How to Play FAST Picado Technique with 3 Flamenco PhrasesAug 07, 2023
Learn some of the key concepts to achieving one of the most sought-after flamenco guitar techniques: fast picado
What is Picado Technique?
One of the most exciting sounds in all of Spanish guitar playing is the bold and aggressive melody (or lead) playing heard so often in Flamenco guitar. More often than not, when a single note melody is played in Spanish guitar the guitarist is using what we call picado technique: the rapid alternation of index and middle finger rest strokes.
Why Rest Strokes?
One of the constant choices we have to make as Spanish guitar players is whether or not to use free strokes or rest stokes when we strike a string. This simply means that we can either rest on the neighboring string (rest strokes) or go beyond that string without touching it (free strokes). It turns out that rest strokes allow us to get more volume as we "slam" into the neighboring string, almost bouncing against it, which creates more propulsion for each stroke. Since Spanish and Flamenco guitar is very typically played with loud strumming (rasgueo), it makes sense that we would use rest strokes rather than three strokes for playing single note melodies, as these melody notes need to compete against the volume of all that loud streaming. Classical guitarists on the other hand, might opt to do free strokes more often, especially when other strings are sounding that we do not want to dampen.
The 2 Crucial Elements to Fast and Clean Picado
Getting your picado phrases clean and fast is certainly not easy, but if you follow some essential efficiency tips it will save you hundreds (if not thousands) of practice hours:
Although your fingers do need to be able to somewhat quickly "twitch" back and forth in a kind of scissor motion, the act of wiggling our fingers back-and-forth will not help us achieve the speed, accuracy, and efficiency that we want and need. To do this, we need to be "one step ahead of ourselves" by preparing each finger ahead of time, so that finger is placed on the string and ready to go. We can practice this on one string by playing "staccato" – the instant that you strike the string with one finger, let the next finger immediately "kill" the string, thereby creating a staccato effect. By making these notes very short, we are developing our speed, even if we wait for a few seconds between each stroke. This trains your fingers to get to the string ahead of time – a concept we call "planting" which is relevant to both hands in almost everything that we do.
Most of us know that picado means we are exchanging our index and middle fingers, but when we cross strings we are presented with a problem; that is, our finger is resting on a string after having played a string, so it is very tempting to use that finger to strike the string again, thereby disrupting the "flow" of our index and middle finger exchange. This is like running a race and every once in a while using only one leg to hop forward – not very efficient and pretty sloppy! When you make this mistake on guitar, you can hear how it sacrifices clarity. A good fix for this is to present our fingers with this challenge in a methodical way to get them used to the concept of strict alternation. We can do this by playing triplets on each string toward the ceiling, starting with the first string, and going towards the six string (doing it towards the floor is still great practice, but does not address the issue of the temptation to play the same finger twice!).
*The above exercise is designed to tempt your fingers to double up on a string: don't fall for it!
Using Actual Songs to Level Up Your Flamenco Playing
There are many great ways to practice your picado technique - one of the most common is practicing scales, since that is some thing we need to do maintenance on most of the time anyway. Although you should definitely do this, it is absolutely more fun to have a few awesome, tasty phrases from actual songs for you to work out some of the "problems" mentioned above. Playing actual songs also can be inspirational, as it gives us an actual concrete goal that we can hear on a record and strive for.
In the tutorial below, I show you how to execute the exercises above, as well as present you with three of my favorite picado phrases from actual flamenco songs that I use to perfect my picado technique and develop my speed and accuracy. One phrase is taken from the famous rumba Entre Dos Aguas by Paco de Lucía, the other from a Soleares by the great Juan Serrano, and the third from a very cool Farruca titled "Punta y Tacon" by the legendary maestro Sabicas:
Are There Other Types of Picado?
99% of the time guitarists will use the index and middle fingers to play picado. However, it is also possible to play alternating rest strokes with your middle and ring fingers - although for most people that is more difficult. I consider that a good practice, though, because you're "only as strong as your weakest link", as they say.
Another way to play picado could be with your index and the ring fingers, as these fingers are roughly the same length.You may have noticed how your middle finger is more likely to be much longer than your index finger, which presents a bit of a problem. We can solve this problem in part by pointing the pinky out while we play, which causes our middle finger to slightly bend - thereby making those fingers appear more even.
A third and a much less common way to play picado is a "three finger picado" using the ring, middle and index fingers in rapid succession. It takes a long time to get a three finger picado going, but if you train your fingers to do that you can actually play much faster than with just two fingers, as you can imagine.
But remember, you can practice getting fast in your right hand all you want but you're only going to be as fast as your left hand! So always be sure to practice synchronizing both the right and left hands in everything you do.
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