To celebrate the upcoming release of “ Shred Guitar Made Easy: Tricks, Hacks, and Strategies to Master Guitar Shredding ” we’ve put together some great lessons giving you killer shred guitar tips and tricks.
In this lesson you’ll learn some cool-sounding, fancy-looking (but deceptively easy) patterns that anyone can learn, and then find out how to use them on-the-spot in any song you like – giving you the freedom to shred all over the neck with minimal practice.
You see, there’s no need to do millions of repetitions of licks and exercises to a metronome.
Sure, it can be helpful, and it certainly gets results, but there’s one problem with it.
Really, really boring.
On TomGuitar we’ve covered how to make endless repetition really fun, but this lesson is different.
This is about how to remove the need for it altogether, and learn how to shred using easy techniques that sound and look great, but don’t require a lot of practice.
In this free lesson we’re gonna cover some easy “building blocks” that you can master fast, before combining them to create some really cool and fast patterns.
Let’s get started!
Click Here to grab the audio and PDF tabs for the shred licks in this lesson.
“Shredding” on guitar looks and sounds complex, but is deceivingly simple.
When you play slow, you can add lots of ornaments and extra “stuff” to create interest.
Great players do this all the time; it’s why you could give Stevie Ray Vaughan and Steve Vai the same lick, and get two completely different phrases.
The faster you play, the less of these you can fit in. There isn’t any time for the extra crap, so it gets thrown out the window and you’re left with a “skeleton” of just the notes themselves.
All the little blues bends and subtle whammy bar vibrato is removed, because you’d struggle to do it all in the middle of a high-speed run.*
Even the notes are simpler, with most fast guitar players sticking to repeating patterns and straight scale runs.
* This stuff is still there in shred songs, but it’s between the fast runs and licks, not right in the middle of them.
This doesn’t really matter as far as sound is concerned, though. The notes go by so quickly that you don’t need the extra stuff, because you wouldn’t really hear it anyway.
What this does mean, however, is that the licks played in shred are pretty easy.
They’re made up of straight up-and-down scale runs or sequences that anyone can quickly learn.
There aren’t any ornaments or subtle variations to worry about; you can just get on with playing the notes!
So why is shred “difficult”? Why can’t everyone learn it as easily as their first few chords?
The problem is speed. These patterns are simpler because they need to be ; otherwise it’d be damn near impossible to get them up to tempo.
If you approach these lightning-fast licks the same way as you would anything else, and go right in and play them without any preparation, you’re gonna struggle.
You’ll end up like I was for many years – a frustrated, struggling guitar player.
So what do you do instead?
Well, there are three options:
In this free lesson we’re gonna focus on number 2.
There are a number of challenges that occur in “normal” shred runs. These depend on the technique you’re using. For example, let’s take this alternate picking lick (the picking is just down-up-down-up-down-up):
At “normal” speeds it’s really easy to play. However, the speed is the problem. When you increase the tempo there are a few key challenges:
1) String changes. Switching strings with alternate picking can be difficult at high speeds, because the pick has to move much further than it does for the other notes.
Unless you do hours and hours of repetition, you’ll have trouble doing this accurately. (There are other solutions like Troy Grady’s pick-slanting – which I do recommend – but they still require lots of practice to do well)
2) Synchronisation. This refers to the “match” between your left and right hands.
You have to make sure your picking is perfectly in time with your fretting, otherwise you’ll just get a bunch of scratchy noise rather than nice, clear notes.
This only tends to become an issue if you’re picking more than 4-5 notes in a row (like in a repeating pattern or run), because before that the hands haven’t had any time to drift apart.
They tend to start in time with each other, and lose sync when you keep playing.
Another common way to play things on guitar is using legato technique, or “hammer-ons and pull-offs”. See this lesson if you’ve never done it before.
Here is an example legato lick:
Once again, there are a few key challenges at high speed:
1) Volume. Unless you practice legato a lot, it’s difficult to keep up the volume when doing lots of hammer-ons and pull-offs in a row. The problem is even worse on an acoustic.
2) Hammering on to new strings . The first note on the B string (on the 13th fret) is hammered on rather than picked, to make the run sound smoother and stay consistent with the flowing, legato sound. Getting it accurate can take months of practice.
So picking has its challenges, and so does legato. Most people just “deal with it” and practice more, but if we eliminate the challenges then we’ll get faster results.
How do we do this?
Take a look at this:
We’ve combined legato and picking.
Combining techniques makes everything easier. That’s what we’ve done here; and guess what?
The challenges of legato and picking we discussed earlier are almost completely gone.
String changes with the pick aren’t an issue anymore because we have three pull-offs before each one, so you have plenty of time to move your pick to the new string.
Synchronisation is also much easier because now, you only have to pick four notes in a row – like a little “burst”.
You have a little break from picking to regroup, so you can go straight back in with perfect synchronisation again. You never pick for long enough for your hands to go out of sync.
Volume of your legato won’t be a problem, because you’re only doing two pull-offs in a row before you get to pick again.
Before the volume gets a chance to drop off, you’re straight back into picking.
Hammering on to new strings isn't a challenge because every new string starts on a pick-stroke!
See how much easier we’ve made it?
We’ve combined two approaches to remove the shortcomings of each – giving us a super-easy way to play fast music.
It also sounds great - the combination of techniques creates a unique effect and makes the lick more interesting to the listener.
Note – if you are going to learn this, learn one string at a time! Break down the challenge. Then put it all together afterwards.
You’ll notice something about that lick; the first note of every six is accented:
When you play fast, the notes go by so quickly that the brain can’t keep track of each one; instead, it has to think in larger “chunks” of 3-6 notes that are easier to process.
It’s like talking – you don’t think about every movement you make with your mouth, because the sounds go by too quickly.
Instead, you focus on words and phrases. These are pre-learned “chunks” of movement that you can repeat without much thought.
By accenting that first note (playing it slightly louder than the rest), you’re telling your brain that it’s the beginning of a new chunk.
After a bit of practice it’ll become second nature and you won’t have to think about every note – you’ll just focus on the first note in each group and the rest will happen automatically.
Now it’s time for the fun bit!
We’re gonna use this stuff to create some great little licks you can use to blaze around the neck. They all use the principle of combining techniques to remove challenges, so that you can master them fast.
They’re all tabbed out in A minor, so you can combine them freely and then shift everything up/down the neck to go to different keys.
Click Here to grab the audio and PDF tabs for the licks.
If you're wondering HOW to practice these licks, check out this lesson
We'll start with this "building block":
Picking the first note three times not only makes this really easy, it also sounds really intense and powerful.
Noodle around with it until you master it, and then try this:
We’ve extended it across two strings. Easy, and it sounds great when you speed it up!
You can move that pattern to anywhere on the fretboard, too. As long as it’s in key it’ll sound great.
Here it is played across three strings higher up the neck:
You could even take it across all six if you like – be creative, and have fun with it!
You don’t have to stay in one position, either. Here’s an example of how you can move it down the neck:
It looks and sounds crazy, but it’s easy!
See if you can create 20, or even 40 cool licks just from that one idea. Move it around and see how creative you can get!
This isn’t just a great way to improve your vocabulary and test your scale knowledge; it’s also an awesome way to get loads of repetitions in without it getting boring.
This means that the more cool licks you create, the faster you’ll get!
Now we’ll try out a different pattern. Pay close attention to the positions of the legato/pick-strokes:
The combination of picking and legato sounds great, and it’s much easier than trying to pick every note.
Practice that until you master it; you can break it down into mini-chunks of just a few notes at a time, if you like.
Then you can try moving it around. Here it is played across three strings, just like the previous lick:
Learning that won’t take long, but it sounds really cool when you get it up to speed.
Now we can try moving it up and down the neck:
There are twelve notes in between each position shift, which makes it nice and easy for the left hand.
The less frequently a challenge occurs, the easier it is to play because you have more time to prepare.
You can jump further if you can get a run up than if you have to jump on the spot, and it’s the same with guitar challenges.
This next one goes across all 6 strings but don’t be intimidated; practice just two at first and build up one string at a time.
If you can play that, you can call yourself a shredder!
Once you’ve mastered it try picking every note. Notice how much harder it is! Of course, there is a different sound, and learning to do it is very useful, but for a quick-start it’s best to make things easy for yourself.
Now we can reverse our building block to create a different pattern:
How about taking that across three strings?