Shred guide: How to get good at alternate picking – part 1

Yngwie Malmsteen, John Petrucci, Alexi Laiho or Eddie Van Halen

 

When you first decided to learn the guitar, you may have been inspired by some of the amazing skill shown by these and other great guitar legends. Unfortunately, you can’t just wake up and suddenly play what they do; it takes many hours or even years of practice.

The ability to pick at super speeds comes from a logical and technical approach based on the foundation of picking the most notes possible while exerting the least effort needed. This lesson will be given in two parts and hopefully by the end you will understand this objective and implement it in all of your playing.

To begin, let’s get comfortable.

Firstly, grab a fresh pick and hold it how you feel most comfortable. Many players use unorthodox grips so just be sure to hold the pick in the way that suits you best.

Rest the base of your palm on the strings above the bridge. This is what we call palm muting. If you pick the strings, you will notice that the more you press down with your palm the chunkier your sound becomes.

While speed picking, keeping a light pressure on the strings with your palm will allow the strings to ring but cut out unwanted noise.

Where you choose to pick the strings also changes the quality of the sound. If you pick close to the bridge, you will get a trebly twang. If you pick closer to the neck, you will produce a softer, warmer tone.

The angle that you hold the pick while dragging it across the strings also affects the sound. Holding the pick parallel to the strings will produce a sharp twang when hit, while dragging the pick across the string diagonally will make a softer smoother sound.

Now that you’ve achieved the perfect picking position and are fully comfortable, you are ready for the two basic alternate-picking moves – the upstroke and downstroke.

This is the bread and butter of alternate picking. They are easy to do but hard to master. Getting to a point where you can do these two things smoothly across all the strings is how you achieve hyper-speed picking.

Here are a few exercises that will get you started on the road to alternate picking mastery.

Practice these exercises over and over again and gradually increase the tempo as you get better. Start slow at about 60-80 bpm and gradually work your way up to the 100s. You are killing it when you break the 150 bmp mark.

u upstroke
d downstroke
\ slide down / slide up

Figure 1

  d  u  d  u  d etc
|-0--0--0--0--3--3--3--3--4--4--4--4--7--7--7--7-|-8--8--8--8--11--11--11--11-12--11--11--11--11-|-8--8--8--8--7--7--7--7--4--4--4--4--3--3--3--3------||
|------------------------------------------------|-----------------------------------------------|-----------------------------------------------------||
|------------------------------------------------|-----------------------------------------------|-----------------------------------------------------||
|------------------------------------------------|-----------------------------------------------|-----------------------------------------------------||
|------------------------------------------------|-----------------------------------------------|-----------------------------------------------------||
|------------------------------------------------|-----------------------------------------------|-----------------------------------------------------||
Figure 2
  d u d u etc
|-4-3-2-1-5-4-3-2-6-5-4-3-5-4-3-2-|-6-5-4-3-7-6-5-4-8-7-6-5-7-6-5-4-|-8-7-6-5-9-8-7-6-10-9-8-7-9-8-7-6-|-10-9-8-7-11-10-9-8-12-11-10-9-11-10-9-8-||
|---------------------------------|---------------------------------|----------------------------------|-----------------------------------------||
|---------------------------------|---------------------------------|----------------------------------|-----------------------------------------||
|---------------------------------|---------------------------------|----------------------------------|-----------------------------------------||
|---------------------------------|---------------------------------|----------------------------------|-----------------------------------------||
|---------------------------------|---------------------------------|----------------------------------|-----------------------------------------||
Figure 3
  d u d u etc
|-0-1-3-4-1-3-4/6-3-4-6/7-4-6-7/9-|-6-7-9/10-7-9-10/12-9-10-12/13-10-12-13/15-|-15-13-12\10-13-12-10\9-12-10-9\7-10-9-7\6-|-9-7-6\4-7-6-4\3-6-4-3\1-4-3-1-0-||
|---------------------------------|-------------------------------------------|-------------------------------------------|---------------------------------||
|---------------------------------|-------------------------------------------|-------------------------------------------|---------------------------------||
|---------------------------------|-------------------------------------------|-------------------------------------------|---------------------------------||
|---------------------------------|-------------------------------------------|-------------------------------------------|---------------------------------||
|---------------------------------|-------------------------------------------|-------------------------------------------|---------------------------------||
Figure 4
  d u d u etc
|-4-0-2-0-5-0-2-0-7-0-4-0-9-0-5-0-|-11-0-7-0-12-0-9-0-14-0-11-0-16-0-12-0-||
|---------------------------------|---------------------------------------||
|---------------------------------|---------------------------------------||
|---------------------------------|---------------------------------------||
|---------------------------------|---------------------------------------||
|---------------------------------|---------------------------------------||

All these exercises are alternate picking on one string – a fairly easy technique to master. The challenge comes in with string crossing.

String crossing is a bit more difficult, but getting good at it is the fundamental goal of alternate picking.

The goal is to always arrange all the notes in your lick so they feel natural and comfortable to play while string crossing. The number of notes that you play on each string and the direction of your first picking stroke (up or down) determines whether the lick will be smooth or awkward to play.

With a bit of thoughtful experimentation, you will be able to arrange the notes in your lick or solo in a way that is both faster and more comfortable to play.

The exercises below show three different ways to pick the same lick.

The first way (fig 5A) is the hardest for the right hand because it requires the pick to make four awkward string crosses.

Figure 5B shows a much smoother, easier way to pick the same run. Notice that there are only two string crosses.

Figure 5C is the easiest. We move the E note over to the 3rd string and begin the lick with a down stroke. This enables us to accent the downbeats for a strong attack and minimizes the awkward string crosses.

Remember, when writing licks you always want a down stroke before you move down a string and an upstroke before you move up a string where ever possible.

Figure 5A (awkward)             

|----------------------------||
|---------------8------------||
|-----7--9--10-----10--9--7--||
|-10-------------------------||
|----------------------------||
|----------------------------||
Figure 5B (easier)
|-------------------------||
|-------5--6--8--6--5-----||
|-5--7-----------------7--||
|-------------------------||
|-------------------------||
|-------------------------||
Figure 5C (easiest)

|-------------------------||
|----------6--8--6--------||
|-5--7--9-----------9--7--||
|-------------------------||
|-------------------------||
|-------------------------||

The exercises below in Figures 6-10 are provided as a practice tool to improve your string-crossing technique.

Practice with a metronome and focus on keeping your right hand as relaxed as you can while increasing speed incrementally as you feel more comfortable with the exercises.

Try your own variations on these exercises and incorporate them into your warm-ups or guitar playing.

Figure 6

|-------------------------------------------------||
|-------------------------------------------------||
|-7--5--------7--5--------7--5--------7--5--------||
|-------7--5--------7--5--------7--5--------7--5--||
|-------------------------------------------------||
|-------------------------------------------------||
Figure 7

|-------------------------------------------------||
|-------------------------------------------------||
|----------5--7--5-----------------5--7--5--------||
|----5--7-----------7--5-----5--7-----------7--5--||
|-7-----------------------7-----------------------||
|-------------------------------------------------||
Figure 8

|------------------------------------------------------||
|--------------10-------------------------8------------||
|--------7--8------8--7-------------7--8-----8--7------||
|-7--10------------------10--7--10-----------------10--||
|------------------------------------------------------||
|------------------------------------------------------||
Figure 9

|-------------------------------------|------------------------------------|-------5--8--5-----------5----------|------------------------------------|-------------------||
|-------------------------------------|-------------------------5--8--5----|-5--8-----------8--5--8-----8--5----|-------5----------------------------|-------------------||
|-------------------------------------|-------5--7--5-----5--7-----------7-|----------------------------------7-|-5--7-----7--5-----------5----------|-------------------||
|-------------------------5--7--5-----|-5--7-----------7-------------------|------------------------------------|----------------7--5--7-----7--5----|-------5-----------||
|-------5--7--5-----5--7-----------7--|------------------------------------|------------------------------------|----------------------------------7-|-5--7-----7--5-----||
|-5--8-----------8--------------------|------------------------------------|------------------------------------|------------------------------------|----------------8--||
Figure 10

|------------------------------------------------|---------------------------------------5----------|-------5--8--5----------------------------------|------------------------------------------------||
|------------------------------------------------|-------------5-------------------5--8-----8--5----|-5--8-----------8--5-----------5--8--5----------|------------------------------------------------||
|-------------------------------------5----------|-------5--7-----7--5-------5--7-----------------7-|----------------------7--5--7-----------7--5----|-------5--7--5----------------------------------||
|-------------5-----------------5--7-----7--5----|-5--7-----------------7---------------------------|----------------------------------------------7-|-5--7-----------7--5-----------5--7--5----------||
|-------5--7-----7--5-----5--7-----------------7-|--------------------------------------------------|------------------------------------------------|----------------------7--5--7-----------7--5----||
|-5--8-----------------8-------------------------|--------------------------------------------------|------------------------------------------------|----------------------------------------------8-||

Don’t be discouraged if some of these are too difficult for you to learn in a day. Just keep practicing and eventually you will get it.

We hope you enjoyed part 1 of our alternate picking lesson series. Join us tomorrow for part 2, where we will be delving even deeper into the complexities of alternate picking and giving you some more exercises to practice along with.

Happy shredding! Peace. – Guitar Graph

Go to Part 2 Here.

 

Photo: Pixabay
Edited: Photoscape
Victor Geiger
 

Victor is a young creator with big dreams and a passion for recording and engineering music. As a seasoned guitarist he is well versed in the art of rocking out to many genres and is also known for dropping some sick beats. Enjoy his writing here and find his music on SoundCloud.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 0 comments

Leave a Reply: