Alternate Picking

So when you’re playing single-line stuff on the guitar, like an improvisation or a melody, how do we play it with our right hand? One of the first methods to consider is alternate picking.


What we do is just alternate between up and down strokes, using a pick. This lets us keep a steady picking rhythm with our right hand. It also carries the downwards momentum of the previous stroke, to put our pick below the string and ready to pick up again (or vice versa).

Try this example of the C major scale, with alternate picking. The numbers above the notes are the fingering of the left hand, and the symbols above the tab are downstrokes and upstrokes respectively.

As with a lot of things on guitar, hard to master, but will open up a lot of doors for all kinds of phrases and single-line playing. Try the above example out a few times – you can also reverse it and go back down when you get to the last note.

Let’s look at a more complicated example – just a little improvisation in C major:


You can see in the first bar that even if we’re jumping around strings, alternate picking remains useful. In the last bar however, we’re going directly down across 4 strings. We could have used alternate picking, but sometimes at points like this, it makes sense to think about it a little bit more and e.g. just play the downstrokes. In fact, if you play all of the downstrokes smoothly without “picking” each note this is called a “sweep” – a technique that we’ll have a look at in a future lesson. For now, have a shot at alternate picking, and try using it to play – well, whatever you want! Try using it for some songs you like, or just improvise!

Cheers and have fun.


Comments are closed