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Downpicking: Improve your Guitar technique with Kiko

Right now, we’re going to talk about downpicking, how to master it, and what are some exercises we can use to improve our technique. 

Remember, every Thursday I am going to be here. I’ll either show you something new, give a lesson, or offer my point of view and discuss some of the main topics when it comes to performing.

A lot of people ask me about downpicking and I have to start this live stream by saying this: I am not a master at downpicking like Dave Mustaine or James Hetfield.

I tend to use alternate picking, but often, it’s very important to use downpicking because of the tone and the energy you get from it. That’s what I’m going to talk about, and give you some tips to develop this skill. 

Normally when I’m home I improvise and solo, or I’m composing, I’m not practicing riffs that much, so I’m a little out of shape. One thing that is very much related to this is endurance — that’s something we’re going to talk about. 

Again, what I like to do with these lessons is to talk about the fundamentals and the basics, things like right-hand position and so forth. 

The idea is to first find the best right-hand position and to understand the variety of tones you can get from just a simple E note (6th string). I’m not talking about speed — speed is one of the things we’ll have to worry about later, but before that let’s talk about the hand position and other things. 

Try to practice moving your right hand around without changing the dynamic or the speed. This is important for both rhythm and solo.

Now I’m going to find a sweet spot with a tone that I like and show you how you can change the sound with just a slight movement of the palm.  Watch how I start open and then notice the tone change as my palm touches the strings. 

The placement of your palm can depend on what kind of guitar you have and the type of bridge. So you’ll have to feel where it sounds right. Those differences in the tone vary with just the tiniest of movement of your palm.  And it’s the same dynamic when using chords. 

Another thing to consider is the angle at which you hold your pick. You can hold it parallel or at an angle — each gives you a little different tone.  

How you hold your pick is more of a personal preference. What does matter is that you are relaxed. Allow your arm to rest against the body — of course, this can depend on the guitar shape. If you have a flying V that could be difficult. I don’t like flying Vs — I mean I like them, I love the shape — pretty metal! They’re just hard for me to play. I’ve been using these [Ibanez Kiko Loureiro Signature] for so many years, I’ll try to play Dave’s [Mustaine] model and I have no idea how to hold that thing! 

You might start to feel some pain in your shoulders to your wrists, especially if you are tense or try too hard without knowing how to properly build endurance.

Try downstrokes with the other strings as well — again it’s just a matter of finding the right position for your right hand.  

Now let’s talk about consistency versus speed, and consecutive downstrokes for longer periods. What I suggest when practicing — and this is something I talk about in my program at guitarhacks.com — is practice riffs and solos if it were live, with no second chances. That is how you are going to build endurance.

So what I’m going to do is jam for a solid three minutes with the tempo around 165 bpm.

The concept is similar to how a boxer would train — three minutes playing and a one-minute rest in between — because that’s how it is in a live situation. 

 It also depends on your style of music; in my case, I’m not going to see songs that are much faster than this, so my focus is going to be on quality and consistency for the entire song. I think three minutes is a good number, you could do five mins since metal songs are usually between three and five minutes long. I have a timer set on my metronome so here it goes: 

It might seem boring since it’s three minutes of this but focus on your arm as you do this — make sure you are still relaxed. 

Forget about speed for that duration; 100 – 110 bpm, it doesn’t matter, it’s cool to jam like this [slower], it gives a different vibe. Just do it for three minutes straight. I know there are styles that are much faster, but that was never for me to play downstrokes at 210 bpm or faster.

If there happened to be a situation where I did have to play that fast, I would practice in these three-minute increments and I know I would be able to eventually play it. Not a problem.

 It depends on your style; if you want to jam like AC/DC, you won’t need that, but if you want to play some faster, more aggressive styles like Slayer or death metal type riffs and solos, then you’re going to need practice.

So I’m going to increase the speed to 180 bpm — in my opinion, you have to be able to do at least three minutes of consistent, quality at one speed before moving on and increasing the speed.

Remember to stay relaxed and maintain control. 

Balance and consistency are the aims. We’re not focusing on speed but endurance — that is what you are really going to need on stage. 

Lastly what I want you to focus on during some of these practice routines is composing and creating your own riffs and solos. You may have noticed during the three-minute exercise that I was playing random riffs — improvising riffs and ideas. So you can use those three minutes exploring different things. You’re still downpicking and the tempo is the same, but you experiment with what chords you use, where you use them, as well as the placement of single notes. 

Three main points to downpicking:  

  1. Right-hand position
  2. Endurance
  3. Being creative 

Let’s start by using a simple power chord based off the E minor scale similar to what Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath would use.

If you play metal, it’s going to be minor as most metal is, but say you want to get into some weirder, darker territory. You might not know a lot of theory, but through experimenting you discover the tritone, B flat. And you might discover the F,  just a half step up from E. It all starts to create this tension. 

So now you have three weird notes and a minor scale, now we can try using some Metallica type power chords with our bpm set at 170. 

You are jamming for three minutes so give yourself freedom to try different things. I’m doing power chords to make it simple but you can use more full-sounding chords, like the 9th or major 7th chords, or maybe something with open notes in addition to more traditional power chord things. 

I hope everyone enjoyed this lesson on downpicking!

 Once again, every Thursday we’ll be here discussing a new topic. And my next topic is fingerpicking, so subscribe to the channel and set the Youtube reminder to notify you of the next livestream.

Topics from Chat

On harmonics: 

 I think they’re cool, but I try to avoid using them because everybody does them. They still sometimes happen! 

Equipment: 

I’m using my Ibanez signature model and the Neural DSP, Fortin Cali plugin. There’s a little bit of reverb as well. The Neural DSP has more high gain amps, but I like this one — it’s pretty heavy, but more traditional sounding. Like a British high gain. And I plug straight to the Neural DSP. 

On Pain: 

I know about pains and tendonitis. The thing is, you have to build up to things — every time I experienced pain and tendonitis was because I wasn’t doing the right thing. I would be on tour, tired and not do a proper warmup, then going straight to the concert and giving 110%. 

Also, I might play more sitting down but on stage I’ll have it hanging lower, which isn’t very healthy for the wrists — but if you do it right, you shouldn’t have any pain. You have to build up to things. It’s like anything; you go to the gym and try to lift something super heavy, or decide to do a 20k out of nowhere it’s going to be awkward — you have to build up to it. 

On his T-shirt: 

Like my t-shirt? You know? the techniques! You can purchase it at my store — as well as the tabs and other cool things.

https://www.kikoloureiro.com/

 Of course there’s other techniques, but I tend to think in terms of alternate, legato, sweeps and tapping. We could add fingerpicking or some other stuff, but this is just because of the Beatles T-shirt: that first one that just had the four names, 

How to avoid hitting strings during the up motion while downpicking: 

I would recommend that you start slower and concentrate on not hitting the strings — if it’s still happening, slow it down even further, try to see if you can notice where the problem is. 

On whether to play with your hand open or closed: 

It depends — I do it both ways. It feels more relaxed when my hand is open, but not open like George Lynch style, with fingers wide open — just more relaxed. But if you feel more relaxed and controlled playing with a closed hand then that’s good. 

It also has to do with how I hold my pick. 

How to work on relaxation: 

If you just start slowly and pay close attention to where it begins to be a struggle.  You begin to know when to push it to the next level. I go over some of this in my program at guitarhacks.com. There are some free lessons there and you can join our community. 

Strings: 

I’m using D’addario NYXL 10-46. That’s what I use when I am in standard tuning and for solos. Live, with Megadeth, we are in D standard.  For that I use the 10-52 NYXLs, because of the riffs and the energy I put into performing live, I prefer the 10-52s in that situation. There was a moment when I was using 11s in standard tuning, but that was just too much! 

When I’m recording my album and doing the rhythms, I will use a heavier guage. Because when you’re recording rhythms and start doubling the tracks, you can encounter intonation issues, so it’s nice to have the heavier gauges. The Evertune bridge is great for that as well.  

Heavier strings tend to give better intonation if you are hitting them harder — also having a fixed bridge or blocking the tremolo. 

Conquer Or Die: 

It’s all downpicking, very much inspired by Eddie Van Halen. Basically like Ain’t Talking About Love but in a metal way.  

Learn more about Kiko’s Complete Guitar Workout Strategy

I have an online Guitar Camp where I cover techniques and show you the recipe for making consistent progress.

Let me ask you some questions:

How much of your time was spent practicing guitar this year? Are you still playing the same riffs and licks from last year? And the year before that?

When was the last time you had a REAL breakthrough in your playing?

Over the years I have been optimizing my practice routine to where I am always ready to perform at my best, no matter what the situation (like performing for 50,000 people at a festival), and in the shortest amount of time.

This course is just that.

I designed to entirely re-educate the way you study: with focus and discipline.

With this course, you’ll have the tools to master the most essential guitar techniques, including: alternate picking, sweep picking, hybrid picking, legato and tapping.

You will learn to effectively measure your progress. Develop better habits and correct mistakes as they happen so you will learn things faster, the right way, the first time.

Click here to learn more.

Cheers my friends!

Notable Replies

  1. I enjoy catching the live sessions and referring to the text blog style later. I started playng guitar only knowing downpicking and at one point I was very quick at it. Playing early Metallica riffs was how I gained the endurance. Anymore I can do it but not for an entire song without messing up. Other picking methods are now more comfortable. I try to rotate between picking methods as I play riffs to move fluid into one than the other and it is a great way to add some dynamics to the riffs for fun. It absolutely takes training your arm to avoid lockup from being to tight. Don’t cut corners while learning or you will end up being sore.

  2. Avatar for GregS GregS says:

    Hi all,

    Once again this format as complement of the video is a great idea.

    About downpicking, I think everything is endurance and how long you can play relax… once the muscle tension arrives your speed and precision collapse (at least for me).
    I’m challenging myself with master of puppets… the challenge is to play it entirely, normal speed and… smiling :sweat_smile:

    Cheers

    Greg

  3. Downpicking has been something I obsessed about early on as I thought it was the only way to really “sound” metal. The guitar magazines I was reading at the time really emphasized this technique as the secret behind Metallica’s tone etc… Now it seems like I was playing Megadeth’s Tornado of Soul wrong by trying to do it all with downstrokes only…

    There’s more alternate picking in metal than what my young self thought :slight_smile:

    Anyway, I am still going to work on improving my down picking to add dynamics and variations in my riffs. The way Kiko explained will really help me avoid tension and build that stamina!

  4. Avatar for GregS GregS says:

    Kiko explained really well the difference between the machine gun (down) and groove (alternate).
    In tornado, for me, the tricky part is to switch between the 2 technics and keep the rythm in the same riff.

    Have a nice christmas !!

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