how important is alternate picking? i don't do much shredding, it's mainly soulful bluesy stuff. so long as i do a small bit of it just to make it look like i can do it, is it really that crucial to do it all the time?
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It's vital if you plan on playing with any degree of technical proficiency. Obviously, you don't do it all the time, as some licks require downpicking or sweep-picking, but it's an important technique.
its really important. You can play almost twice as fast with it, it not twice as fast. Ok, think of it this way. You are playing guitar hero, and you are only downpicking. Not very efficient when you have like 80 16th notes in a row is it. So you have to alternate pick in that game too, to make it faster. So ya, learn it.
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justin, that was easily the most inspiring, helpful piece of advice anyone has ever given me in regards to my musical pursuits.

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It helps an extraordinary amount.
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So what? I wasted like 5 minutes watching DaddyTwoFoot's avatar.

Metalheads are the worst thing that ever happened to metal.
It's guitar playing 101.

If you're trying to avoid or work around it, you should really question how far you want to go with your playing, because it won't be far at all.