3 Easy (But Powerful) Alternate Picking Exercises

Alternate picking between strings is tricky. On a single string, even a beginner can economize picking motion and nail tunes like “Miserlou” and “Thunderstruck” after just a few weeks of intensive practice. Pumping the pick at that speed through different strings is a whole new ballgame.

In this article, I’ll show you three easy but powerful alternate picking exercises that will train your hand to jump between strings with ease.

1. The Gilbert

Named for Paul Gilbert, one of the fastest guitarists of all time. He makes excessive use this phrase in many of his solos and has recommended the exercise in his instructional videos. (He has excellent instructional videos. Check out Terrifying Guitar Trip, Intense Rock, Get Out of My Yard, and Silence Followed by a Deafening Roar.)

Start with a downstroke and use strict alternate picking, seamlessly repeating the pattern with a metronome.

$4 7 8 10 $3 7 $4 10 8 7 8 10 $3 7 $4 10 8 7 8 10 $3 7 $4 10 8 7 ||

Inverted:

$4 10 $3 7 8 10 8 7 $4 10 $3 7 8 10 8 7 $4 10 $3 7 8 10 8 7 $4 10 ||

Can you find that phrase in this solo?

2. The Di Meola

Named for Al Di Meola, one of the fastest guitarists of all time. This is a two-string modification of a single-string alternate picking lick that he’s known for. He has a self-titled instructional video that’s a gold mine for picking enthusiasts. It was one of my first instructional videos (on VHS), and I’m still pulling advice from it 15 years later.

Start with a downstroke and use strict alternate picking, seamlessly repeating the pattern with a metronome.

$4 10 8 7 $3 10 8 7 $4 10 8 7 $3 10 8 7 $4 10 8 7 $3 10 8 7 $4 10 ||

Inverted:

$4 7 8 10 $3 7 8 10 $4 7 8 10 $3 7 8 10 $4 7 8 10 $3 7 8 10 $4 7 ||

And I thought my delivery’s too dry.

3. The Petrucci

Named for John Petrucci, one of the fastest guitarists of all time. This type of phrase was used exclusively (and at ludicrous speed) in a section of his solo on Dream Theater’s “Erotomania.” Check out Rock Discipline, by my estimate the most-watched advanced rock guitar instructional video ever made.

Start with a downstroke and use strict alternate picking, seamlessly repeating the pattern with a metronome.

$4 7 8 10 $3 7 8 10 8 7 $4 10 8 7 8 10 $3 7 8 10 8 7 $4 10 8 7 ||

Here’s “Erotomania” live. Watch him use that pattern 19 times in a row, all over the fretboard, from 5:11 to 5:25.

How to Practice These Exercises

Use a metronome. Practicing these exercises without a metronome will be as useful to your playing as watching a Jersey Shore marathon. Use a metronome. Start with a click for every note, then move to multiple notes per click, using your rhythmic sense for the best place for a click in each exercise.

Practice slowly. The first few times you try these exercises, before you get the muscle memory flowing, it’s essential that you keep the tempo slow. But even after you’re able to play faster, you’ll still gain from revisiting a relaxed speed to properly assess the details of your technique.

Watch your hands for efficiency and accuracy. This is easier if you’re playing slowly. Pay attention to how far your pick moves between notes. Use as little motion as possible at all times. Always ask, “Is this exactly what I want my muscles to remember?” Also consider the timing between your pick and fretting fingers. You want nothing but the sound of the pick on the string between notes. Again, this is easier to do when playing slowly.

Accent different notes. As you repeat these patterns over and over, you’ll probably accent the same note every time naturally, whichever one is on the metronome click. Harness that, and try placing a different note on the click.

Experiment with picking directions. I prefer starting all of the above exercises with a downstroke. That’s the industry standard. Also try starting each with an upstroke. That’s how Greg Howe and Tim Reynolds might do it. Facility with both strategies can only help.

Move it around. Each exercise above is only an example of the concept. They can all be played anywhere on the fretboard, any pair of strings, any collection of fingers. Don’t stick to exactly the notes shown in this article. Explore!

This entry was posted in Intermediate, Technique, Videos. Bookmark the permalink.
  • Lou

    Hey, just a quick question for clarification – since each pattern ends with the first note of the pattern, are we playing that note twice in a repeating pattern, or should we only play it once, like all the other notes? Thanks!

  • Lou

    Hey, never mind – I re-watched your intro video and saw that you’re not playing that leading note twice, so it’s just the fact that the leading note is included at the end of each tab that was confusing me.

    • Correct, sorry for the confusion. I just wanted to demonstrate several repetitions of the pattern in each line of tab.

  • Luiz Almeida

    Hey, Thank You very much!