Alternate Picking Guitar Lesson | Hub Guitar

Alternate Picking Guitar Lesson

TQ-09 video thumbnail

Let's talk about a very, very important guitar technique. This is one of the prime fundamentals that you really need to advance your skills.

I'm talking about alternate picking.

Alternate picking is the most economical motion to use when playing multiple notes on a single string. Because you get to recycle your motion. When you pick down, you end up being on the opposite side of the string, so if you can pick in reverse at that moment you'll be able to play the second note much more quickly.

This technique can also help you to pick complicated sequences of notes with more accuracy, as reversing the direction of your picking can help you to avoid overshooting the target and hitting the wrong string. It helps you develop a more narrow picking movement which lets you play more accurately.

So this exercise can be done anywhere, but I'll show you on the second fret. We pick four notes per string, and use strict alternate picking going down-up-down-up.

If I could pick any one exercise that just about every good guitar player has used to develop advanced technique, I would probably choose this one.

Some typical variations on this exercise: you can play it with all down picking or all up picking. This can be a good workout too, and it will help you see how much more efficient alternate picking is in some cases.

You can also play it in reverse pattern, up-down-up-down instead of down-up-down-up. There are cases where the reverse alternate picking technique is the most useful one to use. In fact, when you play this pattern coming back up you may want to switch to the reverse picking pattern as well.

Great! So really try to get these picking patterns under your finger as these are the basics for almost everything that you will play on the guitar, and it will serve you well.

How to Alternate Pick

  1. Pick in a cyclical pattern using down and upstrokes.
  2. This technique is among the most fundamental, and is most useful in cases where several notes appear together on the same string.
  3. Beginning guitar players should play all scale and melodic patterns using this technique.
  4. The pick is held at an angle, does not dig deeply into the strings, and makes only light contact.

Importance of Alternate Picking

Alternate picking is among the most fundamental motions used in guitar playing. This simple but effective exercise is a great warm-up that aids in the development of alternate picking.

The Alternate Picking Exercise

Alternate picking guitar pattern.

Begin the exercise anywhere on the guitar. Here, it appears on fret II. With the first finger, play the note on the IInd fret of the 6th string with a downward picking motion. Next, put the second finger on the IIIrd fret of the same string and return the pick with an upward motion. Place the third finger on the IVth fret and pick down, then put the pinky on the Vth fret and pick up again. Repeat this on all strings. If this exercise is difficult to play on the second fret, move it higher up the neck to fret X. Here the frets are smaller and more easily played.

Fingerstyle Adaptation

Nylon string guitar players may adapt this exercise to a fingerstyle technique. Instead of using a pick and alternating up and down strokes, use the index and middle fingers of the right hand in alternation to pluck the string.

Variations of the exercise

  • Play the exercise in reverse (picking up-down, up-down).
  • Play the exercise using all downstrokes, or all upstrokes, and note the difference.
  • Begin on a high fret. After completing the exercise, move down one fret towards the headstock of the guitar and repeat until the Ist fret is reached. Now, reverse direction and move back up the neck.
  • Practicing this exercise with a metronome and recording your speed is one of the best things you can do to build good picking technique.

Warnings and mistakes to avoid

  • Play starting on the low E string and move towards the high E string.
  • Play this exercise slowly at first. Speed will come in time.
  • Pay close attention to the hands. No exercise is too simple to pay close attention to.
  • Play in time. Each note should have the same duration. Tap your foot along with each note to make sure the rhythm is very steady.


  • Use a metronome always for this exercise.
  • Record your metronome markings. Players of all levels use this exercise. Comparing your speed from year-to-year can be encouraging.
  • For more challenge, try some more advanced alternate picking exercises.
As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

©2018 Hub Guitar. All rights reserved.