Alternate Picking

Let's examine the picking situation a little further. The cause of most picking problems lies in the switching of strings - moving the pick from one string to another. The following pairs of numbers represent every possible string switching combo between two strings. Each number number indicates a guitar string (1=first string, 2=second string, 3=third string, etc.)

Right Hand Exercise #1

1-2 1-3 1-4 1-5 1-6

2-3 2-4 2-5 2-6

3-4 3-5 3-6

4-5 4-6


Master all of the above combinations. Practice each one repeatedly using both a downstroke and an upstroke. Each string is played open, the left hand is not used.

The exercises that follow are also designed to improve your string swithing technique. Since most of the string is performed between adjacent strings, these exercises concentrate on that area. Once again, the left hand is not used. You can do these while watching television, as they don't take too much concentration, but trust me, these exercises will improve your picking I promise.

Right Hand Exercise #2

Practice continuous alternate picking between four adjacent strings. Practice on both a downstroke and an upstroke.

Example: Continuously pick strings 1, 2, 3, 4, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.

Right Hand Exercise #3

Practice continuous alternate picking between all six strings. (Continuously pick strings 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, etc.) Practice using both an upstroke and a downstroke.

Right Hand Exercise #4

Play the following sequence of srtings, striking each string four times:

6, 5, 4, 3 5, 4, 3, 2 4, 3, 2, 1

Go through the same sequence of strings striking each string three times, then two times, and finally one time each string. Then go back to four times each and keep repeating. There should be no pauses, this is all one exercise. Use strict alternate picking. As always start using both an upstroke and a downstroke.

Right Hand Exercise #5

Use the same directions from right hand exercise #4 to the following sequence of strings: 6, 1, 5, 4, 3, 2

Right Hand Exercise #6

This exercise uses a picking technique known as tremolo. Tremolo is a rather fast, continuous picking style, usually performed on a single string. Practice continuous alternate picking using any open string. When practicing this technique, don't go for speed right away, concentrate on playing evenly. Try not to speed up or slow down. The goal with this one should be to build up to a fast, even tremolo.

Right Hand Exercise #7

Exercise #7 uses the A major scale (ionian mode), fingering pattern #1. Notice that every other note in this exercise is played at the sixth string, fifth fret - the scale's root. Keep your left hand middle finger planted on this note and do not lift it during the entire exercise. As usual, practice with a downstroke and an upstroke.

Right Hand Exercise #8

Exercise #8 uses the A minor pentatonic scale, fingering pattern #1. You can use this sequence in your guitar solos. Randy Rhoads used this picking sequence during a portion of the "Mr Crowley" solo.

Now we need to get organized. We need some kind of system that will chart your progress. The first thing to do is practice with a metronome. For those of you who may not know, a metronome is a device that maintains an audible beat to a steady tempo. The beat of the metronome can be adjusted to many different speeds, indicated by numbers labled on the metronome. You need to start out at a speed that is comfortable for you and then work your way up to a faster tempo, while steadily building technique. The metronome will really help improve your sense of time.

The highest setting on most metronomes is 208. When we play one note per beat on the metronome, we are playing what we call quarter notes. Once you have reached 208 playing quarter notes, you can go on to faster tempos by playing two notes per beat, which are referred to as eigth notes. Three notes per beat are called triplets and four notes per beat are called sixteenth notes. Aside from speed, it is a good idea to practice the exercises using all of the note values we just covered, since each note value has a different feel.

After you practice each exercise, write down the metronome setting that was used. If you can perform that exercise perfectly, then it's time to move up the tempo. You may find that some of the string switching combinations from Exercise #1 are harder to perform than others. What you should do in this case is write down the setting used for each individual combination. Practice the combinations that you find more difficult at a slower tempo. Increase the speed only when you are ready. If you can't play the exercise perfectly. then you are playing it too fast, slow it down!

Each time you practice Exercise #2, write down the four strings that were used. Then the next time you practice that exercise, use a different set of four strings.

For Exercise #6, use a different string each time you perform the tremolo. Start with the first string and work your way down to the sixth string, then start with the first string again. Tremolo is usually played using triplets or sixteenth notes. Even though you'll be playing on one string, you should still practice starting with a downstroke and an upstroke, just to get used to coming in on the beat using either picking motion.

Exercise #7 is written in the key of A, but it can be played in any key. Once you get it down, practice it in the key of Bb, then B, then C, and so on. Go through all keys working your way back to the key of A again, using a different key each time the exercise is performed.

After you have played Exercise #8 a few times, you should start to get an idea of the picking sequence being used. Each time you practice this one, apply the same sequence to a different one of the five minor pentatonic scale fingering patterns that you have learned. Go through all five using the same key, then begin with pattern #1 again using a different key. Go through all keys working your way back to the key of A again, as described above. Make sure you keep a written record of this and all information to insure organized, progressive practice.

I cannot stress enough the importance of practicing only at a speed in which you can perform the exercises perfectly. Speed will only come with accuracy.

Forward To Left Hand Exercises From Alternate Picking

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