Old school picking drills from Rusty Cooley

This month we’re going to take a look at what I consider to be some old-school picking drills. I developed these exercises when I was studying how Paul Gilbert, Vinnie Moore, and Shawn Lane approached the guitar.

All of the examples in this column are in the key of C# natural minor (C#–D#–E–F#– G#–A–B) and played with strict alternate picking. I have narrowed each example to only two strings because most guitar players start running into problems when more strings are involved. We are breaking everything down to its smallest component and mastering it from the inside out, so to speak. In other words, once you master these examples, adding other strings will be much easier.

Here are a few pointers:
  • Make sure you grip the pick close to the tip
  • Don’t move any of the joints in your thumb or fingers
  • All of the motion should be with your wrist. However, this will vary a little bit from player to player. For instance, I use a little elbow at times. I have watched all of the fastest pickers and they each do it differently, so don’t get hung up on this.
  • The pick should only dig in the actual depth of each string
  • Only move enough to cross from one side of the string to the other. Speed comes through economy of motion.
I use a kitchen timer and practice each example for five minutes a day. The idea is to have a set amount of non-stop repetition. The key factor in increasing speed is to find the top speed that you can play each example cleanly, and then push it until it starts to fall apart. When it starts to fall apart, back off to a more comfortable tempo and then push it again. It’s the constant pushing and pulling that will help you break through to new top speeds, while maintaining overall control of your picking. It’s better to have an overabundance of technique than to be lacking it, because a well-developed technique will always be there when you need it.

Each example is pretty simple to learn, as they’re all composed of sixteenth-note triplets. A few of them have odd groupings, especially the last two. The last one is groups of 6 and 7 and because of this, each time you start over the picking flips, so watch out for that.

Okay, until next time, keep shredding. If you have any questions, email them to rusty@rustycooley.com. Also, you can check out my new band at www.myspace.com/dayofreckoningmetal, and join my official forum at http://forum.rustycooley.com/.

Rusty Cooley

Rusty Cooley has been playing and teaching for over 20 years and has recorded as a solo artist, with his band Outworld, and keyboardist Derek Sherinian. He has six instructional DVDs and a signature model 7-string, the Dean RC7. Visit Rusty online at rustycooley.com.
Photo by cottonbro



  • Demonstrate a variety of drone guitar techniques and approaches.
  • Examine drone points of reference from an array of genres.
  • Learn how to use standard, drop D, and uncommon alternate tunings in drone contexts.

Playing a melody or solo with a “drone” means playing over just one note or, in some instances, one chord. Besides playing without any harmonic accompaniment, it is about as simple a concept as one can image, which also means the possibilities are endless. We’ll look at ways to use drones in a variety of contexts, from ancient to contemporary, blues to metal, traditional to experimental.

Read MoreShow less

See a sampling of picks used by famous guitarists over the years.

Marty Stuart

Submit your own artist pick collections to rebecca@premierguitar.com for inclusion in a future gallery.

How does a legacy artist stay on top of his game? The pianist, hit singer-songwriter, producer, and composer talks about the importance of musical growth and positive affirmation; his love for angular melodicism; playing jazz, pop, classical, bluegrass, jam, and soundtrack music; and collaborating with his favorite guitarists, including Pat Metheny and Jerry Garcia.

Read MoreShow less