When I see professional musicians play their songs on guitar, I see them down picking certain parts where I would prefer to alternate pick.

Follow the url below to a riff that I play first using alternate picking and then down picking


This particular riff is from a professional guitarist called Andy James. Since Andy James is a professional, it makes me think that there's probably a reason why he down picks, and so I would like to have someones opinion who might have further insight in to the matter.

  • 6
    I wouldn't have a full answer for you but I can add this. When strumming chords a down stroke and an upstroke will produce a different sound based on which strings are hit first. Similarly, the first strings that are hit will be hit the hardest and loudest and will have a slightly different tone as a result. I have heard plenty of people get up in arms about performing the Reggae upstrokes as down strokes, which is apparently unacceptable. As a bass player I don't use a pick though, so I haven't noticed a specific difference between alternating and consistent down strokes. Jul 7, 2014 at 18:00
  • I see, this has more to do with picking single notes... that may be good to add to the question. Jul 7, 2014 at 20:07
  • He is probably down-picking on the downbeats and up-picking on the upbeats. If so, copy. Always good to know exactly where you are.
    – user207421
    Jul 20, 2014 at 0:44
  • @EJP He down picks the entire song, as seen on the Lick Library video he does. It's quite the lesson on down picking, for me at least :) Jul 20, 2014 at 17:42
  • I agree there are differences in sound. Kiko Loureiro (Megadeth) revealed that Dave Mustaine asks him exaclty which picking to use. Sometimes he demands only downstroke on open E string and A string on 2nd fret, or only downstroke on open A string and D string on 2nd fre, sometime he demabds alternate picking on both cases, and so on Aug 19, 2020 at 10:56

4 Answers 4


Down picking allows one to apply more power which may be necessary for certain types of riffs. It also makes the attacks more even so they sound more like "chug - chug - chug - chug" instead of "chug - ga - chug - ga" (sorry but I don't know how to express it better).

So the choice of picking technique is based on which sound you want to hear, with the obvious limitation that down picking very fast riffs is impossible for most of us.

  • After doing some further reading, it would seem that's pretty much what it comes down to, the attack or the "chug" sound as you put it. Thank you for your time. Jul 7, 2014 at 19:07
  • 8
    I thought "chug chug chug" and "chugga chugga chugga" were well-established technical terms with a great deal of history. :)
    – fluffy
    Jul 7, 2014 at 23:10
  • @fluffy yep, at least since Beavis and Butt-head :)
    – cyco130
    Jul 8, 2014 at 7:44

One side effect of an upwards stroke is that you'll normally only hit the highest couple of strings. This upwards stroke starts at the highest strings, and (as cyco130 said) is usually a lot weaker, which means that you'll only hit two or three strings at most. More than that will usually sound clumsy, unless you really intend to go for that particular sound. A good example of that is the opening chords to Pink Floyd's Welcome to the Machine. Anyone will notice that those sound fairly peculiar, and that's because they're struck upwards.

Since it's difficult to hit the lower sounding strings properly in an upwards stroke, you'll often see people striking every chord downwards, when the lower strings are most important. For this, a good example is Pennywise's Bro Hymn, a song that most people will immediately recognize. This song's riff consists entirely out of power chords, on the lower four strings, and each strike has almost the same force to it. The only way to achieve that sound is by striking every chord downwards, over and over again.


Downpicking is absolutely stronger and harder to play if made quickly. If hear Metallica songs you can understand better what I mean.. to make it right you should discover your personal hand/arm tactic to be stable.

  • What a coincidence reading your comment now, just today I started learning Master of Puppets. Down picking at that speed is really taxing, it's going to take some time to be able to build up the stamina required to last the entire song. Jul 12, 2014 at 22:58
  • @Midni Yes.. and they perform that song faster in live.
    – kamauz
    Jul 13, 2014 at 12:20

Downpicking is more "percussive" than alternate picking. It gives a more "sharp" or "chug" sound compared to a lighter, more smooth tone with alternate picking. Check out my Ultimate Downpicking Guide here: https://guitarpixx.weebly.com/blog/the-ultimate-downpicking-guide

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.