position and which are therefore commonplace in their playing. Many of the clichés of modern rock guitar exist because they fit neatly into one or more common pick models, and not because of anything inherently musical about the licks. That unison bend that everyone plays on the top two strings of the box position blues scale, that’s one of them.

Your website has some interesting words about metronome usage and practicing. How do you view a metronome’s effectiveness in improving a guitarist’s speed?

You shouldn’t expect a metronome to tell you how to maneuver the pick any more than you should expect a speedometer to tell you how to steer. But both are useful tools in telling you how fast you can take the next turn without wiping out, and both can help you gauge your progress in practice situations. There’s no question that you should develop cleanliness and efficiency before speed, and in the context of the film, metronome usage takes an interesting twist. Some of the techniques you see under the shredcam are actually difficult to play slowly, because they rely on momentum. So metronome usage can help in simulating what happens at high speed.

Troy GradyMost practice is a memorization exercise – it’s not an athletic workout, you’re not supposed to “feel the burn” like you do at the gym, that’s different. In fact it’s dangerous, and can lead to tendonitis if you’re not careful. In musical practice, when you’re learning new motions, you’re teaching the brain a new way of organization, and to do this correctly, the frequency of repetitions, and the exactitude of those repetitions, matters most. You need to repeat something soon enough after the last repetition – a matter of seconds, typically – and you need to repeat it enough times. And you need some way of certifying that you’re playing it exactly the same way every time. Marking the relevant hand motions to different time divisions on a metronome or drum machine is a good way to do this when the tempo you’re practicing at might not be fast enough to supply the necessary momentum.

The fact that many important pick motions happen only at high speed is also why, when it comes to some of the more esoteric ones, the players themselves are only partially aware of them. Every guy I’ve filmed so far has had some lick he plays where he doesn’t exactly know what’s going on, and we have to film it to find out. Each time, it’s like, hurry, get it quick before I forget what it is. I know from my own playing that if you stop me mid-sequence and ask me what I just played, or what pickstroke I used, I very often cannot tell you. And this is me, the guy with the film, and I’m supposed to be the expert on this stuff.

“...many important pick motions happen only at high speed...”

When can we expect this documentary to hit the streets? What’s after that?

I would love to get this done in the next six months, but let’s just say 2007, to be conservative. Readers in search of more granular updates on the film’s progress can sign up for the mailing list on my site.

There’s been a fair amount of interest from the community on the instructional side, and a few music schools have even gotten in touch. But I’m wary of milking the concept, so I’ll only do an instructional if there’s significant interest. I’d love to get past the mechanics and into the creative zone, write some songs and get a band thing going. I’ve also considered putting together a concert with some of the guys in the film. I am in New York after all. Other than that, I would like to use my vast analytical abilities to explain why Ginsu knives never need resharpening and to quantify just how much quicker of a picker-upper Bounty is.

Troy Grady
Cracking the Code