Alternate picking is a technique used by almost every guitarist. There are other forms of picking which some guitarists prefer, but thatʼs a topic for another article. What I have compiled here is a list of “quick tips” that will beneﬁt your development when practicing this technique. Take these tips into consideration when practicing some of your favorite alternate picking drills & licks.
Quick Tip 1: Take It Slow... Really Slow
In every piece of instructional material, they mention that you should take it slow. What they fail to mention, is the most important part. Be relaxed.
Just because your playing at 40 bpm, doesnʼt mean that your necessarily playing slow enough. Your slow is not someone elseʼs slow. Usually exercises will tell you to begin at 60 bpm, but you should only begin here if youʼve been playing a decent amount of time and are accustomed to the guitar. You really do have to play incredibly slowly, paying attention to how tense your muscles get, and if you can stay relaxed for an extended period of time.
Quick Tip 2: Posture While Practicing
Posture is one of the most overlooked aspects of playing guitar. The importance of posture canʼt be overstated, as it could save you from permanent injury and could also be the sole reason for slow progress. Just because some of your guitar heroes have poor posture, does not mean you should copy them.
A few guidelines for posture are:
- Sit up straight and donʼt slouch.
- Keep your body, namely your shoulders, wrists & neck relaxed.
- The guitar should be fairly raised, so use a footstool if possible.
- If standing, donʼt have the guitar hanging around your knees if you havenʼt gotten used to it. Straining your back and bending your wrist this much is quite dangerous.
Quick Tip 3: Breathing
Breathing doesnʼt seem like it should be of any concern, but youʼd be surprised. When learning something new, or your training your muscles to do something a little faster, check your breathing. Youʼll be surprised at how much your breathing changes when your body is tense and unrelaxed. Breathing is an easy thing to look out for and can make a huge difference.
Quick Tip 4: Use A Timer
When learning a new technique itʼs important that you continue the exercise for a decent amount of time. For example, take an exercise on alternate picking and repeat it at a very slow tempo for five minutes straight. If you canʼt do it, then you probably havenʼt built enough stamina and strength.
Itʼs important to build these, as it will guarantee you can do it. Itʼs no good being able to play sixteenths at 80 bpm only four times.
Quick Tip 5: Be Efﬁcient
Being efﬁcient is all about using the correct ﬁngers for the lick or exercise your trying to learn. Also, consider how far your ﬁngers have to travel to reach the fret. Itʼs much better to be able to relax your ﬁngers and have them hover over the frets, then to have the tense and a couple of inches away. Learning to keep your hands and ﬁngers relaxed while minimizing the effort and time it takes to fret notes will improve your speed and tone.
Quick Tip 6: Consistency
Consistency is yet another very important tool in your toolbox for practicing. Learning a technique takes a lot of time because your literally training muscles to do something that they werenʼt initially created for. This means that the muscles have to grow accustomed to the tasks that you set for them.
The only way to accomplish this is to train them slowly and frequently. You should begin adding this to your practice regime by focusing on one technique at a time. For example, take three of our favorite alternate picking exercises and practice them for ﬁve minutes each non stop. Do this for ﬁve days a week or how many days you practice a week. Thatʼs an hour and ﬁfteen minutes of picking work a week. Also, ﬁfteen minutes isnʼt even that long, so you could run that regime more than once a day if you wanted to.
Quick Tip 7: Take Breaks
Just a ﬁnal tip, that should be mentioned because weʼre talking about technique. Take breaks! Breaks will allow your muscles to rest, and get ready to continue working. During these breaks, ﬁnd some stretches for your hands, necks, shoulders, forearms.
Quick Tip 8: Pick from The Wrist
Alternate picking comes from the wrist. Using your wrist yields the most control and consistency. You should aim to keep your forearm relaxed on the body of the guitar, and the ﬂeshy part of your palm close to the bridge. This makes it very easy to incorporate palm-muting into your playing. Keep your shoulder relaxed, and watch for any tension causing your shoulder to rise up and tensing your forearm.
Quick Tip 9: Holding The Pick
Everyone has a preference when it comes to holding a pick. Marty Friedman has quite an unorthodox technique, but it works for him.
The ideal starting point is to hold your pick between your the side tip of your index ﬁnger and your thumb. Try and keep the rest of the ﬁngers on your picking hand in a loose ﬁst. This is the most relaxed position to start from.
For fast picking, only let a little bit of the pick poke out from your ﬁngers, and hold it at a slight angle. This enables the pick to slice the strings, and lessens the resistance against the strings.
Donʼt push yourself past what your capable of doing. If you feel any strain or pain whatsoever, STOP! Seriously, pain or discomfort is your body telling you that this isnʼt good. There is no sense in the phrase “No Pain, No Gain”, especially when weʼre talking about something that could cause serious damage if not done sensibly.
Muscle-memory is built slowly and consistently. Keep that in mind, and youʼll be on the right track. Proper form, slow practice, and consistency will yield great results.