It is undeniable that the guitar is the most accessible and easiest to learn among all string instruments. In fact, as you may notice, it is the most played and used in the string family—whether it is for a professional performance or simply a hobby.
On the flip side, folks who are aspiring to be professional guitarists would need more than just the basics. It is specifically true if you are aiming to learn—or even master—a specific style of playing.
Take the shredding guitar for example; a solo guitar performance commonly used in heavy metal guitar playing. A kind of technique that not only uses one style but four.
What is Shredding Guitar?
Popularized by Eddie Van Halen, Paul Gilbert, Randy Rhoads, Yngwie Malmsteen, Marty Friedman and other guitarists in the 80s, shredding is a rapid and intense high-octane guitar playing style. And per the House of Shred, shredding involves a variety of musical elements such as “fast alternate picking, sweep-picking arpeggios, diminished and harmonic scales, finger-tapping, and whammy bar abuse.”
Shredding is performed solo as well, typically by the lead guitarist. It is commonly heard in heavy metal guitar playing.
Here’s a video that explains what is shredding guitar:
Shredding Guitar in Jazz Music
But aside from heavy metal guitar playing, the technique is also used in jazz music, particularly by jazz-rock fusion guitarists and bluegrass musicians. In fact, as early as the 1950s, jazz guitarists like Barney Kessel, Les Paul, and Tal Farlow have already introduced the technique.
Les Paul’s “How High the Moon,” for instance, contains sweep picking—one of shredding’s four techniques.
Shredding as a Guitar Playing Style
Shredding’s playing style is unique in its own way. It is played in two- or three-octave scales, modes, or triads and is done in either descending or descending fast tempo. These runs are usually arranged in a sequential pattern, prompting a more intricate mood while being played.
Shredding is divided into various techniques as well. There is what they call the sweep, the string skipping, the slurs, the multi-finger tapping, and the alternate and tremolo picking. These techniques serve as a way to perform passages with wide intervals, as well as to create a sound of flowing legato.
And in some instances, professional guitarists perform a combination of these techniques.
The Three Elements of Shredding Technique
To successfully learn shredding guitar, it is crucial that you know how to distinguish it from other playing styles. And to do that, you have to look for three elements present in the technique: speed, control, and tone.
But how should you do that? Here’s how:
- Speed. The most noticeable and defining aspect of shredding guitar is the speed. In fact, shredding would not be a unique technique itself without it.On the other hand, learning how to play an electric guitar at an extremely high speed is tough. And the ability to do it in a flawless and precise manner requires hours upon hours of practice.
- Control. Speed without control is basically a recipe for a messy disaster. And in music, the same rule applies too. In fact, in playing the shredding guitar technique, control is as important as speed.To do it, guitarists learn and master the metronome. It is a device that makes a regular beat at a specific speed, which helps musicians keep the rhythm in check and correct.But not only that. Hours upon hours of practice is key to master control too.
- Tone. Last but not least is the tone. It is crucial that while you can play at high speed and in control, the sound you are making must be harmonically rich too. Music-wise, it means that even the smallest chords should sound vivid, full, and deep.Individual notes should be clear or are able to stand out despite the loud sound of full chords are making.
Shredding Guitar Techniques
Now that you know the three important elements of shredding guitar, let’s talk about the popular techniques’ guitarists of all genres use when playing the shredding guitar style.
Alternate picking, as its name suggests, is simply the continuous picking of guitar strings in an up and down motion. And compared to economy picking, which requires a lot of practice and work to learn, it is more of a natural motion to make. In other words, it is easier.
Alternate picking is also a technique best played on single strings. It offers several perks and disadvantages as well. During fast passages, for instance, it is important to keep the picking arm from tiring out—it is particularly true when playing at high tempos.
Otherwise, you are bound to mess up.
Note: Do keep in mind too that if alternate picking is performed at high-speed on a single string, musicians refer to it as “double picking” or “tremolo picking.”
Unlike the alternate picking’s more natural motion, sweep picking is an advanced guitar technique that is used to play arpeggios in an extremely fluid and quick manner. When performing this technique, guitarists play single notes by gliding the pick on strings one after another and, at the same time, using the fretting hand to make a series of notes.
Sweep picking also enables the guitarist to play multiple octave arpeggios smoothly if done appropriately. And in more advanced guitar playing, sweep picking also involves playing arpeggios that both rise and fall.
The performer can also integrate other shredding techniques such as tapping (which I will discuss in the next sections), as well as produce intricate arpeggios with multiple notes.
Economy picking is another way or method to pick one string to another—a technique that highly resembles alternate picking. It is a technique developed to effectively maximize picking by combining two techniques: sweep picking and alternate picking.
Essentially, here’s how each technique is used when playing economy picking:
- Alternate picking is used when picking multiple notes on a string.
- Sweep picking is used when changing to a new string. It involves picking in the direction of travel.
Apart from that, economy picking may also integrate legato as a way to achieve higher speed with fewer strokes.
Tapping, on the other hand, is a guitar technique where rather than picking, the strings are fretted and set into vibration. It is also known as the touch-style and two-handed tapping. Tapped passages integrate other techniques too, including the pull-off and the hammer-on.
The technique is used on some specific instruments such as the Chapman Stick.
Shredding guitar is indeed a popular playing style. A unique and musically satisfying technique that you may not only use and perform in heavy metal guitar playing but also jazz and other music genres. As such, if you are thinking about whether it is worth learning, I would say do it!
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.