Alternate Picking is the bedrock of all non-finger style guitar playing, it is a
technique that many can do competently but only very few guitarists actually
perfect the technique.
If this technique is perfected (which will take years!) it can open up most of
the guitar techniques in existence. A solid, clean alternate picking technique
will not just allow you to learn anything, but it will aid you greatly in this
and also in your playing in general.
In this lesson, there will be pointers and exercises that will help you in the
journey to perfecting this technique. This lesson wont open the door to
alternate picking perfection, but it will give you the key. All you have to do
is find the door.
Exercise 1 – Basic Alternate Picking
Basic alternate picking is easy to do, but it is imperative that this is done
correctly otherwise your playing technique will be dragged down. This exercise
is Atonal (not in any specific key) and is meant as an exercise. It will help
your alternate picking, but don’t expect it to sound good!
This exercise needs to played slowly with a metronome and a clean guitar sound.
Start at 90bpm and work your way up to 160bpm. This is how all the following
exercises are also to be practised.
This is a device that Yngwie Malmsteen frequently uses in his music. He will
alternate pick the harmonic minor scale, but on one string, so position shifts
are needed. He usually combines this with pedal points (Will be covered in a
For this, aim to have a solid alternate picking technique, stressing note
clarity. Use fingerings that require the least movement. This economic
movement will help your playing immensely. The main difficulties with this
Yngwie style lick are the co-ordination of your two hands. Perfect this and the
tightness and co-ordination of your hands will improve greatly.
Alternate picking runs can start to sound boring using just straight scalar
patterns. (Which I’m sorry to say a lot of guitar players do!). String
skipping can help to add flavour and un-predictability to your lead playing.
For this the right hand fingers should be anchored at the bridge (see sweep
picking for full explanation of right hand positioning as it applies here.)
This will allow you to skip the strings more easily using your anchored fingers
as a lever to pull your pick over strings and onto the next.
Exercise 4 – Alternate Picking With String Skipping and Position Shifts!
This technique is quite a hard one to pull of cleanly. But with practise can
greatly help your left hand as well as your right hand technique. See above
sections on how to execute each of the techniques, i.e. string skipping and
You must try to keep each set of four notes even with the next.
This covers many but not all aspects of alternate picking. I hope it helps you
in your playing.