Alternate picking technique exercise for guitar to improve your guitar playing

Every guitar player wants to play faster and cleaner. One problem people seem to have with picking is skipping strings. With a little work this wouldn’t be much of a problem. Here you will learn an exercise you can do to help your alternate picking so that you can alternate pick easier while jumping strings. If you do this exercise for a warm up or just spend a couple of minutes a day on it you will find that your picking will improve. So how do we do this exercise?

Pick a scale, it can be any scale. You could do this with a new scale you are learning or something you already know. Let’s say you choose to chromatic scale.  Start it on the 5 fret of the low E string and play it one octave to the 7th fret of the D string, now play it backwards. The next step to this is to play the high E string between every note. This way you will be playing the low E string jumping to the high E string and the high E string jumping to the A string. This is the first thing to practice with this exercise. In essence you are picking low, high, low, high. There is a warning to the players who may be a little more advanced. Do not use hybrid picking doing this. This is an alternate picking exercise. Once you feel comfortable with this exercise there are some things you can do to raise the difficulty.

The first thing you can do to add difficulty and challenge to the exercise is to add the B string. Say you are picking a note on the low E string, you would pick like this: low E string, high E string, B string, high E string, low E string. The Second thing you can do is the same as the adding the B string except you skip to the G string and back to the high E string.  A Third thing you can do is double pick the low note you are playing. After a while doing this exercise you will probably be able to come up with challenging exercises that you can work on using the same basic principle.

Remember, this is an alternate picking exercise. Don’t use hybrid picking (fingers). Force yourself to strictly alternate down up down up with your pick. If you do not, this exercise is useless. This exercise may seem very hard if you’re new to alternate picking. Practice does make perfect, so spend some time working on it every day and you will get the hang of it.

This exercise is great if you want to be able to skip strings easier with alternate picking. Just like in alternate picking you go down up down up, in this exercise you go low high. This makes a good warm-up, and you will see improvement if you do it every day. This is strictly an alternate picking exercise, so don’t mix other picking styles in. That would defeat the purpose.

How to start alternate picking on guitar

When you progress in your guitar playing and start to play single note lines, you won’t be able to strum these notes so you will need a new approach for your right hand. A lot of people when they first start single note lines pick only downward. I advise against this. Only picking downward will slow you do dramatically. Consider how easily you can walk if you only moved one leg? So this is where alternate picking comes in.

Alternate picking is no different from walking. If you were walking you would first move your right leg, then your left, repeating this over and over again. Picking the guitar is the same. You pick down, and then you pick up and repeat over and over. This may feel difficult at first, but give it time and it will feel as natural as walking.

When you walk up a flight of stairs do you change your walking pattern? No! You still put one foot in front of the other. Each step you take uses the opposite leg.  When you change strings on guitar it is the exact same process as walking up stairs. You still continue to pick down up down up. This is how alternate picking got named. You are constantly alternating between down strokes and up strokes no matter what.

When you first start to practice alternate picking keep your mind focused on it. You may start to slip away from it if you aren’t conscious of it. When a baby first begins to walk it is a major feat for the child. He is concentrating hard on it. The same thing applies to alternate picking. Start slow; be aware of what you are doing. It will become much easier very quickly.

I recommend you practice alternate picking with simple scales such as the chromatic scale. If you do not know the chromatic scale I would suggest you check out my blog post called “Introduction to Guitar Scales – Chromatic Scale”.  The main idea is to focus on your right hand. Most guitarists do not spend nearly enough time practicing their right hand. Do this for a while and you will find it getting easier.

Just like when you walk, you put one foot in front of the other, alternate picking you switch between down strokes and up strokes. Concentrate on it like a baby does when they first walk. This technique really becomes second nature. Just spend a little time working on it, and watch it sink in and become muscle memory. Don’t be stuck in a rut of only picking downward. You have the capability of much more. Now go train for a marathon!