Well, you’ve obviously looked over the previous lessons, right?

If you haven’t, I recommend looking at the other two lessons, because there's no point in having read a lesson on right hand technique (like this one!) if you don't know how to practice or if your left hand is a mess.

A long time ago, on the silk road trade route, someone invented an instrument that could play melody, chords and bass all at once, with great dynamic range and control of tone colour. It could be transported in two pieces (fretboard and soundbox) on the back of your camel, and you only needed your fingers to play it, not a horsehair bow. Sadly, we’ve all been playing it with a pick.

D’oh! The bad news is, that guitar simply isn’t designed for being played with a pick. To boot, it’s not exactly simple to explain why X right hand technique is better than Y right hand technique – very often, players are so fast they just blur and it's impossible to analys them.

But I’ll do my best. Anyway, lets see what we want our right hand to do for us.

First, we want it to keep time for us – very simply, most guitarists, very early on, get used to the idea that downstroke = downbeat.

Secondly, we want it to do wonderful things for us in terms of dynamics and tone colour. We can hold the same chord or fret the same sequence on the left hand, but magically transform the sound of every single note by treating it differently with the right hand.

Thirdly, we want flexibility. We should be able to pick any string (or strum any chord) fluently and with confidence – simply because it sounds good is reason enough.

If your picking technique has all of the above, feel free to ignore the rest of the lesson. I doubt it though.

I haven’t mentioned speed here. That’s because speed comes when you have good technique. Simple!

“Why can’t I pick this string crossing line as fast as this single string line?”
Well, if you were more flexible…
“Why does my picking turn to textureless mush at 160bpm?”
Well, probably because you haven’t concentrated on accents and attack…
“Why can’t I pick at 150bpm, but I can at 220?”
Because the speed covers your lack of solid timing!

You see?

Anyway, because guitarists are impatient, lets consider some common sense stuff first – no insane picking licks yet. You want to be able to play great rhythm guitar as well, right? Well, lets look at a few simple things that you need to be able to do in most styles of rhythm guitar, and then we’ll work on the 3 points.

Choose a chord, a 6 string chord and make it an easy one at that.

Righty, now, get your metronome – you HAVE one, right? Even if it’s just http://www.metronomeonline.com/ – and set it at a comfy tempo. Now, against that beat, strum the whole chord, cleanly, in every note division from whole notes (one strum every 4 clicks) to 32nd notes – that’s 8 strums to the beat, all evenly spaced.

Now, that’s very easily said, and very difficult to do.

Lets actually DO this – it does your playing no good to listen to me telling you what to do, it benefits you when you DO it. So, guitar in hand, whole notes, in 1, 2, 3, 4

Strum 2 3 4
Strum 2 3 4
Strum 2 3 4

There, that wasn’t too hard, was it?

Now, half notes –

Strum 2 Strum 4
Strum 2 Strum 4
Strum 2 Strum 4

Pretty easy again…

Now quarter notes…

Strum strum strum strum (strum on every beat or click)

Strum on the S btw.

Bored yet? Good, that means you’re finding this easy.

Eighth notes… (2 strums to each click)

1 2 3 4


1 2 3 4

Okay, now, I’ll bet you’ve noticed two things now –

First, that I skipped triplets, second, that you’re probably doing every other strum for 8th and 16th notes using an upstroke. Did I tell you to do that? No. But you did anyway, because it makes sense.

Yes, it does. But I’ll bet you aren’t doing any of the following –

Strumming the chords with short, aggressive strokes, and then muting them.
Playing the first chord with an upstroke.
Playing all the slower note divisions (whatever your tempo) in a bright ska upstroke style.
Taking a leisurely strum that sounds individual notes.
Using your dynamic range from one (so quiet you can hardly hear it – as quiet as you can physically play it) to TEN (AS HARD AS YOU CAN HIT THAT PLANK!).
Exaggerating the accented chords (the ones on the beat!)

It’s no wonder most people sound boring at slow tempos with simple chords – you don’t have to, it’s just that people don’t pay attention to tone, dynamics and clarity on simple stuff like this – indeed, where it’s most effective.

And don’t just leave it at my examples – SWAP between them. Play one chord loud and sharp as hell, the next chord quiet and leisurely.

Have I made my point?

Okay, triplets are our first odd number to a single beat. These will fry your head, because (moving from 8th to triplet to 16th in the same tempo) count –

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and
1 e and 2 e and 3 e and 4 e and
1 e and uh 2 e and uh 3 e and uh 4 e and uh…

Try it, it’s tricky. Count it out loud so you can hear yourself. Don’t mentally sound it and then think you’re a percussion master because you probably aren’t and you’re probably quite bad at this. Do it.

The next thing on the agenda is whether to strum

UP down up DOWN up down and so on (which can be tricky if you can’t accent your upstrokes)


DOWN up down DOWN up down (which means “restarting&rdquo

Try both and learn em both.

Alright, you can figure out how to do all the other note divisions yourself, can’t you? You will get out of this lesson what you put into it.

Okay, if you’ve been following, I’ve been addressing point one (timekeeping) and point 2 (control of note quality) but not 3 (flexibility).

That, in this case, is your ability to swap between any set of rhythms and rests on any chord, while maintaining a firm control of tone and dynamics. A mammoth task by any standards except the mentally retarded. Aim that high and work hard and even if you fail you’ll be playing better than about 99% of guitarists.

Note I haven’t been sadistic enough to introduce lots of odd time signatures… that’s MT’s territory, and I don’t dare to tread there.

Although here are some technique pointers –

Strumming, as everything else, should be loose.
You’ll find this pretty hard if you anchor, as you need to be able to strum 6 string chords quickly.
Let the motion come from a loose arm, loose wrist and loose shoulder.
Don’t dig in too much with the pick, obviously it’s going to be hard if you do.
Stay loose!
Don’t stop strumming when you have a rest among lots of fast chords – just don’t hit the strings! If you play funk, you know what I’m talking about.
Stay loose.

Alrighty, time to do some of that single note nonsense that we on UG are fond of. Alternate picking, as it’s commonly known.

Now, for all you people out there who economy pick, I’m afraid that I think that a solid grounding in alternate picking is necessary to eco pick well. And more importantly, I’m hardly an authority on economy picking, though I have seen and met people who do it extraordinarily well, and even guiltily use it myself sometimes, I don’t think I’m able to teach it to a high standard.

Alternate picking – the fundamental concept is that you pick a note, and then you pick the next one with the opposite stroke. This is what I’ll be writing about, and most of the examples will be centred on problems for alternate pickers.

Before we move on to exercises and examples, lets go over how to alternate pick effectively. This is the most important stuff from this lesson -

Hand synchronisation. Believe it or not, your hands have to work together. That means one note left hand, one note picked with the right. That’s pretty simple, yet hundreds of guitarists forget this and do the following – crank the gain, finger a 3nps scale at speed, and spazz out their picking arm. This approach is a pile of balls. Been there, done that. The arm spazz is a fantastic technique for one thing only –

Sloppy, out of time, inconsistent and weak sounding lines on one string.

Which sounds useless to me. Get together a real picking technique – your left hand should fret the note at THE SAME TIME EXACTLY as you pick it. That’s what clean alternate picking is all about.

You must be equally good with downstokes and upstrokes. Why? Because you’ll be playing half your notes with each! Imagine a player where every second note sounds weedy and they can only cross strings on certain strokes… put your hand up if you ARE that player. Good, now lets fix that – obviously, work the weak stroke (lets face it – it’ll be the upstroke) until it’s not weak. Run through your picking licks starting on the opposite pickstroke, so that you learn them accenting on the weak stroke, crossing strings in the manner you’re weakest… And voila, chunky, consistent pickstrokes!

Flexibility! Because alternate picking is so simple, people tend to underestimate how many lines there are that your hand has to be able to play. You need to be able to do more than run scales – you need to hop strings, play loud or quiet, dig in or barely touch, create artificial harmonics, play with swing or play straight – and importantly, be able to do ALL OF THE ABOVE WITHOUT THINKING!
If you’re looking at your right hand mid run, you’re gonna mess it up. You’ll have enough to do watching your left hand, where there’s a lot more to keep track of visually.
I want you to go and physically pick up your guitar, and play through these. For simplicity’s sake, I’ve got the exercises in C major or at the 8th fret, low E string if the lick doesn’t really have a key center. That should keep things nice and simple. Also, they’re all in the guitar pro file at the end.

Okay, exercise one – (triplets)


Right, there’s a very simple exercise here – play the above, with perfect hand synchronisation and in triplets – so accent the correct notes! This is the bare bones of alternate picking, and you need to be able to do it well. Hand synchronisation is when your left hand frets the string at the exact moment your right hand picks it, and it is an essential part of playing cleanly.

Exercise two – (16ths)


There, another nice and easy exercise, same as above, but in 16ths (semiquavers).

Exercise 3 (the “Paul Gilbert lick” - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWb3VG3eo38 ) (sextuplets)


This is in 6s, and requires, for the first time, that you cross a string. There are two ways of playing this lick – starting on a downstroke, and you are picking “inside” – your pick stays “inside” the strings as you downstroke the G string note and upstroke the D string note – or outside, when you do the opposite. Don’t feel bad if you prefer one or the other, that’s perfectly fine, but do work on being able to play as well with one as the other – you can’t expect all the music you’ll ever want to play to cross strings at the point you want.
Often, when players have a problem with long picking lines, it’s because there’s a bit which uses string crossings they aren’t comfortable with, and that means they always screw up the same section. Keep an eye out for this if you have consistent problems with only certain points in long picking lines.
Exercise 4 (the flexi-gilbert) (sextuplets)


This, for all you bright sparks, is the same idea as the PG lick – it drills simple string crossing. The catch (of course theres a catch!) is that each time you cross the strings, you’ll be doing it in the opposite way. So if you cross the string outside with the first 3 notes, you’ll cross it inside on the next 3, and so on.
This means that you can see easily whether or not you can actually pick equally well with both.

Exercise 4b (the obvious continuation of the flexi-gilbert) (sextuplets)


This is basically the same idea, but this time, with string skips – these are just larger versions of the same motions used for string crossing, but obviously, missing the string in the middle!

Exercise 5 (sextuplets)


Basically, this is a pretty simple lick that has slightly more string crossings than previous ones, making it a bit harder and more work. All one crossing style, so all outside or inside depending on pickstroke you start with.

Exercise 5b (of course theres a catch!) (sextuplets)

The same lick with a shedload of string skips. Nice and easy, right?

Exercise 6 (with chromatic continuation) (16ths)




This involves what country players call “cross picking” - alternate picking one note per string. That’s probably the hardest thing for alternate pickers to do well – it involves completely mastering both inside and outside crossings, and combining them at speed. Check out Petrucci’s “Glass Prison” arpeggios, as that’s probably the most famous example, though Steve Morse is the original master.

This stuff is hard, but rewarding. The second half allows you to get back to where you started, and also contains the first 4 note per string playing.

Anyway, that’s all pretty simple stuff, just needs you to put in the work.
Last edited by Freepower at Jun 20, 2008,
Exercise 7 (sextuplets)



There we go. This ones a bit of a joke really – it’s the same three notes, and it’s really good for consistency, because it forces you to play equally well with single string, string crossing, and cross picking. Because you can hear the techniques side by side, playing the same notes, you can tell very easily when one is a bit sloppy or you can’t control accents.

Exercise 8 (partial picking) (16ths)


This is a pretty simple idea, it’s probably best explained here at around 5:55 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oW1JveshnJg&mode=related&search=
This is to get you used to picking as integrated with legato, using your hands to cover each others weaknesses and enhance each other's strengths.

Exercise 9 (odd note groupings and scalar playing) (quintuplets/5s)


There you go – 5s. That’s also the first time we’ve gone over a whole scale in a conventional manner, so enjoy the rest while it lasts.

Exercise 10 – Descending 4s partial picking (16ths)


My own contribution – this is how I, the mighty Freepower, would generally pick a descending 4s sequence. I think it sounds nice, and it leads to more interesting accents than just picking it all. It gives a feeling of acceleration as you pick more notes to the end of each set of 4s. Play it and find out why I like it.

Okay, that’s a lot of stuff – time for you guys to hit the woodshred! Anyway, I’m not covering the following here, and I’m aware of that –

Hybrid picking
Sweep picking

Although those ARE right hand techniques, they’re less common than the kind of picking techniques used here, and quite frankly, less useful to the average guitarist.

And regarding "anchoring" –


Read it all.

The guitar pro file to be linked with this is here...

Great lesson thanks

1 question: How does one go about increasing right-hand speed? I know that a metronome is a must, but is there a special/specific right-hand picking technique or the same as when i play at slow speeds?
^ basically getting faster means speeding up every motion you need to play every kind of picking line, and to speed up every motion you need to make the motion extremely small, and then with time you will be able to keep that motion extremely small as you speed up.
But when i try to keep the motion of my right-hand as slight as possible, it tenses up like crazy and causes aches after awhile. Increasing speed seems impossible no matter how hard i try..
Yeah will definitely review them. Thanks again

EDIT:Wait.. so the tension stuff is applicable for the right hand too? 'Cause its my right hand that cant pick fast enough
Last edited by PeffinGee at Jun 7, 2008,
Yeah re-read the whole thing thoroughly.. Guess I missed out some important stuff. Thanks again