In this lesson we're going to learn the basics of alternate picking,
and why it's important for things like speed building and timing with
your guitar playing (and especially with
If, up until now, you've been only
your riffs and licks (which most beginners do - I did), you'll really
appreciate learning to alternate pick. You'll be able to pick a lot
faster, more economically and you can apply it to most licks and riffs.
how does it
Simple - instead of just down
picking a string, you pick using down and up stroke
movements (e.g. down-up-down-up-down-up etc.).
Now, when applied in practice,
you'll have to get used to the extra control
needed with the physical aspects of alternate picking.
Notice how I keep my picking movement
tight around the string I'm playing. This is important for avoiding
hitting unwanted strings.
I'm aware that there will be
absolute beginners needing step-by-step exercises, so I'm going to
start very basic and then you can progress in your own time as we move
The basics of alternate
picking on guitar
you can be self-disciplined with your timing, you'll master
this very quickly. First, you need to develop the ability to pick
consistently to, say,
a click track (e.g. metronome) or a beat and stay in
time to the rhythm.
Take a look at the exercise
below. To start with, just down
pick the bottom E string, copying the rhythm in the audio
example (click the diagrams to
Now, we're just going to fill
in the gaps between each down
stroke with an up stroke. You have to use an
upward motion anyway to get back in place for the next downstroke -
just use that upward motion to add another pick stroke:
When I first started out, I found it helped to count the down
strokes in groupings of 4 and then add in the up strokes as the "and"
in between. It might help you too... try it!
follow the same
procedure for the other strings
Each string will feel
different when alternate picking. You'll notice that you have to
keep your picking sweep tight around the string to avoid hitting any
unwanted strings above or below.
At first, you'll accidentally
hit strings around the string you're supposed to be picking - it just
takes time - start slow, and build up speed gradually using a metronome.
Speed is the last
thing to master - first, focus on perfecting your
timing and string accuracy, then, and only then, can you speed up. Move
in increments of 10bpm on the metronome.
Alternate picking while changing string
Sounds obvious... but you need
to learn to change string, like you
would in most riffs, and not let it interrupt your pick timing.
Beginners can often get "derailed" when they try to change string
during a lick.
Take a look at the exercise below - we're
going to play the minor
pentatonic scale, using alternate picking. To start fairly
simply, we're going to allocate 4
picks per note starting from the
bottom string. So it will go something like this...
Click the diagram to hear the
audio (I'm actually playing A minor pentatonic,
starting at the 5th fret on the low E string) and try to keep the
constant as you change notes and strings:
Now try one
pick per note
Let's try a different scale
for this - the major scale. Using one pick stroke per note,
play through the major scale below. Remember, use a metronome
to speed up gradually, starting at around 80bpm and increasing by 10bpm
when you can play comfortably at the current tempo.
OK, once you're comfortable with playing the above exercises at a speed
you're happy with, we can move onto something a little more complex!
alternate picking exercises
Creative soloing jumps around scale patterns as well as playing them
in a linear kind of sequence.
You need to be able to
alternate pick smoothly with irregular string
switches. The average listener will just hear a sequence of notes, but
you, as a guitarist, have to physically co-ordinate
jumps between strings and fret intervals.
the exercises below keeping that strict,
down-up-down-up, picking motion. Remember to start slow and speed up
gradually. You want your picking to be clean and consistent with no mistakes before
you notch up that metronome. Have patience and persistence.
It'll take a while to
co-ordinate your pick and fret hand changes on patterns
over more than a couple of strings, but keep at it and your "muscle
memory" will soon set in!
Alternate picking run exercises
Ascending the major scale (pattern from earlier with the root at the
Descending a three-notes-per-string major scale pattern...
Moving in a sequence of 3rd (major and minor) intervals, first
Then descending the same pattern...
String skipping exercises
A bit trickier, as we're skipping strings, but try to keep that strict
alternate picking. Start with an upstroke on this one as this will mean
when you come to change string you're picking in the direction of
I've put the fingering
on this one to help...
of what we've learned
Hopefully, after taking time with the exercises
in this lesson, you should be confident with the core physical aspects
alternate picking. Now it's time to apply it to the scales
and licks you learn.
Eventually, it'll become second nature - your pick hand will
intuitively know the distance it needs to move to
next string, or even skip a string.
The more time you spend
and the wider variation of phrases and movements you challenge yourself
with, the more
this technique will sink in and become second nature.