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.
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!
If you want to study the examples away from the video or article you can download a pdf here:
You can also check out one of the more demanding solos in my WebStore:
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please feel free to leave 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 want to hear.