String Sorcery: The Wizard's Tower Pt.2 - Picking And Chromatic Exercises

Part two of the Wizard's Tower portion of the String Sorcery series: this lesson covers the basics of picking and introduces some simple chromatic exercises.

Ultimate Guitar
Hello, my fellow sorcerers and welcome back to the Wizard's Tower! Now that we've looked at the more abstract elements of practicing, it's time to actually start practicing! If you haven't already read the first lesson in the series, I'd strongly recommend that you check it out before you read this. For this lesson you'll need a metronome and a positive attitude. Picking Techniques: Although there are plenty of different ways to pick (some of them rather odd), we'll stick with the four basic methods. Single Picking, Alternate Picking, Sweep Picking and Economy Picking.
  • Single Picking: Single Picking is the method of picking in which the player uses down-strokes or upstrokes exclusively. Down-Down-Down-Down etc. This can give riffs or slower leads a very percussive sound, but it isn't very conducive to speed.
  • Alternate Picking: This is the action of using alternating down-strokes and upstrokes in succession. D0WN-UP-DOWN-UP or (less commonly) UP-DOWN-UP-DOWN.
  • Sweep Picking: Sweep Picking is much like a controlled strum. The player usually picks the notes with one fluid downward or upward motion. This is most commonly used for sweep arpeggios. It is very important that notes do not ring together when using this technique.
  • Economy Picking: Economy Picking is a lot like a hybrid of Alternate Picking and Sweep Picking. It involves picking the notes in a given phrase with as little motion possible. Although there is a lot of debate amongst guitarists as to whether Alternate Picking or Economy Picking is more efficient; I personally find that they have fairly the same efficiency. Economy Picking may require less motion, but Alternate Picking is a more consistent (you're always playing a succession of upstrokes and down-strokes). In my experience, it boils down to this: Alternate requires more motion at times. Economy requires more thought at other times. Each has its own unique sound, so either way, both should be mastered. All but one of the following exercises uses strict alternate picking and are in 16th notes. The other will allow you to experience the difference between Alternate Picking and Economy Picking and uses triplets. Sweep picking will be covered in later lessons on Arpeggios. The first exercise is very common for beginning guitarists, but it is still a very important means of developing picking speed. For this, I'd recommend that you use Alternate Picking, first starting with an down-stroke, and then (when you've mastered that) try it starting with an upstroke. It's important do do this on each of the six strings.

    Example 1) Ascending


    Example 1) Descending

    For the next exercise, we'll be taking that same 1-2-3-4 pattern and moving across the fretboard. The same rule from Example 1 applies here. Try it first with Alternate Picking staring with an upstroke, then starting with a down-stroke once you've mastered that.

    Example 2) Ascending


    Example 2) Desceding

    After you've ascended and descended, move the pattern up to the 2nd fret and start again. Keep doing this until you've reached the 12th and then start moving back down. Now, we'll take the basic movements of the first two exercises and turn them into little brain twisters. These will help your fingers get used to different movements. The more versatility your fingers have, the more easily you'll be able to play things. It utilizes 4 different finger patterns. The first is the 1-2-3-4 that was already covered above, the second is 2-3-4-1, then 3-4-1-2, and finally 4-1-2-3. After that it repeats again. As in Example 1, this can and should be done on all six strings.

    Example 3)

    This one takes the same four patterns, but moves them across the fretboard.

    Example 4)

    Now, we'll get to one of my personal favorites. I refer to it as the X-ercise because it moves around the fretboard much like the Roman Numeral for the number ten.

    Example 5) The X-Ercise

    Notice there that although the fret positions changed, your fingers were always going in a 1-2-3-4 pattern. I'd also suggest trying it in a 4-3-2-1 pattern or even one of the patterns used by examples 3 and 4. The last one allows you to experiment with the difference between Alternate Picking and Economy Picking. First, try it with strict Alternate Picking. You'll notice that you occasionally have to cross over a string before striking it with the down-stroke. This can be awkward at first, but it becomes second nature with time. Now, to utilize economy picking on this particular pattern, you'd want to use a DOWN-UP-DOWN, DOWN-UP-DOWN picking pattern. You'll notice here that you're making far less movement, but that the interruption of your picking pattern may be awkward. Just as with Alternate Picking, this will also become second nature with time. While all of the above lessons used 16th notes, this one is in triplets.

    Example 6)

    So, there you have it! As with any exercise, experimentation is VERY important. In order to provide readers with every possible exercise, instructors would have to write a book that would weigh too much to lift. Whenever you're looking at any lesson, you should always play around with different ways of doing things. Not only will it make you more of a well-rounded guitarist, but it will also help you develop your own "style". For all of the String Sorcery lessons, I am making Power Tab files so that students can hear the exercises. I decided to use Power Tab Editor because it is free for anyone. If you search "Power Tab Editor" online, you'll find it. If you would like the Power Tab version of the exercises from this or any future lessons, feel free to send me a private message on here or send an email to I'll be glad to send them to you. Part Three will focus on Scalar exercises and Fretboard Memorization. Until then, Shred it up!
  • 26 comments sorted by best / new / date

      Who else clicked on this lesson because of the title?
      "SleepFan posted on Jan 31, 2013 05:35 pm # Who else clicked on this lesson because of the title?" I did cuase im trying to find any tricks or tips that i can learn and use in guitar class
      I did, to see what the hell would a Sorcerer be doing in a Wizard's Tower? Sorcerers don't need no towers, they make magic like one makes poetry, from the soul, not some dusty volume or tome. (end D&D rant)
      My Last Words
      There's no point in learning eco picking at these early stages. A solid grounding in alternate picking is necessary to eco pick well.
      String Sorcery
      Perhaps I'm a weird one, but I looked at both at the same time. I put the focus on alternate here, so the last exercise was more or less meant to give people a basic idea of what it is and what it feels and sounds like.
      It's still a mighty fine lesson though man! Picking techniques are half of guitar playing so it's good to have them here!
      Ryan Nias
      I'd disagree here, when I started I learnt economy prior to alternate and found it logically appealing to my rational brain, fit my style and hand flow quite well. I think it depends on the person what picking style they favour, but one is not necessary for the other. (Provided that you define alternate picking as rhythmically focussed rather than merely up and down stroke.)
      Is this reminding anyone very strongly of Steve Vai's 30 hour guitar workout? Could string sorcery just be Steve Vai re-marketing it?
      String Sorcery
      You discovered my evil plan! Muhahaha. I did originally see those in Steve Vai's 10 Hour Guitar Workout published in Guitar World. Most of the others are common ones that many people learn. The X-ercise was once that I came up with myself years ago. It may have been done, but I'm not sure of that. As far as the Steve Vai ones, I could've sworn that I typed it in there. This shows that I need to proofread.
      For this lesson you'll need a metronome and a positive attitude. Damn! Where can I buy a positive attitude? Seriously though, nice article!
      This is not just a scale to cause your attentive reactions to complain about, but try playing this for just 30 or 60 minutes straight, randmly moving up and down the neck without looking down at the neck, back and forth picking up and down on each new string. It is all about memorization and cordination of the hand, eye, fret neck memorization over time and long intervals of time you will remember each flat and sharp notes on the neck if you say them as your fingers travel back and forth up and down. Perfection is not from people who quit the race, but ones who took their practices serrious for years, then when in front of the world, so easily they displayed and won the race of life. Keep up your practicing even if you've been playing 20 years. talent is not always born into our lifes, but displayed by the gift we took serious as a young person not understanding but practicing and pushing forward in life which we now display so easily.
      Next we focus on playing scales in thirds and fifths if I remember correctly... And don't forget the 'sensitivity hour'
      you should have exlained the importance of these exercises better... while they are great exercises, they are veerywhere on the internet and i feel most guitarists breeze over them because they dont know how to apply the chromatic scale to music. Explaining how it can be applied with better examples might be a good follow-up to this article
      String Sorcery
      Thanks for the input These were intended to be the basic foundation for picking technique, and I personally use them as warm up exercises to this day. I'll be sure to give their importance a mention in the next one. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.
      String Sorcery
      I decided to launch a supplementary column to address anything brought to my attention. Your comment was definitely the one that inspired it. Thank you
      glad i could help... i use the chromatic scale while improvising, mostly to add tension. then when i go back to playing diatonically or pentatonically it feels like a musical release of sorts. Though i mostly just run up and down the chromatic scale, so it'd be nice to add some of these types of exercises to my playing so i could use an interesting pattern instead of just going up or down the chromatic scale
      I've been playing for about 5 years and my picking hand still likes to give me a hard time. Thanks for these lessons man!
      The caliber of lessons on UG is definitely increasing lately. Good work bro!
      Hello good sirs can anyone tell me if there's a way to favorite an article on your profile so you can keep coming back to it?
      Petrucci's Rock Discipline video really help me build speed; still working on the same exercises for too for practice/warm ups.