Alternate Picking - Absolute Basics!

Guitar Lesson


This alternate picking guitar lesson will show you some very basic - but useful - exercises that will get you started on your quest to develop alternate picking chops!
Guitar Lesson Objectives:
  1. Develop alternate picking foundation
  2. Develop accurate synchronization between fret and picking hand
  3. Build muscle memory in fretting and picking hand
  4. Develop dexterity and agility of fretting hand
  5. Apply the lesson material in a musical context
Ok, got it - just take me to the exercises for this lesson!

Alternate picking is one of those things that so many guitar players rush into, with the result being sloppy, inaccurate technique. With that in mind, this guitar lesson is meant to help you establish a solid footing right from the beginning so that you can move on to the more advanced alternate picking guitar lessons on this site or elsewhere. 

In the following exercises in this guitar lesson, you will play two note patterns, which will have the added benefit of exposing you to the most frequent two note patterns that you will use in your own playing.  These will also come in handy for developing your ability to tear it up with pentatonic riffs. In the last exercise of this lesson, you will play an arpeggio pattern that hopefully will give you an appreciation of how building skills through simple exercises allows one to move into more advanced guitar territory. 

When practicing the alternate picking exercises you should always focus on precision and timing, playing to a metronome at a comfortable tempo. Make sure you are not losing synchronization between your right and left hands. In fact, these exercises, in their simplicity, are specifically meant to help you build synchronization, and while deceptively simple, maybe even laughably simple, you will see through these exercises just how easy it is to lose picking synchronization. So by developing good synchronization from the beginning, you will avoid pitfalls that many guitar players fall prey to. More importantly, you will already have good alternate picking habits in place to allow you to take your technique to the highest possible level.

You will notice that the exercises in this guitar lesson have various fingerings indicated. The stretching involved in some of these fingerings will help you build dexterity and agility in your fretting hand which will have countless payoffs for your overall mastery on the fretboard. So if you have not used your pinky finger - like a lot of guitarists - don't worry. While some guitarists have/had good excuses to not use all fretting fingers (like Django Reinhardt), if you have the ability to use them all, then be sure to play through all the indicated fingerings. It will do wonders for all aspects of your playing, including there ability to fret more awkward chord voicings.

While it may seem very boring, I want you to think of this guitar lesson the way a mountaineer might think about learning knots - at first, one learns the most simple knots then repeats them dozens of times until tying the knot is already an unconscious task (especially useful when a situation arises that really demands skill with knots!), and then they move on to applying knots in complex scenarios. These first alternate picking exercises are like knots - through repetition, your fingers will take on a newfound ability to play advanced passages, such four-note-per-string patterns and other challenging techniques.

Exercises in this Alternate Picking Guitar Lesson

Alternate Picking - Two Note Pattern 1


This alternate picking guitar exercise, while extremely simple, is meant to help you develop good technique from the beginning so that you can move on to more advanced exercises.

Alternate Picking - Two Note Pattern 2


This guitar exercise continues having you play two note patterns on one string to continue building your alternate picking skills as well as your fretting hand dexterity.

Alternate Picking - Two Note Pattern 3


This alternate picking guitar exercise continues having you play two note patterns on one string, and also develops your fingers' stretching ability, which is a must for moving on to some of the advanced guitar lessons.

Alternate Picking - Two Note Pattern 4


This last of the basic alternate picking guitar exercise continues having you play two note patterns on one string, and further develops your fingers' stretching ability, prepping you for serious fretboard feats!

Alternate Picking - Two Note Patterns: Putting it Together!


In this alternate picking exercise, we will wrap up our basic alternate picking lesson with a not so basic exercise that reinforces what you practiced in this lesson with a very musical example.