What is Shred Guitar?

Let it be said that there is a certain mystique to the art of guitar shred. Indeed, the shred guitarist in top form appears to transcend mere mortals, to the realm of the demigods. Think blindingly fast, accurate, over-the-top, virtuoso guitar playing… and that should get you somewhere in the ballpark. Ladies and gents, shred guitar is not for the faint-hearted; neither is it a style of music but more a way of playing the instrument and showing off advanced guitar skills. Most shred guitarists play using an electric guitar with distortion and high-gain. Mention the word ‘shred’ though, and most musicians will think of some form of metal oriented music, as this is where you’ll most often encounter it. But you can shred on an acoustic too.

A Brief Overview of Shred Guitar

During the 1980s, this style of playing reached its peak. Guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen, Jason Becker, Michael Angelo Batio, Paul Gilbert, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and John Petrucci burst onto the professional music scene with a level of precision guitar playing never-before-seen in heavy rock and metal. It is most popular in metal, jazz-fusion and other progressive/technical music. This approach to guitar playing relies strongly upon alternate picking, sweep picking, finger tapping and palm muting.

Why Shred Guitar?

Whether or not you identify with the guitarists mentioned, or with hair-metal bands of the ‘80s, or a simple mention of the word “shred” strikes fear into your heart – there is actually great benefit to having this ability. Think about it – being able to play fast and accurately all over your instrument requires some serious technique, not to mention a thorough working knowledge of scales and modes. You don’t even need to play this way when performing either – shred guitar serves as great practice.

Whatever style of music you’re into, if you play lead guitar, there can be no harm in at least developing your technique and fretboard knowledge to a high level. In fact you’ll have a freedom on your instrument that few have and will be far more versatile in your playing. A word of a warning – many an intrepid guitarist has ventured into the unchartered waters of shred, only to emerge with a new-found love for high-level playing. In other words, you might find yourself becoming a metal musician, or jazz, or country-bluegrass player! Can’t let all that hard work go to waste.

Getting Started with Shred Guitar

So you want to be able to shred with the best of them? Understand that it won’t happen overnight – this will require commitment. Here’s what you’ll need to get a good start:

  1. Learn all 7 mode patterns on the fretboard and how they link together, creating one master pattern. It will be important to be able to distinguish between the specific modal patterns later on.
  2. Learn all 5 pentatonic patterns and how they link to form a master pattern.
  3. Develop your alternate picking technique, through the use of picking exercises, which incorporate long scale-runs and string skipping. If you are new to picking, it is advisable to find a reputable guitar teacher who can correct any bad habits you may be forming. It is vital that you develop a relaxed and fluid picking technique, as well as fretting technique.
  4. Get a metronome. This is available as a standalone device or a smartphone app.
  5. Practice technique exercises which employ a range of scales and licks, across the entire fretboard, using a metronome as often as you can. Start very slowly and be militant about picking each note cleanly. Your aim is cleanliness and accuracy.
  6. Practice frequently and practice well. Set goals, understand what you’re aiming for and critically assess your technique and sound while practicing.
  7. Be patient. It may take a year or two of solid practice each day. Find a good teacher who can help you stay focused.
  8. Listen to music with shred guitar in it – allow yourself to enjoy it and be inspired.

Shred Guitar Exercises

To conclude this article, here are a few shred guitar exercises you may wish to try. These can be found in Beginner Metal Guitar.

From Beginner Metal Guitar, Lesson 6, Exs 64. This exercise makes uses of palm muting.

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Here is the video for this example:

From Beginner Metal Guitar, Lesson 7, Exs 75 – This exercise makes use of the Natural Minor Scale (Aeolian Mode), one of the 7 modes.

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Here is the video for this example:

From Beginner Metal Guitar, Lesson 9, Exs 105 – This exercise makes use of tapping, pull-offs and hammer-ons.

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Here is the video for this example:

Further Guitar Shred Information

If you found this article interesting and would like further information and insights, definitely check out Music Space Episode 12: Guitar Shredding with David Dowling.

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