String Skipping

If you asked a hundred rock guitarists what the most difficult technique is, about eighty of them would say sweep-picking.

That eighty have obviously never tried string-skipping.

Popularized by shredders like Marty Friedman and Paul Gilbert, these masters of the fret-board have adopted it as a replacement for sweep-picking for its more complex sound and possibly for its lack of cliche. Seeing as sweep-picking has become a stigma of shredding, perhaps they opted to not follow that crowd…

In theory it’s a very easy technique. Just like playing any normal run along the strings, but you miss one out, but therein lies the challenge. Guitarists by their nature are habitual beings. They get set in their ways and it’s so easy to wind up re-using the same licks here and there (Mr. Malmsteen is a prime example of that), so with that in mind if you have to then miss out a string in one of your commonly used runs, it’s easy to trip up.

Like anything difficult, it’s best to start slow and make the practice sound musical. I know, that doesn’t sound cool at all, but bear with me. Below is a short exercise I made for myself that introduced me to string-skipping. It uses two fingers, namely your first and third (the easy two) and while it’s not the Paul Gilbert-esque note-fest you were expecting, it’s a nice warm up for later on in the lesson. It gets you used to moving your right hand (which is where the skill in this technique comes from) over a string without touching it.

String Skipping Fig. 1

Click to Enlarge

Take your time with it and if necessary, just concentrate on the first bar until you’ve got it down. After a while of that, try speeding up. It doesn’t use the picking hand much, because if every note is picked, not only does it make it a hell of a lot harder, but there’s a hell of a lot more room for error. It’s so easy to muddle everything up if you’re trying to pick every note.
And hammer-ons are cooler.

That right there makes a good introduction to the technique, but if you want to play things like Scarified (Racer X), it’s gonna take something a little bit more. When you feel you’re ready for it, read on.

While I’m not going to just show you how to play Senor Gilbert’s licks (I’d rather encourage you to write your own… And because he can write licks most of us can only dream of), the image below is a more advanced technique. It uses three fingers and a bit more of a stretch on the high E. It still features the hammer-ons, but that’s just my style. If you want to try to pick every note, be my guest.

String Skipping Fig. 2

Click to Enlarge

This lick was designed with a bit of speed-training in mind, so feel free to crank up the tempo. Guitar Pro’s speed trainer is brilliant for exercises like these, so if it helps, write it up on there (be sure to change the tempo on the first technique to 3/4) and work at it one bpm at a time.

String-skipping is great to add a bit of spice to your lead-guitar work and it pushes you as a player. Playing songs live is usually a bit faster than when you’re practicing anyway, so that, coupled with the fear of the impending solo and the not wanting to botch it up and look like an amateur is a great way to push yourself.

Most of all though, have fun with it and don’t give up. It’s a hard technique, but that’s the best reason to master it.