For those of you who are not yet aware of alternate picking, it is a very effective technique that can give you more speed and also make your playing sound a lot more fluid and smooth. The technique is exactly as the name suggests; instead of just picking down strokes, you alternate between picking downwards and upwards. By employing this technique your speed instantly doubles compared to if you were just playing down strokes.

Take a look at the video to see alternate picking in action.

I personally think that alternate picking should be one of the first techniques you aim to master as a new player. If you are only used to playing down strokes with the pick then alternate picking can take a fair amount of getting used to, but if you practice the exercises below you should get used to it fairly quickly. Believe me, it’s well worth the effort. Being restricted to using the pick in one direction only can seriously limit your playing skills.

The first exercise is a simple ‘spider exercise’, but in this instance we play each note twice (Once with a down stroke, and then once with an up stroke). To start with, play the exercise nice and slowly. You may find that you stumble quite a bit to begin with. This is natural and if you keep the exercise slow you should soon get over the initial difficulty.

The next two exercises are taken from the Pentatonic minor scale. Here, we split the scale into groups of four notes and work our way across the scale once we have played each group twice. This exercise could be easily adapted to any scale should you wish. Remember to make sure you are using alternate picking though!! Once again, keep the exercise nice and slow to begin with and then speed up slowly as you become more familiar with the exercise. The TAB below shows you the exercise used with both positions one and two of the A pentatonic minor scale:

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Position one:

Position two:

The next exercise involves playing one note per string. As each note is on a new string, you have to use a down stroke on one string, and then and up stroke on the next and so on until you reach the end of the exercise. Spreading the alternate picking across strings in this manner can be quite tricky at first. Just to make things a little bit more interesting for you, I’ve included some shapes in the exercise that might be a little bit of a stretch to a new player! Enjoy!