Over the years I've helped a lot of my students improve their alternate picking. And one of the most common
frustrations that I help them with is related to picking speed. Some students complain that they have hit a
brick wall with their speed. They feel that they've hit the limit of their alternate picking ability.
And the truth is, they HAVE reached the limit of their picking ability. But I need to stress now that it
always a temporary limit that can be overcome with diligent practice and repetition. In every case, they have
managed to improve their alternate picking speed over time.
There are a lot of different practice strategies that I teach to my students, but let's take a look at just
a couple now. I feel that if you seriously implement them, you'll notice a large improvement in your alternate
picking ability. So let's get started with the first tip…
Do a lot of isolated work on subdivisions.
I've noticed that often speed problems are related
to rhythmic problems. Often the student can't even play the basic subdivisions in time to a metronome. (By
basic subdivisions, I mean eighth-notes, eighth-note triplets and sixteenth notes). And if they can't play
these in time, then they won't be able to play alternate picking exercises in time. And if they can't play the
exercises in time then it's going to be impossible for them to use the metronome effectively to build
So I really recommend doing a lot of practice playing the basic subdivisions on a single note. Yep…just one
solitary note. This will allow you to both improve your timing, and to focus your attention on your picking
hand more. (You are able to focus on your picking hand more because you are only fretting a single note).
#2: Isolate the string change.
The biggest hurdle with alternate picking is being able to change strings while still alternating your pick
motions. Often guitarists can pick really fast on a single string, but can't pick across multiple strings at
the same speed. And this inability to change strings easily will often slow their alternate picking down to a
snail's pace! So doesn't it make sense that isolating the string change would help? Your alternate picking will
only be fast as your string changes. So the more you practice and improve your string changes, the faster you
will be able to alternate pick.
Here's an example of how to practice your string changes. Grab your guitar and do a downstroke on the open
thin-E string. Now do an upstroke on the open B-string. Repeat this a number of times. As you do this try to
make your picking as economical and relaxed as possible. Also pay attention to any tension that you might be
feeling in your picking hand. The idea is to pay intense concentration to movement of the pick between the
strings. Repeat this for at least 5-minutes making sure each repetition perfect.
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