The only problem, as I see it, is that many guitar exercises are way too complicated. They challenge you as much on your ability to mentally comprehend the exercise as they do on playing it.
Complex coordination exercises are certainly good, but they’re probably best suited to those players who deal with highly technical music. On the other hand, your average, everyday guitar hero will flourish with “meat and potatoes” exercises that meet the requirements of mainstream musical styles, like pop, rock, blues, country, and fingerstyle.
So in this series, Guitar Exercises for the Real World, I’m going to present some highly-applicable, totally-useful drills that I’ve derived from actual song material.
Real World Guitar Exercise: String Skipping
String skipping refers to a picking motion whereby we’re moving between non-adjacent strings. We’re “skipping” over at least one string in between our target strings, or as many as four strings.
Many picking exercises focus on adjacent strings – I’ve even done this myself in this other technique lesson – and rightfully so, as this should be your first picking priority. But after you get those moves together, skipping strings like a boss is your next mission.
Even though string skipping is a picking drill, I recommend that you focus on your fret hand movements and trust that your right hand will “track” along and sync up. If you make a strong mental commitment that the hands will track together, they will. The human brain is a cool thing. 🙂
In this lesson, we’ll tackle string skipping by:
- Working the pick hand in isolation
- Focusing on octaves
- Applying the movements to some common guitar licks
Pick Hand Drills
If you’re brand new to string skipping, or if you’re just having some serious problems with your accuracy, I recommend you start here. These simple drills will help you to quickly develop the muscle memory you’ll need to skip strings with confidence.
I recommend the following process:
The first time through each section, watch your picking hand. Really focus on feeling the distance from string to string. Memorize that feeling.
After you’ve completed a section, go back and play it “blind” (no peeking). Use your muscle memory to find the strings. Repeat as necessary.
Now play through the same drill but use alternate picking. As you ascend the strings you’ll employ outside pick strokes, while descending the strings will require inside strokes. Both are critical to the development of your picking hand.
IMPORTANT PRACTICE POINTS
The following drills will use octaves in the fretting hand as the focus. This type of drill is highly useful; you can find similar things in lots of songs, including “My Sharona” by The Knack, “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix, “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin, and “Sweet Child o’ Mine” by Guns ‘n’ Roses, just to name a few. Repeat as necessary until they’re locked in.
The next set of drills uses the higher octave note as an accent. This is pretty common, so it’s a good idea to get these types of moves under your fingers.
Again you can expand any of these drills to move between different strings or various string sets. Use your imagination!
String Skipping Lead Guitar Licks
Finally, we’ll look at string skipping as the basis for some lead guitar licks and riffs.
You should note that a few of these phrases use wide intervals of 6ths and 7ths. Unlike octaves, though, these intervals will usually force your fretting hand to change its position as you move along the fretboard, so therein lies an extra challenge.
You can find similar ideas in songs as diverse as “Soul Man” by Sam and Dave, “Just What I Needed” by The Cars, “Green River” by CCR, “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” by Van Halen, “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi, “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin and “Cult of Personality” by Living Colour.
I’ve hope you’ve enjoyed these string skipping drills and continue to hone your lead skills with them. Be sure to click the following link for a downloadable PDF document of all the material we covered.
Until the next installment of Guitar Exercises for the Real World, rock on!
QUESTION: Do you have a favorite tune that emphasizes string skipping? Leave me a comment below!