Practicing Guitar
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[ Practicing Lesson ] [ Alternate Picking ]

Most players, upon picking up a guitar for the first time, have a tendency to strum or pick the strings in a series of either downstrokes or upstrokes. For the rank beginner, this is fine, but the limitations of this pattern soon become self evident, requiring the player to expand his technique if he is to progress as a musician. The first and most obvious improvement one can make is to begin combining upstrokes and downstrokes in an alternating fashion, known as "alternate picking".

Alternate Picking

 

By making use of both upstrokes and downstrokes, alternate picking allows the player to play more efficiently, and can lead to an audible improvement in one's playing literally overnight.

The important thing to remember with alternate picking is this:

Less wasted motion = better quicker playing!

 

Anytime the pick is moving and not in contact with a string, that's wasted motion. Therefore, the player should strive to minimize the length of the pickstroke in either direction, in order to make the most of every movement. How much should the pick move? Well, the thickest string on a guitar is generally only about .050" thick, or about one-twentieth of an inch.

Obviously, it is neither possible nor desirable to limit the motion of the pick to such a minute distance, but you can see that very little actual motion is required to play the note. Therefore, I would suggest keeping the pick as close to the string as possible, while allowing enough space for the string to vibrate clearly, but no more than 1/4" of total travel. That may not sound like much at all, but that's all you need; any further motion is wasted.

To begin getting comfortable with alternate picking, I would suggest practicing on just one note; down-up-down-up-down-up, until the picking hand is comfortable with the motion. Then, add another note, playing each note 8 times (alternating 4 downstrokes with 4 upstrokes), until you're able to switch seamlessly between the notes. Eventually, the alternate picking motion becomes second nature, with the hand alternating up- and downstrokes automatically.

 

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