Guitar/Alternate Picking

Alternate picking is an important skill, because it allows you to play more than twice as fast than with just down picking. The basic idea is that if you are picking just on down strokes, every time you bring the pick back up to stroke down again, you are missing an opportunity to hit the string again. Essentially alternate picking is more efficient, because you have to move you hand less distance to hit the next note, and it can be an important difference between hitting the note on time or struggling to reach it.

As with other guitar skills, it doesn't sound even a little difficult until you actually try and do it. It will take some time to master it and get really fast. After doing it for a long time, you will begin to notice that you are subconsciously deciding whether to alternate pick or not, depending on the underlying rhythm. Ultimately alternate picking allows you to play more efficiently, and thus faster.

Hold the pick in whichever method feels best for you. Only the top of your pick should be seen and touch the string, because when you pick you cover less distance and use less energy. Your movement should only come from your wrist, not from your whole arm, and it should be precise. There are many ways to practice alternate picking, but really it is something that you have to merge into all of your guitar playing. Being able to alternate pick at the right time is a very important step, and it is one of the barriers that separate good guitar players and people who just play guitar.

Lesson 1 edit

To introduce yourself to alternate picking, start with a simple exercise beginning on the low E string.



Play this pattern up and down the strings, and then up and down the whole neck. When you hit each note, you should make sure that you are always picking in the opposite direction of the previous note. Try playing faster, but always make sure you are fretting and picking each note clean to develop good habits. A metronome is a good item to help you with these sorts of exercises, because it helps you keep a steady pace. Always spend time practicing at your maximum speed, but not for the whole time; playing at an even pace is more important and builds your internal sense of rhythm.

Once you are comfortable alternate picking, try fingering some chords and pick through them, using alternate picking where appropriate. You can stumble onto some famous songs completely by accident like this.

Lesson 2 edit

This pattern is a little more complicated, as it is a walk, where you play a repeating pattern that always starts on the next highest note.


Continue the pattern up the strings, and make sure you are always alternate picking. You will start to notice when sometimes it is better to pick up or down twice in order to make the picking more efficient overall.

Lesson 3 edit

This riff combines palm muting and alternate picking.


The open notes should be muted, and you should be using alternate picking. This riff is very similar to a riff from Metallica's One.

Additional Lessons edit

If you want more exercises, please see other sections of this book, and perform the exercises there, except add in the alternate picking. Alternatively, you could take a song you already know, and then pick the chords using alternate picking. You will soon see how you can apply alternate picking into every part of your guitar playing.

Getting Started: Different Types of Guitars | Anatomy of a Guitar | Buying a Guitar | Buying an Amplifier | Tuning the Guitar | Tablature | Lead Guitar and Rhythm Guitar
For Beginners: The Basics | Intervals and Power Chords | Open Chords | Muting and Raking | Learning Songs | Song Library
Lead Guitar: Picking and Plucking | Scales | Arpeggios and Sweep Picking | Slides | Hammer-ons, Pull-offs, and Trills | Bending and Vibrato | Harmonics | Vibrato Bar Techniques | Tapping
Rhythm Guitar: Chords | Barre Chords | Chord Progressions | Alternate Picking | Tremolo Picking | Rhythm
Playing Styles: Folk Guitar | Blues | Slide Guitar | Rock Guitar | Country and Western | Metal | Jazz | Classical Guitar | Flamenco
General Guitar Theory: Tone and Volume | Singing and Playing | Writing Songs | Playing With Others | Recording Music |Tuning Your Ear | How to Continue Learning
Equipment: Guitar Accessories | Effects Pedals | E-Bow | Cables | Bass Guitar | Harmonica and Guitar Combo
Maintenance: Guitar Maintenance and Storage | Adjusting the Guitar | Stringing the Guitar
Appendices: Dictionary | Alternate Tunings | Chord Reference | Blanks