Guitar Lessons – Alternate Picking – Lesson 22
Alternate Picking Tips
The method of alternate picking (or economy picking) is one of the main techniques you’ll want to practice and master to increase the speed of your guitar solos or to simply play with a more fluid sound and style.
Rather than picking each note with an up or down stroke of the pick, alternate picking involves playing a down stroke and then an upstroke and then a down stroke and so on as you alternate back and forth between down and up strokes.
While there is no hard and fast rule, it is common to start alternate picking on a down stroke, but you may choose to start however you’re comfortable. When alternate picking, grasp the pick lightly and be sure to move your wrist and hand as little as possible as you pick the notes.
If you’re just learning to play lead guitar, getting alternate picking under your fingers will help you feel like you’re finally getting somewhere as it really does make it easier to go from note to note more quickly.
Warm Up Exercise
To try out alternate picking, let’s use a very easy warm up exercise. Place your index finger on the low ‘E’ or 6th (top) string at the first fret. This note is ‘F’. We’re going to stay on the low ‘E’ string for now and the next three notes you’ll be playing will be ‘F#, G and G#’. We’ll start with a down stroke and simply play the pattern down-up-down-up. We’ll repeat this 1-2-3-4 pattern on the next string down. Be sure to stick to the alternating pattern.
When jumping from string to string, it can be beneficial to be on a down stroke when you’re heading for that next string down but it doesn’t always work out that way. If you’re playing a scale, run or pattern that has three notes on the second string and then one note on the first string, it may feel more comfortable to play that lone first string note as an upstroke which would break up your pattern. It’s perfectly fine to switch to the upstroke at this point as the whole idea behind alternate picking is to play each note in the most fluid and comfortable way you can so if an upstroke gets things flowing along more easily, by all means.. upstroke that note!
To put this lesson into practice, grab your metronome and choose any scale, mode, pattern or lick you like that covers more than one string, set the metronome for a reasonable speed (start slow) and pick down–up-down-up-down-up all the way through the exercise. It’s more important to get the notes played cleanly and to maintain your alternate picking pattern than it is to go fast. Start slow for now and we’ll move into speedier exercises later on!