Secrets of Shred: Eddie Van Halen-Style Speed-Picking Technique

In this lesson, I’ll be showing you a relatively unknown picking technique used by my favorite guitarist, Eddie Van Halen.

It can be heard in countless Van Halen songs, including “I’m the One,” “Spanish Fly” and “Jump.”

This technique is based on a combination of hammer-on notes and alternate-picked notes. Eddie likes to take a fingering pattern and hammer on the notes on one string, then alternate pick the same pattern on an adjacent string. This creates the illusion that he’s picking every note, when he’s really not.

It allows him to rip up and down the neck with minimal effort from his picking hand. The technique is shown in EXAMPLE 1 below and is demonstrated as a simple pattern in the key of B minor.

Now, let’s take a look at EXAMPLE 2. This example takes the picking approach from EXAMPLE 1 but extends the scale up the neck in the key of B minor. This time, the pattern utilizes only the B and E strings. This scale pattern allows you to quickly transition up and down the neck and not get caught in complex fingerings or picking. Even though a few notes are not completely diatonic, they provide color and sound great in many musical contexts.

EXAMPLE 3 is the exact same pattern as EXAMPLE 2, just moved down an octave to the D and G strings. This is a great trick that every guitarist should know. Whenever you have a lick on the B and E strings, you can move it down an octave simply by sliding it down three frets and playing it on the D and G strings. For precision, make sure to use the same left-hand fingering so that it feels the same in both octaves.

Expanding on this idea, EXAMPLE 4 is the same pattern as EXAMPLE 3 just moved down two more frets to the E and A strings. Remember to use the same EVH picking pattern: three hammer-on notes on the E string followed by three notes using alternate picking on the A string.

Once you have the scale down on one grouping of strings (EXAMPLE 2), you should be able to play the scale at the same speed on the other two groupings of strings. (EXAMPLE 3, EXAMPLE 4) Finally, in EXAMPLE 5, we’re going to move back to our original position and play a run that combines patterns from all of our previous examples. This illustrates how you can take these patterns that move vertically up and down the neck and use them to create runs that stay in one position. If you play it quick, you’ll notice it sounds eerily similar to EVH.

Once you have these examples down, try using this approach to create runs and different scale patterns of your own. Combining the EVH picking technique with these scale fingerings will hopefully open up some new doors for your playing, creativity and technique. Cheers.

Sammy Boller is the guitarist for the Detroit rock band Citizen Zero. They’re touring and recording their first full-length album with Al Sutton and Marlon Young (Kid Rock, Bob Seger, Uncle Kracker). In 2012, Boller was selected by Joe Satriani as a winner of Guitar Center’s Master Satriani competition. He studied music at the University of Michigan. For more about Boller, or to ask him a question, write to him at or follow him on Twitter.

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