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Welcome to a guitar lesson all about Alternate picking on the guitar. This technique will give you the ability to play at higher speed if you wish to, but the time you put into building accuracy at low speeds will make all the difference. Even if you do not care to play fast this technique is still a must have as it makes playing any melody easier.

When I was 16 I attended a Master Class weekend where Paul Gilbert was to give an outstanding 2 hour session on guitar and his life as a guitarist. One of the things that struck me as very interesting was that Paul Gilbert didn’t use alternate picking until he had been playing for 7 years! He talked about his approach to picking before he discovered alternate picking and it was incredibly inspiring to hear that after 7 years of unorthodox picking he could turn it around and become arguably the best picker in the world. What this means for you as someone wanting to learn how to pick more accurately at higher speeds is that you most likely have not been picking in an unorthodox way for 7 years, and even if you have there is no reason why you cant turn it all around.

Below is an exercise taken from my eBook The Ultimate Practise- Planner, this exercise is designed to build your alternate picking from the ground up. To approach this the best possible way I would advise you have access to a metronome, relatively hard pick (Dunlop Jazz 3 plectrum) and an amp if you are playing electric guitar. To access a metronome you can search ‘online metronome’ in Google or alternatively buy a digital metronome such as the Korg model.

Exercise 1

Alternate Picking Exercise 1- Chromatics

Alternate Picking Exercise 1- Chromatics


Watch The Video Exercise 

Notice the two different types of shape under the TAB numbers, the first one is a Down stroke and the second one is an up- stroke. It is this consecutive motion that allows your picking hand to go on auto- pilot for periods of time so you can focus on the accuracy of the fretting hand.

Your goal is to gain synchronicity between the two hands so start at 70 bpm and play two notes per a click whilst tapping your left foot on the click. If you watch your foot you will notice the + of every beat is struck as your foot is up and the number 1, 2, 3 or 4 is struck when your foot is on the ground. The angle of the pick makes a lot of different also, if you have the pick very flat against the string there is more friction and that makes speed harder to achieve. If you angle the plectrum more so that your thumb is pointing more towards the ground, then you can cut through the string better which allows you to play faster over time.

Speed picking is a bi- product of learning this technique and no matter how great you become there will always be someone who thinks you should slow down and ‘feel’ what you are playing. So if you really want to play fast then go for it but from my own experience I would not neglect all the other areas of guitar just to be able to play really fast. I felt so strongly about this that I wrote an eBook The Ultimate Practise- Planner that uses all the content from my Intermediate to advanced eBook Be The Guitarist and lays it out in easy to read TABs with practise routines to suit varying lifestyles. The idea is that you have a balanced practise routine to ensure you still progress with your picking skill, but you also know about chords, scales, modes, arpeggios and theory along the way.

Come back for Part 2 where you will learn more about this technique.

Tom Clark

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