Alternate Picking - Three Note Patterns

Guitar Lesson

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This alternate picking guitar lesson is similar in spirit to my guitar lesson on two note alternate picking patterns - now we logically go to the next step, by getting your hands accustomed to three note patterns.
Guitar Lesson Objectives:
  1. Develop intermediate alternate picking skills
  2. Continue improving synchronization between fret and picking hand
  3. Build muscle memory of common three note patterns
  4. Further improve dexterity and agility of fretting hand
Ok, got it - just take me to the exercises for this lesson!

In my basic alternate picking guitar lesson - Alternate Picking - Absolute Basics! - I took you through a series of simple exercises that while perhaps ridiculously simple, were designed to get you on the right foot, or right and left hand, in terms of developing speed, accuracy, and synchronization. I also purposefully designed those basic exercises to reinforce muscle memory, agility and dexterity in your fingers, so that in the end you are getting a two-for-one deal. I believe that is always a good approach to practicing - reinforce different concepts at the same time.

You can think of the previous guitar lesson as a stepping stone. By training your fingers pairwise to have dexterity, speed, and accuracy, you are now ready for the next step, which is mastering three note patterns. If you look closely at any guitar solo or riff, you will see that you can break almost anything down into three note fingerings plus position shifts. I'll cover position shifting later, but having mastery of three note patterns, as well as position shifting, you will then be armed to effortlessly play almost anything that comes your way, as well as anything that you dream up. It is all about building blocks.

As I mentioned in the previous guitar lesson, 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. With three notes in the mix, there is now more room for error, but if you progressed through Alternate Picking - Absolute Basics! then your fingers should already be well conditioned to handle the exercises in this guitar lesson.

Likewise with the previous guitar lesson, note that in the tab for each exercise I indicate several fingerings. Practicing all fingerings has the added benefit of preparing your fingers for four note patterns. You will appreciate this fact when we get to four note patterns - trust me!


The three note patterns you will practice in this guitar lesson cover all consecutive (by consecutive, I mean notes that are directly next to one another) 3 note per string patterns that show up in diatonic scales.  I won't get into too much theory here (though I will likely add a theory section to the site!), but for now suffice it to say that in most contemporary music, diatonic scales make up the majority of the harmonic and melodic structure of the music (chords, melody, etc). A C Major Scale is an example of a diatonic scale. It has  seven notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B - you can start from a given note and play seven notes starting from the given note and you end up with a new scale, known as a mode.

If you start on C you just play the C Major Scale (also known as the Ionian Mode). If you start on D and play seven notes you are playing a so called D Dorian scale that is in the key of C - it is the second mode of C, and so on for the other modes. My Scales Guitar Lessons cover this in detail, but what I want to get across now is that despite how complex scales and modes might seem, there are only three unique patterns of three consecutive notes that show up in Major scales and modes regardless of the key.  So by mastering them, you go a long way to developing your ability to play in any key.


Exercises in this Alternate Picking Guitar Lesson

Alternate Picking - 3 Notes Pattern 1

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This guitar exercise is a continuation of our journey down the road of alternate picking, which looks at a common three note pattern to help you start exercising all your fingers!

Alternate Picking - 3 Notes Pattern 2

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This alternate picking guitar exercise is a continuation of our look at the most common three note picking patterns.

Alternate Picking - 3 Notes Pattern 3

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This alternate picking guitar exercise will go over the last of the most common three note picking patterns.

Alternate Picking - 3 Notes Pattern: Wrapping it up

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In this alternate picking guitar exercise, you will apply what you have been practicing in the previous exercises to a practical example showing how you can use three note patterns to create a variety of musical ideas.