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Home > Lead > Alt Picking Exercises

Essential Alternate Picking Exercises

This lesson was made to supplement the basic alternate picking exercises in the introductory lesson, so make sure you've been through that first!

Now we're going to look at some alternate picking exercises to improve your variation and speed, negotiating a number of different rhythms and fretboard scenarios.

Basic alternate picking exercises - 4, 3, 2 picks per note

Starting with 4 picks per note (down-up-down-up) may seem like an unnecessary step back from the first lesson, but actually this is a technique you may want to use as part of your lead harmonies. It stretches the harmony out a bit more than one pick per note, and offers a different rhythmic quality.

Take a look at the tab below. We're first going to play 4 picks per note, then 3, 2 and finally 1.

alternate picking exercise tab

4 picks per note - Click to hear

These kind of lead lines have become popularly used in the "indie" and punk pop music scene. Very simple, but their aim is to carry a harmony through a chord progression more in sync with the rhythm playing.

As an exercise, we could use 3 picks per note on the same lick, changing the rhythm...

Click to hear

And then 2 picks per note...

Click to hear

And finally 1 pick per note...

Click to hear

So this is a great process to use when practising alternate picking, as well as providing you with several rhythmic options for how you play a lead phrase. Try writing your own licks and breaking up your exercises in this way.

Try it with arpeggios that mostly use one note per string, therefore you have to negotiate more of a vertical movement. For example...

ascending and descending alternate picking exercise

Remember, every picking exercise we look at in this lesson can be broken up using the above 4, 3, 2, 1 pick-per-note process!

Use a metronome to start slow and speed up gradually.

String skipping alternate picking exercises

String skipping is simply where you... skip a string in your vertical movements. For example, you could jump from a note on the D string to a note on the B string, "skipping" the G string in your soloing phrase.

This makes the phrase sound less linear and introduces larger intervals to your playing. But what doesn't change is the alternate picking pattern which should remain constant.

string skipping exercise

ascending string skipping tab exercise

When practising your scales, try skipping around like this, because it can really add life to your solos.

Alternate picking your runs

I've devoted an entire series of lessons to scale runs, but let's just look at a couple of run-based alternate picking exercises to get us going.

Runs involve moving up and/or down a scale, usually at a moderate to fast tempo, in a linear or "staggered" pattern.

Again, alternate picking all the way!

First, a run up the minor pentatonic scale...

ascending alternate picking run pattern
Slow example

And a run down the dorian scale. The run is interrupted slightly in this exercise...

descending alternate picking run exercise

Runs are generally a great way to practise your alternate picking and warmup. More on runs in the lesson series linked to above.

Alternate picking with open strings & pedal notes

These exercises involve what are known as pedal notes.

The idea is to alternate between an open string "bass note" or "pedal point" and fretted notes all the way up the fretboard.

Start by just alternate picking the G string at a steady tempo, for example.

Now add in fretted notes on the G string, ideally as part of a scale involving the note G, similar to the exercise below...

Slow example

We could also add in some more intricate movements and sub-timings. This time using the open B string as our base, but adding in a line on the high E string...

Slow example

You can also turn these kind of open string phrases into full-on tapping licks by using hammer-ons and pull-offs and just picking the occasional note. More on that in another lesson!

Explore the lead guitar and scales sections for more ideas

When you learn a new scale, you have a new pattern to play around with and apply alternate picking to, and with the techniques we look at in the lead guitar section on the site, it's not that difficult to come up with your own alternate picking exercises.

The key thing is to get all your fingers involved, variate your picking attack, both with tempo and technique (e.g. runs, string skipping, 3 picks per note etc.). Really diversify your exercises so you're covering as much ground as possible.

Oh, and always use a metronome to start slow and gradually speed up, but only speed up when you're 100% confident with the current speed.

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