Pasha Bocharov
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The Most Common Reason Why You Can't Speed Up Your Alternate Picking

Today I would like to talk to you about a very useful guitar technique – alternate picking. I will tell you about it’s essentials and the most frequent problem, that a lot of guitarists have with it.

Usually, guitarists, who play a year or so are able to play riffs like this:

alternate picking riff

So, to be perfect, this riff should be played in the following way:

  1. Start with downstroke on the 5th string
  2. Then upstroke on the 6th string
  3. Downstroke on the 6th string
  4. Upstroke on the 5th
  5. Down on the 6th
  6. Up on the 6th
  7. Down on th 5th
  8. Up on the 6th

The difficult part here is point 4, where a player by intuition wants to play a downstroke, or add kind of sweeping motion from the 6th to the 5th string into the technique. When you just start to master alternate picking, it feels really naturally, but in some cases it can lead to different problems. I will talk about them later.

Of course, if you want to realize an idea, or to reach a curtain sound, you may use either two downstrokes, or sweep motion, but there are some things to remember:

  1. It is harder to keep straight rhythm

When you play a riff in some of these ways, you are no more using alternate picking. Alternate picking is just alternating downstrokes and upstrokes. If you add two downstrokes in a row, you break this constant motion and, as a consequence, keeping rhythm becomes a harder task.

  1. It is harder to speed up

In these places, where you add two downstrokes, your hand, basically, should move twice as fast. The more places, where you have to jump from string to string, the more this is important. So it is pretty hard to keep the speed without getting tired fast. And what’s more, if you keep raising the speed, you will get to the point, where the hand just isn’t able to move fast enough to do two downstrokes. Especially, if you had to jump over a string.

  1. The sound changes

If you play the second note with a downstroke, it will sound brighter, but it is not always necessarily. When you have two guitarists, who play the riff in different ways, you will hear the difference in their dynamics, when they play live. And still, if you start playing faster, the motion becomes harder to perform and at some point you will loose this dynamic accent because of your hand resources. In case of the sweeping motion, you should remember, that it blurs the sound pretty much, because you pick two notes by one motion, not one by one. And again, the higher the speed, the more blur you have. Sweep picking is great for fast solos, but rhythm section should be maximally sharp. So it is better to use alternate picking.

Listen to differences in sound of each way:

Alternate Picking:

Two downstrokes in alternate picking:

Economy Picking

But these are not straight rules, just warnings to avoid problems. I’m not telling you to use alternate picking only. You always can add a second downstroke if you feel like you really need an accent here. You just should keep in mind if you are able to do it on the right speed and if it is appropriate here. The same matches to the sweeping. I used this myself in my music and it sounded cool.

So if you feel like it is cool, go on for it. The problems appear when a guitarist makes this unconsciously. Then riffs will sound different from the original, or a guy can’t speed up, or a hand gets tiered fast.

With the help of this exercise, you can train your alternate picking to get used to it.

If you know some other frequent problems, or if you have some you may write me a mail.

If you fail at this exercise, don’t worry, everyone have different skill, experience, abilities. Maybe you should get some easier exercises for now.

To learn correctly, or to get optimal exercises for you, or to know you are doing everything correctly, you are welcome to learn how to play guitar in Moscow  at my teaching studio.

@makko   2 years ago
nice explanation about the alternate picking! thank you. but I would like to hear the audio with some less distortion, just to bring the clearness up in order to understand (or hear) better the differencies