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The Art Of Picking Part 1

Shortly after I started writing instructional stuff for Guitar4U, I decided to write about picking... alternate picking and all the other nice picking techniques... how to practise and work on that stuff.

Back then, a lot of people obviously liked those three articles, so I figured I should update them and publish them on iBreatheMusic.com.

Actually, when I re-read those old articles, I noticed that I'd change quite a bit. Not because any of the stuff in those older articles was wrong. I just figured I could just try to approach the topic a bit differently. And therefore, the whole thing changed quite a bit...

Let's go for it.


Alternate picking is one of the most basic but also one of the most important technique for guitar players. What´s even more important, it's the basic building block of many other techniques, such as economy and sweep picking.

That means that you should make sure that your alternate picking works before you attempt to delve into all those other techniques. Picking is a great way to work on synchronizing your hands and building speed, which is an elemental thing for stuff like sweeping etc.

So, let´s work on alternate picking. Much of the stuff I'm gonna tell you might not all be new to you. After all, the topic has been discussed and explained many times. But maybe I can kinda sum it up and combine several different approaches, ideas and exercises.

The left hand

Weird huh ? We're talking about picking and I start with the left (the fretting) hand. That is because alternate picking is about synchronizing the hands. That means, you wanna pick every single not you fret and vice versa. This is a tough thing to master, but once you do you have taken a huge step.

What is important to consider for the left hand ? Well, we don't wanna waste any energy and time with the left hand. Because, let's say you're able to pick pretty fast with your right hand... but you can't fret even half as many notes with the left hand.

When I started out, I was a huge fan of Eddie Van Halen (I actually still am). Back then, my teacher told me that Eddie does more with his left hand than he does with the right. Well, I guess I got him wrong, because for the
following months, I did nothing else but working on my left hand (legato) technique, hammering and pulling pretty much EVERYTHING.

That was cool, I got really fast that way. Problem was:
a) I wasn´t able to pick fast because my hands were not synchronized at all. So, I did a lot of unvoluntary double- picking (picking each note twice) because my right hand was picking faster than the left hand was changing notes.


b) I was using way too much strength with my left hand when picking... which means, with the right hand I was picking, but with the left I was using as much strength as I was when playing hammer on´s. I was playing this fast picking thing, and then I would stop picking... and it still sounded the same cuz my left hand was doing all the work, fretting way too hard, thereby creating a constant legato-thing.

So, the first thing to watch is how much strength you are using with your left hand. Just like Jamey Andreas wrote in a recent article for iBreatheMusic, you don't need to use much strength. After all, the pick is supposed to make the notes ring... the left hand just has to fret the notes.

So, try to relax your left hand, and make sure you´re not fretting too hard when you work on a picking sequence. It really does take a very light touch. The key is: relax !!!

The other important thing is: minimize movement of your left hand fingers. Many players move their fingers way too much, taking them really far away from the fretboard when changing notes. That way, you kinda waste time, because you could fret the next note way earlier if you wouldn´t move your fingers too much. How to work on that ? (Turn the page...)

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