Every journey has to take its first tentative footsteps, and so we commence our quest to pentatonic shred mastery by looking at how to mix it up via Alternate picking (the ‘pick’ of this modules title) and Legato (and the ‘slick’!) combinations.
Taken right down to basics, picking is the main way we generate sound on the guitar. Having a strong core picking ability is key to almost every aspect of guitar playing - an effective analogy is that of the relationship between a car and its tyres.
The tyres provide the contact to the road, just as your pick is the primary the point of contact from which the vast majority of sonic action from your trusty axe is generated. If the tyres are worn out or faulty your chances of crashing are massively heightened - if your picking is substandard you won’t get off the shred starting grid…
Ok, enough automotive referencing: what is a fact is that a significant characteristic of shred is a highly developed picking ability - and a weak picking technique will decimate your playing.
Secondly an undeveloped fretting hand will be particularly apparent when using the second most common technique to generate notes: hammer ons and pull offs - notes generated mainly from the fretting hand. The musical term ‘legato’ (meaning smooth) is the way we refer to the more fluid sound that is produced when guitarists utilise a hammer on and pull off approach rather than the more aggressive sound picking produces.
Many celebrated rock, metal and shred guitar licks feature these two techniques exclusively (for example, Gilbert’s ‘Technical Difficulties’ is an alternate picking tour de force, whereas Satriani’s ‘Flying In A Blue Dream’ is a slippery legato fest) but - in the real world - most phrases combine both disciplines.
More exotic techniques such as tapping, sweeping, string skipping and the rest are secondary to old fashioned picking and fretting hand legato - thus this chapter looks at licks that are predominately generated using these two ‘conventional’ techniques.