Tag Archives: alternate picking

A Better Focus For Alternate Picking – Getting The Exercises Right

This lesson will give you some more efficient alternate picking exercises and strategies for guitar.

Most lessons on getting a better right-hand technique only focus on repeating patterns and picking exercises that are easy to speed up. Of course, you need to build that, but one thing that is left out is flexibility, and you need that for most kinds of interesting music it is not enough to be only fast and robotic.

Speed Is Not The Only Goal – What You Really Need

When you are developing techniques and you are trying to figure be precise and improve something in your playing, and often the only measure is speed, but this can also become a way to fool yourself into doing exercises that are not helping you solve the actual problem, simply because you can measure that you play some pattern or scale faster every week.

Of course, it makes sense to spend some time working on stuff like that helps you do easy patterns faster and more clean, but when you are playing solos then the melodies might be like this:

II V I lick

And here you are not really using those easy patterns and your right hand has to solve much more complicated problems.

This is where flexibility becomes a much more important part of your skill set and where you need to practice some different things to be able to play like this fast and clean, even if it is not as fast as some easy repetitive scale pattern.

How Do You Get Flexible Technique?

There are many ways to work on becoming more flexible and able to play more complicated picking patterns, playing etudes of different kinds are very useful so you can get into Bach or Kreutzer etudes and use those as technical puzzles to improve your right-hand technique

Another option is to work on taking melodies or structures through scale positions. Scale positions will often manage to make life difficult for your right hand and force you to solve some problems. This type of exercises can be as simple as playing the scale in 3rds or Diatonic Triads:

Exercise #1a – Diatonic 3rds

And you can add the Diatonic triads as well: (voiceover)

Exercise #1b – Diatonic 3rds

Remember that you can easily go back and check exercises if you want to really hear what they sound like or check how I play them. This material is very basic but also much closer to what you come to want to use in your solos

The goal here is to play the exercises cleanly and with good phrasing. Since these exercises are less systematic and therefore more difficult you probably can’t play them as fast, but working on them is helping your right-hand to be able to deal with the types of melodies that you come across in the Jazz lines and it will make it a lot easier to play less predictable melodies.

Let’s look at some other exercises that will really open up your playing.

Focus On The Difficult Bits

So instead of putting the focus on things that are really easy to play then it makes sense to work on the things that are difficult, and for alternate picking the easy part is to play more notes on one string, changing strings is a bit more annoying, but you can make some exercises that work really well for that:

Exercise #2 – Drop2 voicings

Here I am playing 1 note per string so playing this with alternate picking is forcing you to work on one of the most difficult.

You can also do this with other arpeggios but the drop2 voicings are very nice dramatic for lines like this:

Am7 Lick with Cmaj7 arpeggio

When you start working on this and think it is really difficult but you start to get somewhere then you should try two things:

Check out how amazing Bluegrass guys like Tony Rice are:

And then try to play the whole thing backward which is really difficult

Exercise #2 backward

Now we can start looking at some of the really annoying exercises

Annoying But Makes You Play Better

With the previous exercise then you were working on moving string to string while alternate picking. A good next step for this would be to work on this but also skipping strings. You can do this with spread triads. This is something that I thought of from seeing this video of Pat Metheny:

And if you want to see someone play some very dry technical stuff and get it to sound like beautiful music then go watch that video, Pat Metheny is another level.

I have two exercises with spread triads, one that is difficult and another one that is much more difficult.

#3a Exercise

When you practice these, then make sure to not play too soft. I have seen, with students and for myself, that it works better to have a nice clear attack on the note so that if you are not precise then you really mess it up.

In the previous exercise, there was a lot of string skipping and a lot of 1 note per string and that makes it difficult but it is also building precision and the flexibility to move like this in solos, and you can make it even more tricky by not always having the string skips in the same place.

#3b Exercise

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Picking Techniques beyond Alternate Picking

Alternate picking is the core of what I use when I play jazz guitar. But there are other strategies that I combine alternate picking with to make it easier to play faster phrases. This video is on how I use sweeping and economy picking to play certain arpeggios and jazz phrases.

In the end a good technique is going to be a combination of several techniques and should be a tool set that you rely on to help you get the phrasing that you like. In the end we have to let the music rule the technique and not the other way around.


The construction of the lesson

The way this is build up is that I have three examples with some different techniques that I break down and give you some exercises to work on the picking technique strategy in that example.

Small sweeps for 7th chords 

The first example has two different applications of economy picking or sweeping. The firs is a standard sweep of an Abmaj7 arpeggio. The 2nd is used twice to add some more dramatic movement with the arpeggios in the bar.

Here I will focus on the second approach. The idea is to use a down stroke for the first note in the arpeggio and then add a pull off to give your right hand time to easily make the sweep of the last two notes.

To work on this idea it is probably a good idea to first spend some time with just getting your right hand used to the movement. I demonstrate this in the video as well.

If you want to go on further you can do the exercise shown here below:

The opening of the example is using a slide to make it easier to speed up the phrase. That is another thing that I use a lot in combination with all the chords

Economy picking triads in string combinations

The opening part of the second example is using a pentatonic scale layed out in a 3-1 pattern on the neck. That way of playing a pentatonic scale makes it really easy to play certain types of melodies (for me anyway).

The picking of this phrase is a bit tricky and I start the phrase with an up stroke. If you have a phrase that is difficult to play then it can be a good idea to check what it feels like and how it sounds if you reverse the picking.

In this case it really helps me with playing the phrase fast enough, and I also talk about this idea in the next example.

The main focus in this example is playing triads. The 2nd bar of the example contains two triads, one is 1 note per string and one is a 2-1 fingering (so 2 notes on one string and 1 note on the next).

The Triad Picking strategy

The triads I am concerned with in this lesson are the descending triad arpeggios. The idea in the 2nd bar is to start the triad with a down stroke and play the rest with upstrokes. 

The way I do this it feels like a more balanced way to play them than having to “reverse” the picking if I play several triads.

You can work on the 1 note per string variation using this exercise on the middle string set:

The two string version of this exercise could be something like this.

If you get more used to this approach it is really useful to try to play a scale position of diatonic triads.

Turned Around Sweeps! The surprising solution

The idea in the beginning of this example is to play 3 note patterns with one note per string and then use a specific picking idea that if you try if for the first time seems counter intuitive.

In this example I am using the approach on the first two arpeggios in the example. First an Abmaj7 shell voicing and then a quartal arpeggio from Ab.

I discovered that I use this approach when I was explaining and slowing down an example for a student, but I find that the idea works extremely well.

The strategy is to start with an up stroke and then go down and up on the next two notes. This is in fact all alternate picking, but if you repeat it then we get two up strokes after each other. One at the beginning and one at the end.

The advantage is that the last note is setting us up to move back and get the first note in the next one. This is mostly useful if you are repeating 3 note patterns like I do in the example here below.

To work on this approach you can do the exercise of diatonic shell voicings shown here below:

Putting it all together with techniques

As I mention in the beginning the best strategy for me is to have a lot of different options with picking and then try to find a combination of what is playable and what sounds good. I think this should be the main priority when working with technique. in my opinion.

Of course you can also tell that I also use legato very often as a part of the strategy. If you are interested in a video on this then leave a comment on the video on YouTube. Maybe I should do a video on that.

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Picking Techniques Beyond Alternate picking

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please let me know. Leave a comment on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you are searching for.

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3 Great Alternate picking exercises to help you play fast

Alternate picking is a huge part of all players right hand technique and at the same time something that is very difficult to develop for a lot of students. In this lesson I am going to go over 3 exercises will help you develop your ability to deal with some of the more troublesome alt picking problems and make your right hand technique much more flexible and efficient.

Basic Alternate picking exercises

The thing that alternate picking does well is that it is a very easy way to pick notes on the same string. Using 3 notes per string is a good way to have some scale exercises that help your right hand gain some dexterity and speed. In this lesson I am assuming that you already practice scales with alternate picking and have some overview of the with scale patterns. You can check out complete 3 notes per string scales here http://jenslarsen.nl/pdf-downloads-charts/. If you want more ideas of how you can find exercises with the scale you should check out my lesson on scale practice in positions: http://jenslarsen.nl/how-to-practice-your-scales-and-why/

Keep in mind that the sale practice you should in the beginning not focus on speed, work more an staying accurate and have control. This will be the same for the exercises I go over in this lesson.

One note per string

The problematic movement for alternate picking is when we move from one string to the next, and this is what we need to train and work on in these exercises. You start encountering this in arpeggios both by themselves and when played in scale positions.

Since the difficult part is changing and skipping strings we can start designing exercises that only contain one note per string. One exercise could be taking the diatonic shell voicings of a major scale on a string set like I have written out in example 1:


When you practice the exercise make sure that you play the notes loud. In my experience you will be able to play soft if you start practicing loud, but the other way around is much more difficult. Another positive side effect is that it makes you clearly hit or miss the note and by that you will get more accurate.

Don’t sweep

Exercises with one note per string are often handled with sweeping or economy picking. This is quite normal and also a technique that I often use however since we are trying to work on alternate picking it can be useful to alternate pick phrases you would normally sweep. One thing that is a big advantage to picking instead of sweeping is that the attack is easier to time and you will find it easier to lock into a groove compared to a sweep.

Drop2 voicings on different string sets

To expand on exercise 1 we can add another string and also start using different string sets.

In example 2 I have shown an exercise of playing 4 drop2 voicings on different string sets. The exercise is playing drop2 voicings in diatonic 3rds so the first one is Cmaj7, Em7, Gmaj7 and Bm7. This makes it possible to use the sequence over a chord as a possible line over an Cmaj7(#11) or Am7.

You should try to figure out the other arpeggios as well.


Skipping a bit around

Once you can play the 1 note per string arpeggios of example 1 and 2 you can start to work on moving from different strings and breaking up the direction a bit more.

In example 3 I am using diatonic drop2 voicings on the middle string set. The idea is to have a low pedal note and then alternate between that and the remaining three notes in each chord voicing. I am repeating the pattern for each chord so that more time is spent on picking strings than moving around in the diatonic chords. You could try doing this for the other exercises as well.


I hope you can use these exercises to make develop your right hand technique in terms of accuracy and flexibility. Working on these and similar exercises has helped my technique a lot because they focus on the one thing that is really difficult and therefore trains your hands to deal with that problem.

I could do a lesson on more string skipping exercises and how to take this type of material even further. Leave a comment on the video if you are interested in that!

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There is no greater love – solo transcription

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