Alternate picking really is the bedrock of plectrum guitar playing.
It is essentially a system you build up to a point where it becomes fluid and second nature – a bit like driving a manual car and using the clutch pedal. The great thing about having such a system in place is that you can concentrate on other things, like your fretting hand while your picking hand moves efficiently and in time.
Alternate picking involves plucking the string in alternating strokes – Down, Up, Down, Up etc even when changing strings.
In the exercises below, we will play each of the open strings using alternate picking.
Note the symbols on the tab:
These are pick strokes, the one on the left being a down stroke and the one on the right being an upstroke. The reason the upstroke looks like a downward arrow is because of the way you look down at your guitar with the thickest string being closest to your eye! Look on the TAB, the arrow actually points in the direction from thin string to thick.
Play these SLOWLY and accurately trying to keep the changes in between the strings sounding fluid with no audible gaps.
Play the E minor pentatonic scale below using alternate picking
The scale below has 3 notes per string, which means that when we hit the 4th note and we change down to the string below, we still have to pick upwards.
It will feel odd to start with, but stick with it – it will feel natural in no time!
As above, but this time descending.
Always play your scales down as well as up – if you find it harder, practice it more until you can do it as well as on the way up!