Guitar Tremolo Picking Overview | Hub Guitar

Guitar Tremolo Picking Overview

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Hi, this is Hub Guitar.

Let's talk about tremolo picking.

This is a very cool and very useful technique for playing groups of fast notes.

What some people may not realize, though, is that this is also one of the most valuable ways to build right-hand picking technique.

When we're talking about picking technique, we're generally thinking about speed, tone, clarity. That kind of thing. And those are a product of the combined efforts of the picking hand and the fretting hand.

Each hand has duties that can be developed independently. The fretting hand can independently develop the ability to clearly articulate fretted notes. You can work on that with slurs, hammer-ons, that kind of thing.

And the picking hand can independently develop picking techniques such as this tremolo technique. It's a very rapid alternate picking technique that's usually done on a single string.

Once we've developed skills in both hands, we can start to work on the skill of coordinating them together. And our maximum output will basically be limited by which hand is weaker.

Many players don't know off the top of their head if it's their left hand or right hand that needs the most work. So getting the left and right hands to a really high level will be a huge bonus when you're trying to develop the coordination to play them together.

I'm going to show you how you can turn any melody into tremolo patterns.

First, let's take a simple melody.

Now, let's play that same melody with eighth-note tremolo. That means no note can be longer than an eighth note; all bigger notes are broken down into multiple eighth notes.

Now let's do a 16th-note tremolo. All notes will be broken down into sixteenth notes.

Of course, you can keep going to 32nd notes and beyond, if you've got the picking speed.

I think you'll find if you practice your right-hand tremolo, you'll be able to build a lot of speed in the picking hand, and ultimately take more control of the instrument.

How to Execute Rapid Tremolo Picking

  1. Fret a note on a single string, such as the 5th string>
  2. Using alternate picking, pluck as rapidly as you can while maintaining consistency and accuracy.
  3. Change the note to other notes, ideally on the same string, and steadily (over days and weeks), increase your speed.

What is Tremolo Picking?

Guitar tremolo can be accomplished in one of two ways.

This Lesson: Tremolo Picking

The first is a picking pattern for repeating a single note rapidly. This is what we will focus on in this lesson. This technique uses a rapidly repeated note and can be achieved on any guitar, acoustic or electric, with a plectrum or with the fingers.

Another Lesson: Volume Swelling

The second is a note or even a chord with a volume that rapidly oscillates up and down. This is usually performed with either a volume pedal or with the picking hand pinky curled around the volume knob of an electric guitar; playing a note and then rocking the knob back and forth produces a shuddering sound. This is sometimes called a Volume Swell. We will focus on the picking technique in this lesson.

Convert Any Melody to Tremolo

Tremolo can be applied to any single line just by rapidly picking the individual notes. The rapid picking has the effect of sounding like one big, long note—and is a great way to increase sustain. The effect is often heard in Latin styles of music, as well as “surf rock.” and heavy metal.

Let’s start with a simple melody.

Tremolo Example 1 (Basic Melody)

Notice that when we play this melody, some notes “decay” early. The final note, “C” at the fifth fret cannot simply ring loud and clear for two beats; it begins to weaken almost immediately. We can stretch these notes out to their full duration by repeating them. Let’s start by dividing every note into eighth notes.

Tremolo Example 2 (Eighth Note Tremolo)

Notice that the standard notation melody now has a funny-looking “dash” through the stem of the note. This tells the player to divide each note into eighth notes (One dash implies eighth notes, just as a single beam).

Also notice that the melody sounds pretty similar. Your ear will tend to hear repeated notes almost as though they were single notes.

Tremolo Example 3 (Sixteenth Note Tremolo)

This final example divides the notes again, into sixteenth notes. The result is a better example of tremolo picking. We now hear the effect of the note repeated rapidly.

Try playing all three variations of this melody; make sure to play them all at a speed that will allow you to progress to the sixteenth notes without slowing down.

Fun fact

Some guitars are equipped with a “whammy bar” also called a “trem” or “tremolo bar”. However, this is a misnomer as the effect produced by the device is not a tremolo at all, but actually a vibrato.

Tremolo Exercises

  1. Practice a sixteenth note tremolo on one note with a metronome. Try to increase the speed.
  2. Play a major scale in thirds, up and down the “E” string, using tremolo.
  3. Improvise a guitar solo using only tremolo picking.
As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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