This lesson gives an introduction to using 3 fingers for playing fast rock and metal lines. The Billy Sheehan style technique is discussed and riffs from the following songs are used as examples:
1) Elephant Gun – David Lee Roth (Billy Sheehan)
2) The Trooper – Iron Maiden (Steve Harris)
3) Disposable Heroes – Metallica (Cliff Burton)

Introducing The Third Finger

When you first start learning this technique, you may find that your third finger feels weaker than the other two – the only way to solve this problem is through practice.

This first exercise uses the Billy Sheehan method for three-finger picking – alternating fingers in the order ring, middle, index. Staying on a single note, play repeating sets of triplets and alternate between the three fingers on your right hand. Start slow and only build up speed when the sound of each note is consistent and clear.

Right-Hand Positioning

There are two ways to position your right-hand fingers for this technique – you can either keep your fingers straight or curl them towards the body.

Curling the fingers gives more articulation to the note and creates a great funky sound when played towards the bridge.

Keeping the fingers straight works well nearer the neck and provides a heavy, clicky sound – perfect for metal.

Elephant Gun – David Lee Roth

Billy Sheehan’s bass line on the song Elephant Gun is well worth checking out if you want to learn three-finger picking, although at 250 bpm – it’s a challenge! Instead of jumping headfirst into this riff, slow it down and alternate playing for four bars and resting for four bars. This will help you build up speed without tiring your hands out. Go through the next couple of exercises and slowly increase your speed and the number of bars you play in a row – take it slow and you will gradually get faster and faster.

The Trooper – Iron Maiden

Once you’ve got your picking speed up to scratch you can move on to riffs that use slightly different patterns. The first one we will look at is The Trooper by Iron Maiden.

Note: Steve Harris from Iron Maiden actually only uses two fingers in this song, but it is still a great exercise to do with three.

Disposable Heroes – Metallica

This song is a little bit more challenging than the others as we are going to divide the notes of the riff between the different fingers. A mixture of two and three-finger picking is used in this exercise to teach you how to incorporate it occasionally to make things easier.

Try to isolate each section and make sure your fingering is correct before trying to build any speed.

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