Right Hand Techniques for Better Guitar

I’ve always thought that of your two hands that your right hand or picking hand is more important and useful assuming that you are right handed. This is because there are so many things that can be done with your picking hand that most people ignore or overlook. In my mind, I’ve always looked at my picking hand as a drum or rhythm maker. When I was teaching myself to play I would take common chord progressions and try different strumming or rhythm patterns to make a radio song sound very different. This blog is dedicated to rhythm and love for your picking hand.

Before we dive in head first I will admit that your fretting hand is the sexier of the two. If you can shred, sweep or play complicated riffs and leads your left hand gets the spotlight so to speak. I feel like most people admire that part a guitarist’s abilities while overlooking what is doing just as much or more work; the picking hand.

First things first, most of you without a doubt use your picking hand’s wrist incorrectly. I feel comfortable saying that as a fact. When I watch guitarists play the first thing I do is look at their picking hand wrist and notice a few common mistakes. Their wrist is typically locked and their power is coming from their elbow. This is just awful on many levels. You are asking for an injury and you’re actually slowing yourself down. Imagine trying to walk or run with your knees locked. How would that work out for you?

Next thing that’s common is that most players use the same strumming pattern for all of their material. Some only down-stroke, others strum like they wish they played only cowboy chords and some have no rhythm whatsoever. I don’t want to come across as an ass but it’s true. Your picking hand needs just as much attention as your left hand. In addition to that if you get your two hands synced up you can do a lot of alternate picking and switching between strumming, down-stroking and alternate picking. Those little subtle variations are very overlooked yet invaluable in all settings and all musical styles.

So what would I recommend as a good routine to practice to improve your picking hand? Besides the warm up exercise I wrote about in my first post, I would do the following: put on a metronome to a medium tempo and make a funky rhythm pattern by just strumming any chords with your wrist as loose as you can possible make it. For kicks pretend your Keith Richards and/or make your wrist look like your trying to swat away bugs at the beach. The looser the better. I promise you that if you have any tension in your wrists you’re doing yourself an enormous disservice. You want to get used to keeping your wrist as loose as possible but getting it to where all your power comes from that same wrist.

Next I want you to go to the other end of the spectrum, tremolo picking. This style is where you pick as fast as you possibly can. Begin to build your endurance and work the muscles in your wrist to where they can be loose but firm in their power. Again do not lock your wrist or make it tense in anyway. You need to keep it loose and flexible. Once you begin to get used to this style you will notice that you have more control, speed and precision in your right hand.

So whether you’re a jazz cat or a metal dude you will benefit from this right hand work as much or more than anything else I could ever advise you.

  • Mickey Richardson

    Brian, we need videos of these concepts! Very cool, thanks for the tips 😉

  • Brian – I totally agree the “picking hand” is last to be noticed (by non-players especially). Most of my cheezy parlor tricks are from manipulating the guitar from the picking end. Pinch harmonics, palm muting and chord chugging and don’t forget the occasional grinding pick slide down the fat “E”. I try not to do that one too often to keep my fellow guitarists from rolling their eyes so hard they are stricken with vertigo! Of course if you are Dick Dale or Tom Stanton- all eyes are on the pick…but that’s definitely not the norm.

  • Paul

    Woah there horsie, let’s pull that cart over to the side of the pretentiousness wagon trail… You write like an arsehole. Case in point; ‘most of you without a doubt use your picking hand wrist incorrectly.’ Most of us? We poor mortals who have not yet attained your level of pious shred-righteousness? Wow, thanks for that, you’re so enlightened. Also, ‘incorrectly’? I’m no expert, but isn’t guitar playing part of music? One of the arts? A form of self expression? So how can anything possibly be incorrect? I hate to break it to you mate, but there are no rules to this game. You’re no more in a position to tell Johnny Ramone not to power from his shoulder than you are to tell Picasso that those faces don’t really look right. Get off your pedestal you boring, conventional bastard. By all means, play any way you want, but don’t try and lecture everyone else into following your lead.

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