I’m guessing you’re here because you want superpowers!
But then you realized that they don’t exist and had to find something else.
So you found guitar!
And you realized if you learnt to shred, you could melt peoples faces and have all the girls (or boys) in town queueing up at your doorstep in love with you.
Now THAT, sounds like my kind of superpower.
So today I’ll be going over the steps that beginners should take to start learning to shred on the electric guitar.
What Does It Take To Shred?
You see all these people playing fast stuff in utter awe, so you say…
OMG! I need to learn to shred!
Then you go pick up your guitar, try to play fast and realize it just ain’t gonna happen.
So what are the actual steps that you need to take to get from where you are, to tearing up the fretboard like it’s that Big Mac you had for lunch?
Well, there are three main areas that you need to train up to start to shred on electric guitar like a pro:
- Finger strength & dexterity
- Picking speed & intelligence
- Playing licks & writing your own
And keeping everything squeaky clean whilst you’re at it.
I’ll be tackling each area with you in this post, so you can tick all those boxes so many times, you couldn’t even tell that there was a box there in the first place.
Oh yeah, I’ll also throw in a bunch of epic licks for you whilst I’m at it.
How to Build Finger Strength and Dexterity
Believe it or not, all you beginners can shred on electric guitar with just your fretting hand.
Sam, mate. You’re chatting absolute wack. You need two hands to play guitar, dumbass…
Errr that was rude. And by the way, I’m about to prove you wrong…
Yup, thought so.
Well, technically I did use my picking hand once or twice but let’s not dwell on it…
Even at this point, having strong finger strength and dexterity can get you smoking some hot licks.
My favourite way to start building up this kind of strength, is to practice trills (continuous hammer-on and pull-offs) between each of your different fingers.
I nabbed this from a video Steve Vai did for Guitar World, and it’s as simple as doing this:
Do that for as long as you can physically go.
Pay attention to each note and make sure it sounds out as clearly as possible without tensing your fingers.
They’re gonna start to burn like a well-timed insult in no time. Then once you can’t go any further, start trilling with your index and ring finger.
Then when that burns, shift to index and pinkie.
After that, start trilling with your middle and ring finger, etc.
The trick is to practice with every combination of fingers possible and make each trill sound just as strong between different fingers, all over the neck.
The best thing about this is that once you have some strong sounding trills, it’s really easy to practice and requires no concentration at all.
When you’re next binge-watching High School Musical, you can be doing this exercise and building up finger strength as easy as pie.
Then once you’ve done some trills for a while, you’ll be ready to start getting used to some common 3-note patterns:
You will see those all the time in legato licks.
And of course, you know what to do. Play ’em till they burn!
Get all those notes to sound clear and even, and make you’ve practised them on lower strings and frets as well as higher ones.
Then you’ll be ready to fry some bigger fish, like this bad boy I flashed earlier:
This lick is an A minor scale ascending legato run, using sextuplets.
That means 6 notes per metronome beat. Try saying Trip-e-let Trip-e-let – emphasizing each vowel – between each metronome beat, and you’ll get the sextuplet feel.
Three note per string sextuplets are every shredders’ favourite thing, so it’s important you get nice and cosy with licks like that one.
Sit down with a metronome at a slow speed and build it up.
Even just by practising it 10-15 minutes a day, by the end of the week you’re gonna be laughing back on your old, slow, feeble, weak former self.
How to Build Picking Speed
Great! By now you can hopefully play your first shred lick on electric guitar, no longer beginners now, ‘ey?
So let’s look into scrubbing up our picking skills.
My No.1 tip for giving yourself the capability to pick ultra-fast, is to make the picking motion from your elbow.
Trust me, you’ll be able to pick longer, faster, harder. All the pros do it: Zakk Wylde, James Hetfield, Mick Thomson – it’s the done thing.
So do it now! (That was a pretty good Arnold Schwarzenegger impression, am I right?)
This is probably new to you and feels weird as stale jelly, so slow down and make sure no tension creeps in.
Or even place your wrist on the bridge or pinkie on the guitar body as an anchor point for stability.
But it’s no fun practising to a metronome to build up speed without a goal.
So find a song you like with some rapid rhythm picking and work your way up to playing it.
If you like Metallica, then Spit Out the Bone, Damage Inc. or Fight Fire with Fire are all songs with fast but reachable picking speeds.
And if you don’t like Metallica, then you could always challenge yourself with All Out Life by Slipknot or practically any Slayer song – although they would take much longer to play.
It doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as you are activating your picking speed which we can apply to electric guitar shred licks later.
Faster licks = more face melt.
Becoming Picking Intelligent
Guitar is extremely bothersome…
All that speed you’ve built up can only be used on one string!
Because as soon as you change string in a fast lick, you have to hop over the string you’ve just played to the one you want to play.
And that slows you down like a tortoise without legs.
Ugh! How frickin’ annoying!
You slant your pick downwards to a 45°-ish angle, and finish each string on an upstroke.
Normally, alternate picking is a side to side motion.
And string changing is an up and down movement – this contrast in direction prevents you from going as fast as you otherwise could do.
But if you angle your pick to 45° downwards, you go side to side and up and down at the same time, so string changes stop being a problem.
And the reason this only works on an upstroke is that once you do an upstroke with your pick slanting downwards, your pick is then hovering free in the air.
This makes change to the next string easy as you don’t have to hop over anything.
But if you finish each string on a downstroke, you get stuck in the ditch between two strings – which you then have to spend time hopping out of.
So one of the ways to make sure that you leave every string on an upstroke instead, is to ensure that you pick an even amount of notes on each string.
E.g. 2 notes per string – downstroke, upstroke. 4 notes – down, up, down, up. 6 notes – down, up, down, up, down, up.
But 5 notes – down, up, down, up, down = stuck in the string ditch.
It’s quite a complex mechanic, but is essential to rapid shred on electric guitar.
I have completely nicked this idea from Troy Grady, who basically discovered this was a thing and is now hailed by every single shredder ever as God’s gift to this earth.
I recommend watching that video if I’ve managed to confuse you beyond repair.
All you need to remember is to tilt your pick downwards and leave each string on an upstroke. After that, you’ll be the fastest picker in town.
So here’s a killer lick you can use to practice some epic downward pick slanting runs:
Yup, that’s the same lick Troy plays in the video above. Why? Because I’m
unoriginal looking out for you guys and think it’s an awesome lick.
It’ll take some time to build up speed, but MAN will it sound good.
Combining Picking and Legato Together
Boom! Now you’ve all got the chops to shred on electric guitar like you never even were a beginner.
So let’s start putting all that to more use.
One of my favourite things to do is to combine picking and legato into the same lick.
The mix between legato and picking gives a fantastic sound AND makes fast stuff much easier to play.
This means it doesn’t take much effort to fling a lick or two into your improvisation and get some ooohs and ahhhs from the crowd.
So here are a couple of my favourite licks that combine the techniques:
Just sounds so darn liquid and smooth!
Have a go, and you’ll be surprised at how easy it is compared to the previous licks.
But this next lick has got to be one of my favourites of all time:
This lick got such a cool cascading effect to do it, and those little pull-offs allow you to hit much higher speeds.
And starting the lick on the major 2nd instead of the minor 3rd gives a much fresher feel than a full pentatonic lick.
And here’s my third and final monster scale lick before we get into some snazzy arpeggio stuff:
Mm mmmm, me loves a bit of string skipping.
Use Arpeggios To Get Cool Sounds
I love scales as much as I love custard, and that’s saying something.
But I love arpeggios even more.
Fewer shredders use them, and you can create some seriously epic sounds.
Just check this bad boy out:
Those slides will take some practice but BOY it’s cool.
And that lick is so flexible. Try it descending, on different strings, in major, with suspended 2nd or 4ths, that lick can do it all.
I’ll give you one more epic Em9 arpeggio lick to pay around with, and then I’ll get into showing you how to write your own.
So ladies and gentlemen…
Here it is:
Kind of like an inverse of the pentatonic lick from earlier with an extra slide on top and a cool, jazzy sound.
They are just a few licks that I’ve come up with, but what if you passionately despise all of my licks and want to write some of your own?
Look no further…
Writing Your Own Licks
If you want to start writing your own killer licks, then fundamentally you need to know the minor scale shapes and/or arpeggio shapes.
Within these scales, we tend to use 3 note per string patterns in groups of 6 or 4, as you have seen in the licks above.
So it’s as simple as creating a short 6 or 4 note pattern and then repeating this all the way down or up the scale legato, picking or both. Whichever you prefer.
But when that starts to become a bit boring, you can even begin to add extra slides or variations to the pattern to stop everything sounding quite so robotic.
So here’s an example of a legato + picking lick from earlier that I customized to sound a wee bit more interesting:
I’ve added some slides, some hybrid picking and finished on a different part of the fretboard.
This allows for some cool phrasing that if played with a pick would be too difficult to achieve. It’s just a nifty way to alter the pattern a bit.
Hybrid picking is basically fingerpicking notes with the other fingers on your picking hand whilst playing with a pick at the same time.
E.g. In the 3rd sextuplet group, I’ll play the 14th fret on the D string with my pick, and pluck the notes on the g string with my middle finger.
You could even try writing licks in odd groupings like 5s, 7s or 9s.
When you’re counting these to a metronome click you’ll want to break them up into 2s, 3s and 4s…
E.g. I’d count fives like – *Click 1, 2, 1, 2, 3, *Click. Sevens like – *Click 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3 *Click. Nines like – *Click 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 *Click.
But as long as you know the notes you can play, you can create pretty much anything.
So feel free to use, abuse and customize these licks as much as you like.
“Shredding is just playing fast at the end of the day, so it doesn’t matter how you do it” – Sam Olverson, Literally Just Now
Wrapping It Up
There have it. Boys and girls… that is how you learn to shred.
Now make use of this new superpower and go change the world…
Or just play some hot licks in your bedroom for personal satisfaction.
The latter is more my cup of tea. Not that I like tea, but whatever…
Make sure you use this shredding power wisely in your solos, and that you don’t overuse it.
Otherwise, it has the adverse affect and peoples’ faces will be melted so much that they just stop melting due to boredom.
Think of shredding like cinnamon… Cinnamon can make pastries absolutely delicious. But too much cinnamon makes them dry and lifeless.
I’ll leave you to ponder on that deep intellectual thought…
I’ve been Sam Olverson,
P.S. If you want to learn how to sweep pick cleanly on guitar so that you can reach insane speeds, then click here to view my post on that.
This Post Has 2 Comments
Thanks for teaching me how to link pentatonic pattern one and two. It has been a problem for me. Please I need some advice and technique on soloing. It has always been my dream. Thank you very much Sam
I’m glad it helped 🙂 I actually have two sections of my blog focussed on techniques and soloing. Hopefully they will help you on your way.