Picking Patterns for Beginners Made Easy

Let's look at the main reasons that beginning guitar players have difficulty learning and mastering songs that use picking.

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Do you have trouble learning songs that have lots of picking in them? Most guitar players have a much easier time with songs that use strumming instead of picking. Learning songs with picking patterns on the guitar is difficult for most beginning guitar players because it seems to them that there are too many things that they have to do all at the same time.

I understand this overwhelming feeling. The fact is, nearly all beginning guitar players feel this same way when they start trying to learn songs that combine repeating picking patterns with chords instead of straight strumming on the guitar. The key is to realize that this type of picking and playing can be broken down into simple component pieces that are easy to practice and memorize.

First, let's look at the main reasons that beginning guitar players have difficulty learning and mastering songs that use picking. Once we understand what causes the trouble, it can be fixed:
  1. Beginning guitar players are not able to recognize that nearly all songs are made up of small, repeating parts. Realizing that there are usually only a small number of parts to learn - including picking patterns.
  2. Recognizing that these picking patterns are applied to lots of chords within the same song - there is usually a great deal of repetition.
  3. They often try to learn too many things at once by trying to master both the fret and pick hand parts at the same time. This results in frustration and overwhelm.
  4. Beginners do not know the best way to practice these pick patterns so that they can get them down and learn the song in the shortest time possible.
So now that we know what the problem is, let's look at the solutions. It is important to remember that most complicated sounding things on the guitar are usually fairly simple to play once you know the best way to learn, practice and master them.

The first step is to learn how to break the patterns into small, manageable parts that can be practiced easily.

Next is to learn how to practice these small parts by themselves, in "isolation" so that your pick hand can master the motions in the pattern.

The final step is to learn to combine both the pick and fret hands in a simple way so that you can get the song down, fast.

The Picking Pattern Learning System

To learn the steps for mastering picking patterns we will use a six note repeating pattern. This is the full pattern in tablature:

It looks like a lot of notes. Let's break it down into simple, small pieces starting with the pick hand first.

The first six notes are all played within a C chord shape - all you need to do is put your fret hand fingers into the C chord shape and leave them there - simple.

Instead of worrying about playing all six notes right now, we are going to focus on playing just the first three notes. To play these notes just pick the fifth string, followed by the fourth and then the second string. Use all downstrokes. Play this many times - just pick those three strings until you have mastered the sequence.

We can master the second group of three notes in the sequence the exact same way. Looking at this group of notes, pick the third string, then the fourth, and then the third string again. In this group of three notes, pick the third and fourth string using upstrokes and the last third string note using a downstroke. Watch exactly how to break down and play this pattern in this picking lesson video (see the link below).

Once you are comfortable playing each group of three notes, try putting them together. Play them slowly and smoothly - make sure there is no gap or hesitation between the two groups (or any of the notes.) Now that you have the pick hand sequence down, let's get the fret hand part.

There are only three chord shapes: the C, a G/B and an Am chord. Make sure you have these chord fingerings memorized - you must be able to play them from memory without looking at chord diagrams in order to play this well. As you work on mastering the fret hand part, just use a simple strum on each chord. Do not try to add the pick pattern sequence until you are very sure of yourself with the chord fingerings and the changes between them.

Now try to play both the picking part and the chord part together. Go slowly - speed is a byproduct of accuracy. We are trying to ingrain the correct movements in each hand - give your hands and brain a chance to really learn them.

Practicing picking patterns and chord changes like this has many benefits for your guitar playing. This type of practice helps you learn songs directly - you can actually take patterns from songs you want to learn and break them down into exercises and drills. The best part is that these aren't just pointless drills - you are actually learning the songs you want to play while simultaneously improving your technique.

The more you practice in this manner, it becomes easier for you to learn new songs more quickly. The better your technique becomes, the faster you can learn new songs.

These picking patterns can make any chord progression sound really interesting and cool. You should experiment with them - try them using different chords and in your own songwriting. They sound hard to play, now that you know how simple it really is to break them down and play them. They work almost like magic.

Watch this guitar video lesson to see how to learn, play and practice these picking patterns. The video also contains an additional eight note picking pattern with a full lesson and PDF file so that you can master pick patterns and use them in your own guitar playing right now.

About The Author:
Paul Kleff has toured in the USA presenting guitar clinics on technique and musicianship. You can get more guitar lessons, videos and helpful guitar resources with online beginner guitar lessons.

16 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Hey Paul, Great article breaking down and explaining the process of learning picking patterns. It doesn't matter what level your at, this is the way to do it when learning a new pattern. Thanks.
    Great tips Paul, simple but effective stuff I can use with my students and myself right away !
    Decent article . I always find your stuff useful as I've never been properly taught guitar theory and it fills in the (many) gaps
    I tried the lead guitar picking of KNIVES OUT from radiohead once, i stopped after de second pages
    Thank you for this helpful and effective practice article! I needed this, as a total beginner! I'm going to start using all the chords I know for picking practice to not only develop proper finger positioning from holding the chord I pick at, but also to familiarize myself to each sound involved in each chord and to increase my overall knowledge of the strings and chords.
    Good article, although I don't think the picking pattern is the best possible. I'd play each bar down down up up down down
    Thank you for posting this man. Been stuck in a rut (only just getting back into playing) and this really helped.
    I don't understand the numbers, can someone explain?
    Numbers means the frets. The article is for beginners. so don't concentrate on that... But if you wanna know then...For example with respect to the above article The first number is 3 that means on the third fret you have to play the fifth string and next on the sexond fret pick the 4th string and so on with the others...