Dhanesh Sarangadharan 

Playing good lead guitar is heavily dependent on the use of the Picking hand as more often than not, it does 50% of the Job, whether you are playing a Melody that spans across multiple strings, or arpeggiating a chord.

This requires us to build high levels of proficiency in picking right strings accurately and consistently, whether you play slow or fast.

Despite this, many beginner guitarists tend to fall into the trap of constantly working on the Fretting hand which only does 50% of the work, especially in the beginning phase of one’s Guitar Journey.

Ignoring the importance of Picking Hand Independence is one of the biggest mistakes made by Beginner Guitarists, unless they are working under the guidance of a skilled, trained and experienced Guitar Teacher.

1. What is Picking Hand Independence?

One of the biggest challenges beginner Guitarists have is to be able to play melodic phrases that involve the articulation of multiple guitar strings, without having to look at their Fretting Hand and Picking hand simultaneously.

The Fact that you have to look both ways to accomplish playing simple melodies, slows down the learning process as your mind is too occupied with performing both fretting hand and picking hand activities accurately and consistently.

Picking hand independence is the ability to pick any string on the Guitar whether in isolation or consecutively without worrying about accuracy and consistency, even when you are not looking at your Picking Hand.

E.g. You have a small melodic phrase moving from the 1st Fret of 1st string to the 3rd fret of 3rd string, you should be able to play it without looking at your picking hand or the strings.

  1. How does it help you learn guitar faster ?

By now you must have already realized the obvious benefits of high picking hand independence during early stages of learning Guitar, but I’ll still list down some on them below.

    1. Ability to focus only on the Fretting hand while trying to learn melodies or beginner songs.
    2. Learn the songs or pieces faster because of not having to concentrate on how your picking hand is doing.
    3. Improved confidence knowing that you have won half the battle by building accuracy and consistency in one area of your Guitar playing.
    4. Lowered frustration because learning new stuff becomes 50% easier than before.
    5. Efficient use of practice and playing time, because of faster learning.
    6. Increased fun and motivation levels to keep pushing harder.
  1. What are the ways to attain it?

Generally, this is where the fun ends for most beginners, as they realize that building efficiency and consistency in any area of your Guitar playing requires a lot of focussed work. Moreover it involves practicing boring exercises, and some Guitar Teachers assume that building efficiency in picking hand is an automated process and will be learnt while the student learns to play new music.

What they fail to understand is the importance and benefits of getting it out of the way right at the start, and the fact that it’s not as hard or boring as they think it is.

  1. Fun Ways to Building Picking Hand Independence?

This game that I use with all my beginner guitar students has helped me a lot to fix their challenges with Picking right when they are getting started.

The best part about this is that it’s progressive and provides objective feedback. This enables you to track your progress and see the results for yourself.

    1. What’s the game?

You are going to see a list of 1 note, 2 note, 3 note and 4 note patterns, that involve picking different open strings on the Guitar, without any fretting hand use.

Your goal is to look at the patterns and try to play them as accurately as you can. Make a note of all the mistakes that happen along the process.

The best way to spot a mistake is by focusing on the sound of each open string, you’ll recognize when you hit the wrong one.

If you are finding it hard to spot the mistakes, then take help from a friend or your teacher while working on this.

If it’s a sequence of multiple notes, you’ll pick in the same order using either all downstrokes or Alternate picking if you can.

Your scoring will be based on the least mistakes you make, so everytime you feel you made a mistake, note it down and see your scores improve over a period of time.

    1. Rules
      1. There is no fretting involved at all. So rest your Fretting hand while you play this.
      2. While performing this fun game, you are not allowed to look at your Picking hand at all.
      3. You score points for every right attempt, which you’ll track everytime you perform this. E.g. If there are 20 Notes to be played, and you get 18 of them right, then your score for that level for the day is 18/20
      4. Scoring more than 95% at any level is good enough to clear that level, however you don’t have to wait till you clear the previous level to attempt another one.
      5. You’ll compare your scores for each day of the week and observe which level needs more work.
      6. Once you clear a level, it’s not required to be played again during your next practice session.
      7. You should try to improve your speed as you go along, till you feel comfortable about doing it without worrying about getting it wrong.
      8. viii.In case you feel you are making mistakes, then you need to slow down.
      9. You’ll not play this for long periods, it’s best to play at the start of your practice or playing schedule as a warm up for your Picking hand and brain.
      10. When you accomplish one hundred percent results at all levels, you’ll try attempting the Bonus Level.

  • Level 1 - One String Play
    • E.g. 1

    • E.g. 2
  • Level 2 - 2 String Play
    • E.g.
  • Level 3 - 3 String Play
    • E.g 1

Level 4 - 4 String Play

    • Bonus Level - Time the game

    This is an optional level, which you should attempt at leisure. The reason being that you would have already got pretty good at picking hand independence if you have reached this far in the game. Attempting this level will take your picking to a whole new level much faster.

    There are two things you can attempt at this level:

    1. Do the previous 4 levels with a Metronome at whatever speed you are comfortable with.

     2. Increase the speeds on the Metronome as you keep getting better at this.

5. Additional Tips

  1. Start playing the game immediately at whatever level you can and do it consistently before every practice session, till you reach the highest level. 
  2. Track your scores every single time. This will give you instant feedback on your progress and also empower you with immense confidence in your abilities.
  3. Stay patient with it, as you go along you’ll start finding it easier and before you know your scores would be right up there.
  4. Ask a friend or your teacher to call out such sequences randomly and test your abilities to instantly pick the right strings without looking. 
  5. There are multiple other hidden elements of learning in this game, so don’t underestimate the use of this in improving your Guitar playing faster.

About The Author:

Dhanesh Sarangadharan is a certified guitar teacher in Pune, Maharashtra India, who is passionate about helping students progress faster towards their guitar playing and musical ambitions.