The Basics of Alternate Picking

Alternate picking is a term you may hear a lot of people using, and it’s a skill that is pretty important to get into your playing style early on. As a new player, you may find you lean towards down picking every note, but alternate picking, although it can feel awkward at first, is something that will set you up for speed and efficiency further down the line.

Alternate picking is combining down and up picks together to get a smoother, more efficient stream of notes.

How to Alternate Pick on Guitar

The best way to get started is to pick any note you want, fretted or open, and just get used to picking it both up and down. Check out the linked video to see this in action.

Once you’ve got the picking hand moving up and down comfortably, check out these exercises. The longer-term goal with alternate picking is to ensure that both your hands are working in total coordination.

Alternate Picking Exercise 1

This exercise uses a few fretted notes on the high E string and alternate picked 16th notes. You’re playing each note 4 times on each beat before moving to the next. This is a great place to start building coordination between your pick hand alternating and your fretting hand getting to the next note.

You can change the notes in this exercise and also work on it on different strings.

Alternate Picking Exercise 2

This exercise will require all four fingers. Your picking hand will pick a steady two notes per beat pattern when your fretting hand alternates between your index finger playing the 5th fret on each beat and another fretting finger playing the 6th, 7th, or 8th frets on the off beat.

Alternate Picking Exercise 3

This exercise is picked the same as the first, with 4 notes per beat, except on the beat you’re playing a single fretted note which moves and on the other three pick strokes per beat, an open string.

Alternate Picking Exercise 4

This final exercise gets you used to playing alternate picking across different strings. Use the Minor Pentatonic scale and pick it both ascending..:

..and descending:

This PMT College lesson was brought to you in partnership with, and written by experienced guitar teacher Leigh Fuge. Leigh works as part of a community of guitar teachers based across the UK. Click here to find a teacher near you.