Improving your guitar picking technique will improve the overall quality of your guitar playing
When I was starting out on the guitar I used to get frustrated that when I finished learning a song it didn’t quite sound like the original.
I was playing the right notes, and at the right time.
Yet, the guitarist in the recording sounded like a pro, and I sounded like an amateur.
There were many reasons for this including unwanted strings buzzing, using different gear than that used in the recording, as well as poor guitar articulation.
There are different aspects of articulation including the use of techniques like hammer ons, pulls offs and slides, but in this lesson we’ll focus on the most fundamental aspect of good articulation: Guitar picking.
In each of these guitar picking exercises you will learn how to control the dynamics of the notes, that is how loud they sound, as well as use the right picking patterns.
Exercise one: Alternate picking 1
When playing notes on the same string, the picking pattern that makes the most sense is using downstrokes on long notes, and alternate picking on notes of a shorter duration.
Alternate picking means that every downstroke is followed by an upstroke, which in turn, is always followed by a downstroke.
Make sure you follow the given guitar picking directions when practicing this exercise, and all the other exercises in this lesson.
Exercise 2: Alternate picking 2
In this exercise, you’re going to use a similar picking pattern, while also playing notes with your left hand.
The notes don’t change the picking pattern (alternate picking) since they’re being played on the same string.
Exercise 3: Directional picking
Alternate picking is efficient if we’re playing notes on the same string, but less efficient when we’re changing strings.
As explained by guitar virtuoso Tom Hess directional picking just requires following this simple formula:
- While ascending the strings (moving from a lower string to another string above), play with a downstroke.
- While descending the strings (moving from a higher string to another string below), play with an upstroke.
You can still use alternate picking while playing several notes on a single string.”
If you follow the given guitar picking directions in the next exercise you will learn how to put the above instructions into practice.
Exercise 4: Guitar picking strength
Beginner guitarists tend to pick each string softly in order not to hit adjacent strings.
Thus, in this exercise you’re going to practice the three exercises given above once again, this time applying as much strength as possible to each note, as long as you don’t end up hitting strings you don’t want.
Exercise 5: Sixteenth notes (semiquavers)
So far we have used either quarter notes (crotchets) or eight notes (quavers) in our rhythms.
Sixteenth notes (semiquavers) require no change in your picking direction, but as you’ll see in later exercises, they will give us more choices when exploring accents.
Exercise 6: Accents on the beat
In exercise 4 you picked every note with more strength than necessary to practice picking the notes hard enough.
The next step is to be able to not only pick the notes strongly enough but also apply different strengths to different notes, which is accenting some notes by hitting them harder with the guitar pick.
In this exercise, pick the notes that have the accent (>) sign below them harder than the others, in order to accent them.
This should come as natural since the accented notes fall on the beat.
Exercise 7: Accents off the beat
In the next exercise, the accents are not on the beat, thus they won’t come naturally and will require more effort from you to use more picking strength on the right notes.
This is exactly what we want since the aim of this lesson is to gain control of your guitar picking hand.
If you compare this exercise to the one before it you’ll see you’re playing exactly the same rhythm on the same note, but the feel of the rhythm is different since the accents are in different places.
You can create exercises like this on your own by changing the place of the accents and experiment with logically hitting some notes with more strength than others.
Exercise 8: Starting with an upstroke
In this exercise we’re going to go against the natural trend and play the first note of the beat with an upstroke instead of a downstroke. This makes a good exercise if you want to learn to build speed on the guitar, the reason being that we train our hand to play downstrokes more than upstrokes, since we use them more.
If you can practice the guitar picking exercises given above accurately, congratulations.
You have gained good control of your picking hand.
To keep improving on this particular aspect of guitar playing I would suggest doing these things:
- Practice the exercises given above at faster tempos.
- Apply things you’ve learned from these exercises (ex: Using directional picking, accenting notes) to other aspects of guitar playing (ex: Scales, chords, licks, and riffs)
Having complete control of your right hand picking will make your playing sound better and will make things easier when you’re learning faster and more complex things on the guitar.
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