Alternate picking is a process of picking the guitar string steadily using a series of upstrokes and downstrokes. In metal and rock genres of music, guitarists like Yngwie Malmsteen employ the technique to play solos at back-breaking speeds.
Using alternate picking, the synchronization of both left and right hands can be developed with regular practice. In this guitar lesson, I will teach you some exercises which can be done to achieve this.
First of all, the choice of pick to use should be small and hard. When holding the pick, you should also only expose a tiny bit of the pick tip when striking the strings. Soft picks and overexposing the pick area will cause you to lose control of the pick during fast picking due to wobbling.
When you are alternate picking, keep the pick perpendicular to the strings and play in a small circular motion (like drawing small circles with the pick on the strings). It is IMPORTANT that the picking motion comes from the wrist and not the fingers!
There are no hard and fast rules on how to position the playing hand. You can rest the palm of the picking hand on the guitar, “float” the picking hand above the strings or anchor the pinky on the pickguard.
Personally, I would recommend anchoring the pinky of the playing hand as this greatly increases the stability of the playing hand. Furthermore, it gives the playing hand a rough feel of where the 6 strings are and decreases the likelihood of picking the wrong string.
Now, let’s head to the exercises for this lesson. The first exercise is based on the E minor scale and is focused on helping you play horizontally across the neck.
The next exercise is based on the C major scale and trains your hands to play vertically across the fretboard.
This chromatic exercise is designed to help you improve the synchronization of your left and right hand. I want you to repeat this exercise on the different strings and see if it feels different to you.
Perhaps, the most difficult part of this exercise is the part where you are playing down the strings from (15fret => 1st fret). The tip to bear in mind here is: always minimize the motions on your fretting hand and restrict your fingers to only small movements when changing frets.
You should always practice with a metronome and start slow at a low tempo like 60bpm. Once you find that you are able to play an exercise at a particular speed for at least 3 consecutive times, that means that you had “passed” the test. What you could do next is to increase the speed by 8 counts and repeat the process.
If you find that the exercise gets too fast for you to keep up, play at that speed for 2 more attempts before slowing down by 8 counts. Take a short break and relax your hands. Following that, you will need to play the exercises 3 consecutive times with no mistakes at a lower speed. Over time, this will help you build up your playing speed.
To summarize, being able to play fast or fluently is not an ability that can be achieved instantly overnight. In order to attain a balanced picking motion and synchronization of both hands, ALWAYS start slow and build up a proper foundation.
Also, one of the best ways to analyze your alternate picking is to do simple audio recordings using your mobile phone and listen to yourself for mistakes. Remember, it is OK to make a mistake but always learn from it and correct yourself.
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