I am a beginner guitar player and I am currently learning how to play back in black from ACDC. I can already pretty play the whole song, though the part I struggle the most is on the first section of the song, the lick after the chord progression E D A, as shown below:

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I would say that I am already at 80% of the speed of the original song. Though I am having quite a hard time in improving the speed up until 100% of the normal speed.

It was when I started wondering about perhaps changing the alternate picking technique I am currently employing. I imagine that the "classic" picking technique would be (from string one to three):

  1. down up (3-0)
  2. down up (3-0)
  3. down (2^(4) 2p0)

I noticed, however, that the technique above requires much more picking-hand movement than if I do:

  1. down up (3-0)
  2. up down (3-0)
  3. up (2^(4) 2p0)

Which would be more like an "arpeggio" going upwards. Despite requiring considerably less movement with the picking-hand, I noticed that this technique is way less natural than the first one. I also noticed that most, if not all the guitar tutorials would teach the first technique (like here and here).

Therefore I would like to ask if anyone would recommend me sticking to the second technique, the one requiring less hand movement. I know there is no "one size fits all" in guitar, but I reckon it is important to stick to some "correct" movements in the guitar, especially when you are a beginner.

  • 1
    In my formative years I worked on the principle that when i needed to change strings, the last pluck would be in the direction of the next string. Spent a lot of time trying to perfect that, and it works in a lot of cases. Obviously there are times when it becomes counter-productive, which is when an extra finger often comes in handy, rather than the pick. It's complex to explain exactly what happens but something along those lines needs looking at for the thousands of different opportunities that this sort of conundrum will present to you in the future! Suffice to say that alternate ...
    – Tim
    Mar 22, 2020 at 17:43
  • ...picking isn't always the practical solution, and I recommend getting used to hybrid picking , which will often, when it comes automatically, be a good way round.
    – Tim
    Mar 22, 2020 at 17:47
  • I'd recommend taking lessons and working through a graded guitar series.
    – user50691
    Mar 22, 2020 at 23:09
  • According to @Tim 's comment your first example is the correct way (and how I play it, too; see my answer below). The "direction of the next string" is up / lower in pitch so playing down-up down-up is the best economy of motion. :) Mar 23, 2020 at 9:56
  • Sounds like a google search for “economy picking” would be useful here.
    – b3ko
    Mar 23, 2020 at 22:01

2 Answers 2


Professional guitarist here. Congrats on your progress! Keep it up and you'll get there soon.

A competent guitarist should be able to pick this lick any number of ways. Because, honestly it's a relatively simple lick to play and the recorded tempo isn't super fast. The "classic" way (first example) is how I usually do it. You could also reverse that ("up-down, up-down, up") - which would be accurate if you want all downstrokes on downbeats and upstrokes on upbeats. Again, it shouldn't make a significant difference. Alternate picking needs to be second-nature, something you do without thinking, as an impulse. Shifting licks to other beats, off-beat, syncopated variations, picking the same lick different ways - these are all excellent ways to improve your picking ability and ultimately your speed. Good luck!

  • Just tried it, and, yes, plan A came out the most effective. And there's not a lot more pick travel needed! For real economy, pull offs worked o.k. for 2nd and 4th notes... Wonder about the term 'correct' - 'more effective' may be more apposite! +1.
    – Tim
    Mar 23, 2020 at 10:22

The problem with trying to optimize a 4 note phase inside a longer passage is that you may set yourself up to be sub optimal later on, after the lick you are trying to speed through.

It is commonly assumed that consecutive picking is always optimal but it does not take long to discover that this is false. Unless the pattern of the lick across strings is the same for a long time, consecutive picking a couple notes then changing can set you up to be either (1) in the wrong direction for something else, or (2) develop an awkward rhythm with your picking hand that never really gets smooth. Having played professionally for over 30 years I can tell you from personal experience that even with 3 note per string pattern (the poster child for consecutive picking) I can play these across all 6 strings way faster and with more control, in both directions, using alternate picking than consecutive picking.

With alternate picking you have a steady regular movement of (up, down) across the phrase. Assume for the moment that the phrase is steady 8th or 16th notes for a while (not your lick but it demonstrates a point). Regardless of the number of notes per string the right hand has an easier job moving back and forth. Changing string is a matter of opening the elbow, or turning the wrist slightly. In contrast, trying set up every string crossing to be consecutive set you up to have irregular right hand rhythm pattern. For the 3 note per string it's something like (short-short-long) = (down-up-down), etc. This can feel awkward but at the end of the day it's a matter of practice.

Any approach has advantages and potential disadvantages. If you "pick" one and drill it I'd hope that it would eventually become smooth and comfortable. If you look at exercises in the Mel Bay series he suggests several picking approaches to every exercises, at the very least all down stroke, pure alternate, then consecutive depending on the placement of the string crossings.

This is a classic song and riff. Are you sure the TAB is exactly how it's played? If you apply a pull off to the 3-0, 3-0, licks on the first two strings you could probably use straight down stroke all the way and create a little more of a blues feel.

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