Alternate Picking For Acoustic Guitar

Alternate picking is a guitar playing technique that employs firmly alternating downward and upward picking strokes in a continuous run, and is the most frequent method of plectrum playing (Wikipedia). Sometimes, it is also called tremolo picking if this technique is performed on a single note at a high speed. This technique is well known in shred (fast soloing) but you can use it in any style. Alternate Picking

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Alternate picking is an important skill, because it gives you the opportunity to play faster than with just down picking. The fundamental idea is that if you are just doing down strokes, each time you bring the pick back up to stroke down again, you are missing an opportunity to hit the string again. In actual fact it is well-organized, because you have to move your hand less distance to hit the next note, and it can be an important differentiation between hitting the note on time and struggling to reach it.

As along with other guitar skills, it doesn’t sound even a little complicated until you actually try and do it. It will take some time to master it and get really fast. After doing it for a long time, you will start to notice that you are subconsciously deciding whether to alternate pick or not, depending on the underlying rhythm. In the end alternate picking allows you to play more efficiently and thus more rapidly.

Hold the pick in whichever method feels best for you. Only the top of your pick should be seen and touch the string, because when you pick you cover less distance and use less energy. Your movement should only come from your wrist, not from your whole arm, and it should be precise. There are lots of ways to practice alternate picking, but really it is something that you have to merge into your entire guitar playing. Being able to alternate pick at the right time is a very important step, and it is one of the barriers that separate good guitar players and people who just play guitar.

The technique has several advantages and some disadvantages, for the most part depending on the licks the guitarist is attempting to play. For example, during fast passages, alternate picking is essential in keeping the picking arm from tiring out. At very high tempos, alternate picking is virtually required, since techniques like down picking are made highly infeasible.

On the other hand, large arpeggios (especially those spanning more than one octave) are very tricky to play using pure alternate picking and almost not possible to play at great speeds, which is why many guitarists choose to employ sweep picking to play these arpeggios (e.g. K. K. Downing, Frank Gambale & Mario Parga). Similarly, some kinds of licks are easier when played using such specialized techniques as legato, economy picking (a hybrid of alternate and sweep picking) or tapping.

Regardless of some of the well-known disadvantages of the technique, some guitarists (such as Al Di Meola, Steve Morse) emphasize the near-exclusive use of alternate picking, even in situations where another technique would be easier, claiming that pure alternate picking leads to a more consistent sound and allows for greater control of tone.

Here is the catch that most beginners don’t realize when they start practicing this techniqe, in order to call the technique alternate picking you need to continuously alternate the picking direction regardless of string change or anything else. The cool thing it is that every note has a very clear definition, especially when playing fast runs, where in economy picking those sweep picked notes are “blended” thus creating a smoother sound which sometimes is not the best solution for a particular style of soloing.

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    1. Alternate picking is one of the techniques that I am using in my guitar practice. Thanks a lot for this post man!!!

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