Free Guitar Lessons San Francisco — Tuesday Guitar Tip #1: Alternating Picking

Our first tip is going to be the first tip I got as a young guitar student many years ago. After discovering the guitar and noodling around for a few months on my own, this one little secrete made me sound bette almost instantly: alternating picking.

The idea behind alternating picking is simple. Let’s say you’re playing the same string more than once in a row. If you are only picking downwards (downstrokes), you have to “reload” by moving your hand and the pick back up above the string to play it again. If you’re only picking downwards (downstrokes) the opposite is true: you need to “reload” after playing each note by moving your hand and the pick below the string again.

Why is this a bad thing? It’s not if you’re playing slowly and for not very long. But playing using only downstrokes or only upstrokes will slow your playing speed dramatically, and will actually take more effort to perform, meaning your hand will get exhausted much faster.

The simple solution? Pick down first, then up. Then down. Then up. Then down… I think you get the idea.

Now we’re getting two strokes in the same time it used to take us to play one, and we’re already twice as far into the song without expending any more effort. You’ll really get the advantages of this if you play fast melodies, scales, and so forth.

Alternating picking, along with concepts like sweep picking, is one of the techniques behind the larger idea of “economy picking”. We’ll be coming back to this concept later, and how you can play faster without having to push yourself harder.