Alternate Picking Licks - How You Can Master Them Sooner!

Let's face it. There is something very cool about the sound of guitar licks played with alternate picking. I particularly love the sound of shredders like Paul Gilbert and Michael Angelo Batio racing through some monster alternate picking licks at lightening fast speed. It's very inspiring. And listening to them definitely helps me to stay focused with my alternate picking practice! :-)

But have you noticed something?

The fact that there's not a great deal of information on HOW to learn alternate picking licks. And when you think about it, that's the most important part, especially if you're new to alternate picking. If you don't know how to learn the licks effectively, then it's going to take a LOT longer to master them.

It would take a whole book to describe all the possible approaches to practicing and mastering licks. (Far more space than this article will allow!). With that said, we're going to look at an easy-to-implement strategy that I use when I initially learn an alternate picking lick. I've found it very helpful, and I hope you do to!

So, what is this strategy? Simply this…

Develop A Game Plan

What I mean by this is simple. Before you start physically practicing the lick, make sure that you are 100% aware of what both hands should be doing for EVERY note of the lick. I recommend to my one-on-one students to do the following three things…

  1. Write in the pick motion symbols above every note of the lick. In other words, work out before you play the lick what notes will be played with a downstroke and what notes will be played with an upstroke.
  2. Write the left-hand fingerings underneath the lick. You need to work out exactly what finger of the fretting hand will play each note. This is vital, because often guitarists will change fingerings from day-to-day. And this lack of consistency between different practice sessions means that it takes much longer for the lick to be internalized. (The fastest way to master a lick is to decide on the most efficient fingering and make sure you use that fingering every time you practice the lick).
  3. Draw a circle around the hard parts. When you look at the lick, try to notice any parts that might be particularly challenging. For example: There might be a particularly tricky string change within the lick. If you draw a circle around it you will be more likely to notice it each time you practice the lick. And awareness of it means that you will pay special attention to make sure you are playing it correctly.


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