I'm trying to learn strict alternate picking, but I cannot find lessons and/or exercises that address my problem. My problems is due to years of a self-taught regimen of hybrid/economy picking, or as it's commonly known as "Whatever gets the job done" and I'm damn good at this. If I'm practicing, say a minor scale or whatever, and do 3 triplets per scale degree, if I just disconnect my mind and play, I can rip through it effortlessly - but if I stop and try to play each group starting down then up on the next group, I run into trouble. I don't hit wrong notes or lose rhythm, my pick just simply ends up invariably on the wrong sequence sooner or later, while still playing the scale perfectly. I can do strict alternate obviously at mind-numbingly slow speeds - but it doesn't take much acceleration before my subconscious decides to start dictating whether to start any particular group down or up. This is maddening to me. I sit and play dn-up-dn up-dn-up dn-up-dn for a measure or so and before I know, it has flipped. I think I need an exercise or lesson that somehow helps me connect starting down on beats 1 and 3 and up on beats 2 and 4, but unfortunately most of lessons I've run across are for beginners and does not address my issue at all. Can anyone help? Thanks in advance! \m/

  • Ok so someone posted an answer trying to sell me (for $50 USD) software they developed. When I responded asking why they would use StackExchange to advertise their entire product rather than help with my specific question, they got very angry and defensive with me and then rage deleted their 'answer' (or a mod removed?). Still very interested in any exercises someone might recommend. Thanks. Nov 19, 2020 at 5:35
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    Very simple question - why, after many years of successfully honing the picking you do use, do you feel it's necessary to play using alternate picking? Your methods appear to do more than an adequate job, and alternate picking is causing big problems - so why bother? Alternate picking isn't the holy grail...
    – Tim
    Nov 19, 2020 at 7:04
  • Sorry to appear dry, but restricted characters.. not the Holy Grail. A skill. A mostly self-taught guitarist will eventually want to learn 'proper' techniques to pad the tool box with things that were bypassed. I've learned others, but this one is the most frustrating. Also there are some lines that require some sort of strict strategy - and I've run into them before. I wish to be able to at-will change an approach that's causing a brick wall. Rather than tackling each brick wall as they come, I wish to add a wall climbing kit to my toolbox so I can spend less time getting past each wall. Nov 19, 2020 at 7:31
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    As a seasoned player, you'd be just as well making up your own exercises. But as a guitarist, I've never found that total alternate picking works that well. Changing strings the opposite way means you go against the flow.
    – Tim
    Nov 19, 2020 at 8:23
  • Alternate picking exercises, whether developed by myself or others, reinforces something I can already do - they are for beginners who don't have a firm picking strategy. I can alternate pick and run or note groupings. But when I'm faced with multiple groups, I cannot force the first stroke to be up or down once I'm midway through. My brain just decides, and that is a serious lack of control. If I run into a problem that is solved by flipping a group, I then hit a wall because my brain will always select the first stroke that IT wants, rather the one that might be best. Nov 19, 2020 at 8:44

3 Answers 3


So I'm back after some hours.. and here's the solution I figured out.

As I pointed out, I believed my problem to not be rooted in the alternate picking regimen, and that it might possibly be attached to rhythm emphasis - and I was right (as it pertains to me).

It's the way the brain "chunks" information. You can count a triplet whatever way you were taught, but at a certain speed threshold, you can no longer verbalize each note in rhythm. Instead, you count the beat and let the other two notes fall into place. This is "chunking" and I needed a way to attach each chunk to a beat to signal a starting pick alternation.

I started "rocking" the guitar. I pushed the neck forward on 1 and 3, and pulled it back on 2 and 4. I then commanded the pick to start with a down stroke when the neck pushed forward, and an up stroke when pulled back, and it worked!

The progress I made in just the last 45 mins left me very satisfied and believing I earned the sleep I'm about to get hehe

after this beer = )) cheers all! Thanks for your time Tim, much appreciated!

  • Glad you found a solution that works for you. I agree with everything Tim said in his comments. To add, the starting picking direction in an actual performance scenario (particularly if improvising a solo) is informed by the pick movement immediately before that note, the string that note is on and what string the next series of notes will be played on. Strict down up alternate picking is not always the best pattern for what your are playing. There is nothing wrong with mastering the technique however as there are cases where it is the most efficient picking pattern. Nov 19, 2020 at 20:25
  • Thanks RC for understanding my intent. I did not title my post "Should I learn Alternate Picking". We spend so much time staring at our fret hand and teaching it new skills. I simply wanted a long-avoided picking skill but quickly realized I needed to overcome my reliance of previous skills. Aren't we supposed to constantly be bettering ourselves and gaining more control of our instruments? As to Alt Picking, it's also a percussive thing - a very different dynamic. I wanted the choice to be able to do that is all. Apparently Alt Picking is a sensitive subject. Thanks for your comment good sir! Nov 20, 2020 at 0:03

i found that learning a specific song(s) are super helpful, i've been learning "pray for plagues" and "icarrus lives".

i do think strict alternate picking definitely warrants learning. it helps also to see how music groves (when u switch between riding the up beat vs down beat), how to create like other sequences and rhythms.

i've been doing strict for the past 3 months, and my rhythmic intuition, understanding is much much improved.

  • Hi Raven. Glad this thread caught your attention! Threads may age, but discussion of technique is always a fresh subject. Thanks for contributing a comment, and I wish the best in your journey of musicianship! Dec 6, 2021 at 23:47

I came on the internet looking for the exact same thing you were, Slo.

I've been studying guitar for many years and my teacher is a tough coach who insists on strict alternate picking for his students. I'm right there with you having been both self taught and had private tutors.

I LOVE SAP as challenging as it is. I can attest that if your stick to it, your playing will be faster, perhaps faster than it is now, and eventually it will become automatic. You'll know when to SAP and when to do your own thing but the training within the grappling through the monotany you'll be doing plus, a quick question: what the hell happens to our picks, which seem to become inebriated once we begin the SAP lessons? They no longer fall where they knew to. I hate that my pick doesn't know where to be, that my fingers are precise but the picking is that of a beginner.

Well, Partner, tell your ego to step to the side and start slow. Don't worry that it's slowing down your firey-fast fingerings. Just keep at it like the little engine that could and you'll see what happens to your playing if you practice it consistently.

I've realized there's no fast, easy way to download the skill into ourselves except through repeated motions. Given I know the forms, I study songs that require a mountain-full of chops. Take for instance, "Hot on Your Heels" by Y. Malmsteen. The beginning is a wonderful exercise to practice your SAP on. Music by Stevie Ray Vaughn as well.

I know exactly how you feel but know that it's not the exercise that's going to make it or break it for you. It's the time you put into it. You'll see the results, the more you just keep at it. As my coach says to me: "quit complaining and get picking." I laugh and say, ok! Ok! I'm picking, I'm picking! Best to you.

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