Tremolo picking involves picking the same note multiple times in a row, usually at least four. This technique originates from classical guitar and other stringed instruments. The idea was to create modulations in volume by finger picking a note multiple times with harder and softer plucking.
In rock and metal Tremolo Picking is more common to use the technique to maintain volume by giving each note less time to decay. It also provides more attack giving a harsher, more aggressive sound.
The Technique: Tremolo Picking
Tremolo picking, in a rock/metal context, is basically just alternate picking. The only difference really is that you are picking the same note multiple times before moving to the next one. Try to maintain a smooth down, up, down, up motion and try to avoid tensing up your arm too much.
In guitar tab and musical notation you might see the following symbols:
The two lines below the note mean to play 16th notes for the duration of the note. So a quarter note with two lines means play four 16th notes, as this adds up to a quarter. This way you can write a note and show that it should be played four times, without having to write it four times.
Tremolo picking can be a great way to practice and improve your alternate picking speed. It can also be used in a more musical way to add more energy to a passage.
In this first example I am playing an E5 power chord followed by 3 palm muted E notes on the low E string followed by the note F at the 8th fret A string and the note E at the 7th fret A string:
We can give the riff a bit more energy by tremolo picking the higher notes on the 8th and 7th fret A string, so each one becomes four 16th notes instead of one quarter note:
This doesn’t necessarily make the riff “better”, just gives it a slightly different feel. You could play it either way depending on what feels best for the kind of sound you are looking for.
We can further emphasize the tremolo picking by matching those 16th notes on the kick drum:
In the next example the whole thing is tremolo picked. I’m using notes from E Harmonic minor except for the second to last power chord which a a diminished fifth above E.
One more example. In the song Free Will Sacrifice by Amon Amarth the chorus melody is played with tremolo picking. This is a slightly simplified example of the song. I’ll leave you to figure out the notes and experiment with just playing each note once. You’ll see that by playing each note multiple times it helps to keep the momentum of the song going.
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