How to Learn the Guitar by Yourself Part 5 – Alternate Picking Schmuckery

Let me just say that the words ‘alternate picking” were pretty foreign to me although they are pretty straightforward.

Alternate = up and down.

How do you practice alternate picking?

Its one of those things that’s like the elephant in the room.

Heres my way – You just pick up and down on every possible note, scale and string that you can.

Go all over the neck.

Do it all over the fretboard while using upstrokes and downstrokes when you pick a string.

This is called Alternate Picking.

But its not the most efficient way of picking, especially if you want to pick fast and shred like a virtuoso.

Virtuosos dont alternate pick, they economy pick.

While some have, and some do, most don’t.

Start on 1 string and then naturally progress to 2 strings.

On 2 strings is where you start to use economy picking.

Its the same as calling it directional picking.

Pick in the same direction when moving to a subsequent string – either up or down.


Why Listen to Me?

Listen to me because it works and because I didn’t come up with this technique, I’m just the messenger.

The ones who use it have records out, and the ones who knock it don’t.

You decide.

Economy picking has been around for ages and you should get in on it right now if you are still alternate picking.

What is economy of picking?

Its picking with economy of motion, thats it, don’t make it harder than it has to be.


Here are some exercises.

I use to find myself in my room banging out notes and chords and grooves and riffs even if they didn’t sound good.

In other words, the bad sounds LED me to the good ones.

It was a trial and error sort of thing.

It doesn’t have to be that way if you learn the notes on the neck. Once you do its all fine and dandy.

I was stubborn and it took me years on end to finally learn the neck.

We keep putting it off and off.

On these notes, chords and riffs I would ALWAYS practice up and down (alternate picking or alternate strumming if I was using chords.)

See, there are only 2 ways, UP or DOWN.

Don’t make it harder than it has to be by waiting for some glorified alternate picking exercise thats gonna improve your alternate picking.

You are.


Only You

Only you.

Not some exercise.

Sit down and focus.

Come up with your own exercise(s).

Don’t go searching for licks on youtube because this is what will happen.

You will learn it, waste time, maybe improve your alternate picking and never use that lick.

The purpose of the alternate picking thing is to improve your technical ability going up and down or across the neck.

Fluidity is the goal here.

You want to sound fluid and not choppy.

Theres all kinds of alternate, economy, directional picking exercises that work your technique.

But if you’re not gonna use this in your songs its really not that important…right now.

What if you play rhythm guitar and you never need to alternate pick?

I never understood the whole alternate picking big deal they make for nothing. Its simply up and down.

Work it til you get it.

Thats it.

Work it til you get it.

And do it slow.

The main reason there is so much alternate picking hype out there is because of speed.

Speed is actually your enemy.

You should use him sparingly and have him bend to YOUR will and not let speed frustrate you to the point of quitting.

Im gonna be frank here…


Forget alternate picking.

You want economical style picking for speed.

But if you aren’t working for speed you dont need to worry about it right now but I guarantee you that there will come a lick that will require you to use it and alternate picking just doesn’t cut it. 

If you’re anything like me, that lick WILL come.

Be ready for it.

Use the pdf below.

Don’t let all the fancy talk worry you, because thats all it does.

Take your time, go slow and use the most efficient picking for whatever lick or scale run you are currently having trouble with.

Otherwise I see no point in working your alternate picking to death if you dont have a song that uses it.

  • Guitar player 1 – Excellent technique, no song.
  • Guitar player 2 – Excellent song, not very good technique.
  • Guitar player 3 – Excellent song, good technique.
  • Guitar player 4 – Excellent song, excellent technique.


Song first, not technique.

Songs are the aim for you whether they are covers or originals.

If you aim for technique all the time you’re missing the point.

Most hit songs, ever in history, have no need for alternate picking whatsoever.

Alternate picking is an advanced guitar player thing and more so is economy picking.

If you strum songs, you don’t need it. Focus on your songs.

Songs first.

Technique second.

If you always focus on your technique but never fight you’re not a fighter.

But if you fight, while working on your technique in between fights, you have a clear vision of what technical aspects of your fighting need work.

Its the same for guitar.

There are many combinations of up and down but its just those two.

There is no east or west, its just up and down.



So practice as much as you can going down then up and then down on each string.  3 strokes in all. This allows you to hit a downstroke with ease and efficiency on the next string. Ill repeat that…

practice as much as you can going down then up and then down on each string.  3 strokes in all. This allows you to hit a downstroke with ease and efficiency on the next string. (economy picking)

– – – –  -1-3-4

1-3-4 – – – – –


Increase the number of down ups on each string. For example: down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up on string 6. Then do the same for the subsequent strings all the way up to string 1. Once you do that you can come down the strings using up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down all the way down to string 6.

– – – – – – 1-4-3-4

1-4-3-4 – – – – – –


Economy picking therefore is easy. Its only hard at higher speeds so go slow and pay attention to what your hands are doing.

They must be synced up.

Synched up means that every note you fret with your left hand has to be (at the same exact millisecond) that your right hand picks the string with your pick.

This is the “secret” to good playing and good practicing.

Economy Picking

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