Alternate Picking Exercises

Beginner’s Guide to Alternate Picking

Basic Technique

Why should you pick down and up?  Hopefully, you’re not actually asking that.  You need to do alternate picking because you won’t get very far in life just using all downstrokes – just watch, oh, any guitar player from the past 50  years.  The foundation of your alternate picking technique should be based on picking down on downbeats and up on offbeats.  This style of picking is known as alternate picking by rhythm.  To start with, try playing the four finger exercise (the “pseudo-chromatic scale”) using alternate picking ascending:

alternate picking exercise 1

By the way, that thing that looks like a lower case “n” over the first note is the symbol for a downstroke, and the thing that looks like a “v” over the next note is the symbol for an upstroke.  Going from the sixth string down to the first string is easy; going from the first string up to the sixth string is a little harder, so you should work on that as a separate exercise.

Alternate picking exercise 2

It’s more challenging because you have to bring the pick a little bit above the string when you switch from a lower string to the string above it.  It’s important to master this though, so your picking hand is programmed to know what to do without you having to think about it.

Alternate picking with the minor pentatonic scale

Once you’ve got that down, try playing the minor pentatonic scale this way:

Alternate picking minor pentatonic

Alternate picking with diatonic scales

Doing it with diatonic scales is a little trickier though, because there are two and three notes per string, which throws off the pattern.  To deal with this, try practicing the C major scale (or any major scale for that matter) with alternate picking, but start with only two strings; then add one string at a time.  Check out the exercises below:

diatonic alternate picking 1

Play each exercise a few times before moving on to the next to make sure you’ve mastered the picking technique.

diatonic alternate picking 2

Now that you’ve learned to do the scale ascending, try it descending.  Again, descending is a little harder due to having to bring the pick just above string before doing the first down stroke after the string change.

diatonic alternate picking 3

diatonic alternate picking 4

By playing the scale a few strings at a time, you can more easily master the pattern, and then “forget” the pattern once the concept becomes ingrained.  You’ll eventually get to the point where your picking hand is programmed to know when to go down or up without you having to think about it at all.

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