Alernate Picking - The Foundations

Alternate picking is the simplest and most usefull technique there is on the guitar and is a must know for every guitarist. Alternate picking is the best way to maximise efficiency of motion and pick control. It is the when u pick a string with a downstroke and strike the string again on the way back up to stroke down again (or vise versa). For such a simple and impostant technique it is usually the most poorly executed. Here are some exercises to help you learn how to do it properly.

Ultimate Guitar
First of all we will start with simplest way to learn alternate picking as a beginner but I recomend you start here whatever level of player you are as most mistakes are made before any difficult paterns or speed are introduced. We will start by playing just a single note so as use the least amount of thought needed to play it so we can concentrate on the technique. All exercises MUST be played to a metronome. This excercise should be played at anywhere between 60-120bpm depending on how comfortable you are with the technique.
            E  E  E  E  E  E  E  E
high E ||:--0--0--0--0--0--0--0--0--:||
            D  U  D  U  D  U  D  U
Now look at exactly what your picking hand is doing. The pick should be parrelel to the strings, your hand just be rest on the guitar in some way (as a point of refernece and stability) either on the bridge, or you spare fingers against the body and only the wrist should be moving and the arm should stay motionless. But more important then any of these is that your hand position should be confortable. Now when you try to play this again it may feel slightly weird but after a while your playing will benefit, but if it feels uncomfortable or awkward on your wrist then you should change you hand position.This excercise should be played as many time as needed to make you feel completely confortable with the technique. Now we move on to the famous spider technique. This techniques is not only beneficial on the picking hand but also on the syncronisation of both hands together.
   S S S S ...
   D U D U D U ...

 ---------5-4-3-2-----------------|----------------- ETC... --------|
You should carry on this pattern right up to the 12th fret or as far as you want to go. This excercise is a bit tedius and is does not sound very musical but it is a very good excercise as a warm up and is very good at training the hands. Another thing that is left very unpracticed is the strength of the up stroke as this will be naturaly weaker so to overcome this I recomend that all of the excercises should be also done with the picking starting with an upstroke ( you D you D... aswell as D you D U... ). This is where we work on building up. First set the metronome between 60-80 bpm or at any tempo that you don't have to worry about your speed. Then Reapeat the pattern up to the 12th fret and then keep repeating until you can not only do it perfectly but until you no longer need to think about what your hands are doing. Once you get to this point only then should you increase the tempo by around 5 bpm increments. The key for speed is to keep technique constant and to keep the wrist completely relaxed. only increase tempo if you are confortable with the tempo you were on to to point of not needing to think. If you find yourself reaching a speed you can't get past up the tempo by 5 more than you can do perfectly then drop back 10 bpm and you should find that the tempo you found hard should now seem easier. This is the basic principal of alternate picking but I am goin to leave some variations on the spider pattern to prectice on to challenge your synchronisation and pick control further. Remember to start on both down strokes and upstrokes.





 ---------3-4-5-2-----------------|----------------- ETC ...--------|
The third excercise really challenges the fretting hand a lot more and requires a lot more coordination to get up to speed. This concludes my first lesson on alternate picking. I will be doin future lessons on alternate picking and more about how it can be used most effectively in music and in scales rather than chromatic excercies so that your skill can be used usefully in evryday playing. I hope this has been usefull and I am very open to comments so that I can make my future lessons as usefull as possible.

9 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Alternate picking is a very important technique, but you should never, EVER, put your fingers on the guitar in any way for it promotes anchoring and thus very bad. The forearm can be used to change strings, but yes, the picking has to come from the wrist. The spider exercise is NOT the one shown there, and anything should be played EVEN LESS than 60 BPM to ensure that the technique is engraved in your hands. You should've also talked about 3nps scales, which are much better than chromatics and can build a better sense of music than chromatics.
    Blaarg, crap, I meant your picking hand fingers should never touch the bridge or any other part down there. How can you play guitar if you're not touching it?
    I have a stupid question. I am a real novice but would like to try working on this. I do not understand what the numbering (1-2-3-4, 5-4-3-2, etc) means. Can someone help me out here? Thanks
    Lol Stonie102000 don't worry. You just need to learn how to read tab which is a lot faster than learning to read proper written music. In brief the numbers represent the corresponding fret on the guitar example --5-3-4-- would mean the fifth, third then fourth frets. Although you also need to know what string to play the notes on. In tab the strings are always arranged as follows: e|-----|(high e) B|-----| G|-----| D|-----| A|-----| E|-----|(low E) So basically the top line is always the high e note and then they descend in the order of e,B,G,D,A,E When put together: e|-----5-8-----| B|-----5-8-----| G|-----5-7--- --| D|-----5-7-----| A|-----5-7-----| E|--5-8-----| You would begin on the low E on the fifth fret then play the eighth. Move on to the the A string playing the fifth then seventh frets. Move to the D string playing the fifth then seventh frets. Move to the G string playing the fifth then seventh frets. Move to the B string playing the fifth then eighth frets. Then finally move to the high e string playing the fifth then eighth frets. This is all you need to know to complete this lesson but there is still more to learn so I suggest you take a look at this guide on reading tablature: rs/how_to_read_tablature.html Best of Luck!
    OOPS! Sorry about that last scale I'm really bad at writing this stuff so it fits but if read the word guide underneath I'm sure you'll get the idea.
    rhodsta.... Thanks this really helps. I have fooled around with the gutiar but would like to improve ... thanks again.
    The pick should be at a slight angle to the string, so it "slices" through the string. On youtube there is a channel called "rockongoodpeople" they have great videos on all sorts of things, so you should check it out.
    The pick should never be angled when practicing techniques as it is in itself a very bad technique used by speed pickers so that the pick pushes itself over the string. This technique may be used for tonal qualities but otherwise just shows that the player lacks enough control to do it properly and cleanly.