This month is Shred-tember for our advanced students, which means a whole lot of fast playing and crazy guitar techniques.
A lot of guitarists get disheartened when they see (or hear) the skills of guitar virtuosos, whether they be fusion masters like Guthrie Govan, 80s shredders like Van Halen or acoustic acrobats like John Butler.
The big secret is that the only difference between those players and you is time and effort. Wait, that’s not a secret? Let me rephrase it then - the big secret is, if you practice the right things, for a small amount of time consistently, you’ll be as good if not better than those players.
If you haven’t got 10 hours per day to play guitar, then you’re going to have to be smart about what you work on, and stick with it for a long time.
This workout is not for those who want to jump between random songs or techniques - it takes daily practice, and commitment to reach a set goal, so before we begin, I want you to set your goal.
Here’s some ideas:
Be able to play 500 notes per minute cleanly, comfortably and musically
Master one solo or song from one of your idols
Compose a shred solo or song and record it or perform it
Notice that I haven’t set a deadline for these goals? That’s because you’re going to do your workout EVERY DAY until you can do it, regardless of how long it takes!
If I haven’t scared you off yet, here’s my 10 minute Shred-tember Guitar Workout, purpose built to turn you into a blisteringly fast guitarist with one daily session.
2 Minute Warmup - Scales
Of course scales are important for shred!
However, be very picky about the types of scales you use, and limit yourself to scales that have either:
2 notes per string (like most minor pentatonic shapes)
3 notes per string (like modern major scales, harmonic minor, natural minor or modes)
(For examples of these scale shapes, check out our guide to the 3 most important scales to learn).
You’ll either be working on alternate picking (2 note per string patterns) or sweep/hybrid picking (3 note per string patterns).
If you’re unsure what these picking techniques are, read this article that compares alternate and sweep picking here.
So how do you practice these scales?
Pick any of the following, and feel free to mix it up day to day or week to week:
Play up and down the scale with a metronome, slowly increasing the speed
Play licks using the scale, either ones you have written or ones you’ve stolen from solos or exercise books/YouTube etc
Move between different scale positions, such as moving from G Major to G minor Pentatonic or A Natural Minor to C Natural Minor to get used to moving around the fretboard
You’ll need to have these patterns and licks memorised before they’ll help you shred, so save this time for scales you’re already comfortable with and focus on memorising or learning new material outside of this workout.
2 Minutes of Tremolo Picking
Tremolo picking is a staple of shred guitar. If you’re not already comfortable with this fast form of alternate picking, don’t rush it. You only need to get a little faster each day to reach max speed.
To start with, just play on one string at a time, seeing how many notes you can get out per minute. Try to correct any positioning issues as you go, making sure that:
your pick is moving very slightly
you’re turning the pick on a little bit of an angle to avoid getting caught on strings
you’re not getting any tension in your wrist, arm, elbow or shoulder (if so, slow down and relax)
the sound you’re getting is consistent (if it isn’t, slow down!)
Once you can get this going ok, try some melodies on one string, like the classic surf rock song Misirlou.
From there you can progress to tremolo picking that moves across multiple strings, like one of Hybrid Nightmares’ songs, Jupiter (this song did wonders for my tremolo picking between strings - nothing beats performance practice for lighting the practice fire under you!)
It’s just as easy, though perhaps less fun, to practice scales and exercises for tremolo picking. So long as you are using your fretting hand as well as your picking hand together, and you can remember the exercises you’re playing, it’ll be fine for tremolo practice.
Try to get a little faster each day, by which I mean a couple of bpm, not 10 or 20% faster!
2 Minutes of Sweep Picking
Sweep picking is generally just arpeggio practice, at speed, with a certain type of picking technique, but it’s vital for shred guitar speed.
Start with 3 note per string apreggios like the ones below, focussing on smooth, consistent playing going up and down through the pattern with the correct pick direction (ie. down as your hand moves down, up as your hand moves up, NOT down up down up).
Once you have these flying, you can progress to 4, 5 or 6 string arpeggios, or even harder arpeggio shapes if you really want to become a sweep-master.
Just practicing the one shape over and over is great for your picking technique, but in practice you’re going to need to work on moving between these shapes too.
Write out a chord progression like Am, Em, Dm and try jumping between those shapes cleanly.
Again, try to get a little faster every day, but there’s no point speeding up until you’re getting a smooth, even sound and are feel comfortable playing the shapes.
2 Minutes of Tapping
Tapping (or two-hand tapping as it is sometimes referred to) is great fun - once you get over the initial hurdle of working out how to co-ordinate both hands to work together and build up the calluses on your tapping fingers!
Stick to normal arpeggio shapes and progressions like the ones below initially, but feel free to experiment around once you’ve got the basics down.
A good way to do find shapes is to stick to one scale on a string. For example, if you’re playing C major on the high E string, you can tap any 3 notes from the scale and you’ll always be playing something musical in C major.
For an added challenge, try working out the names of the chords you’re playing (but outside of this workout - after all, you’re meant to be playing for the full 10 minutes, not working out theory!).
2 Minutes Soloing and Shredding!
Finally, it’s time to put it all together!
Create your own backing track or use one from YouTube, but make sure it sticks to ONE key initially as we don’t want to be moving keys for this type of shred-solo.
Work out the scales, arpeggios and tapping patterns that will fit the key (and I’d stick to one key for at least a week to get comfortable with it before trying other keys), then go nuts trying to throw out as many riffs and patterns as you can!
This step is probably the hardest, but you can always slow down your shredding when it comes to soloing initially and speed it up later. The notes should still sound good at a slow pace.
So there you have it - 10 minutes that covers all the basic shred techniques and gives you a chance to put it all together.
Of course, if you want to work on one technique more than the others, that’s fine - acoustic players may not want to use tapping as much, for example, but may want to do a lot more arpeggio playing.
I would suggest adding on additional minutes in the areas you most want to develop, as anything less than 2 minutes might not give you enough time to actually develop each skill.
Outside of this practice, feel free to learn a solo or test your progress to your goal. Is your speed increasing? Have much of that awesome solo have you learnt to play? All of it will get easier if you do this workout every day, but you’ll also need to devote some time to actually measuring and memorising your other songs and licks.
And remember, missing one day of practice here and there is fine. Missing two days in a row is a mortal sin for a serious shredder, so MAKE the time to fit in those 10 minute sessions!