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What is alternate picking ?

alternate pickingWhat is Alternate Picking ?

Alternate is picking is one basic guitar technique that involves plectrum playing (playing with a pick). It supposes  that you have to alternate your picking strokes and never play the same pick motion in a row. Alternate picking is used in all styles of music and is widely used when playing scalar runs and it is also a very reliable technique when it comes to playing guitar passages fast, because by alternating the pick strokes you keep your picking hand relaxed.

For example if you want to play a 4 note pattern, your picking strokes will be the following :

  • You play the first note with a down stroke
  • You play the second note with an up stroke
  • The third note is played with a down stroke
  • And finally you play the last note of the pattern with an up stroke

Of course the above alternate picking pattern can also start with an up stroke followed by a down stroke, but we will the importance of that a little bit later.

The main problem that beginners have when learning alternate picking, is their instinct to down stroke every note. This happens because of bad habits that all of us used to have. They come from lack of experience and in most cases this happens when the guitar player was self taught and there was no one there to point out this aspect to him.

What to do so you can improve your alternate picking ?

Alternate, like any other guitar technique, can be mastered with a correct set of exercises to help you get used to the technique. Like I already told you in the free pdf “ 20 Guitar tips for beginners ”, the picking hand and the fretting hand involve different strategies for gaining speed, and that is the reasons why when trying develop either fret hand or picking hand speed, it is good to practice them individually.

Choosing the right exercises is also very important in order to master the alternate picking technique fast. Most guitarists learn this technique by simple practicing scales, without focusing on it especially. This can be a bad thing because when it comes to playing scales, you basically train both your right and left hands, and this is a good exercise for coordination,  getting familiarized with the scale shapes and growing your coordination speed.

The problem is that the paradox with your playing hands is that one hand will always be able to play faster than the other. For example if you can play at 150 bpm with your left hand, and at 200 bpm with your right, your maximum speed will be 150 BPM, because your left hand can’t play at 200.

I hope that now you understand why it is good to practice hand individually, so you can improve on both hands and then put them together to practice your coordination. Maybe it sounds like a lot of hard work, but that’s how the pros do it.

Alternate Picking conclusion

As i already told you, alternate picking is a must learn technique, with every new technique your possibilities multiplies when it comes to expressing yourself. Think of every technique as another way to express the same thing.

Now go and check out these alternate picking exercises, because i found them to be one of the best and i discovered them after much trial and error.

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