Alternate picking guitar technique Blog.


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Alternate picking is a strict Up/Down or Down/Up Picking Movement as opposed to a hammering on and pulling off technique. We do this by employing a relaxed wrist motion plucking up and down or down and up from the WRIST. Never do we pick from the elbow, forearm or shoulder!. We sometimes use a floating motion across the strings and sometimes a pivoting or anchoring technique by resting our palm lightly on the bridge of the guitar. The exercise below demonstrates the basic “Down Up” and “Up Down” Strict alternate picking movement.

Alternate picking up stroke and down stroke diagrams

When Holding the pick [plectrum] the thumb needs to be “Rigid” but not tense [Flexible is the best definition]. There must be zero tension in the hand either.
[ With a loose thumb it is easy to drop the pick and lose fluidity.]

Ex.2 Simple exercise for holding the Pick:

How to hold the pick

Put out your hand as if to shake hands

How to grip the plectrum

Bring the fingers in as if to hold a cup

Holding the pick with the proper plectrum grip

Bring down the thumb. It can remain “Flexible” but not wobbly and helpless.

Inside of the hand of the plectrum grip

Inside of plectrum grip. [Fingers Lightly Folded In]

How to hold the guitar pick

Basic Grip with the THUMB as the “Powerhouse” [Never the arm/elbow]

Angle of the hand holding the guitar pick

Ready to Play! Although the thumb is gripping the plectrum firmly there is no tension in the hand or wrist.


The Classic Plectrum Grip [My Style]

The hand is closed but it is not tense. The fingers are lightly tucked in. The wrist is loose. This is a very common grip. This is a really excellent grip if you are having problems with your picking hand . This is the grip as used by the great improvisers like John Mclaughlin and Al Di Meola.

alternate picking plectrum right hand grip


Other Plectrum picking Grips:

alternate picking guitar plectrum grips examples and demonstrations

Different players grip the pick in different fashions. I use the classic John Mclaughlin grip because I feel it is the best one when it comes to jazz/fusion improvisation and complex rhythms. Whichever grip you choose always remember that regardless of how you hold the plectrum the Principles remain the same. The Thumb being the powerhouse that takes any “Pressure” as we “Pluck/alternate with the wrist”.

John Mclaughlin style Grip Lesson


If we look at the diagram below we can see what is PHYSICALLY taking place when we are crossing the strings.

If you pluck UP on your 1st string you will have to SKIP OVER the second string before plucking DOWN on it.

So when we are plucking across the strings we are in a way string skipping. Most people I have taught are completely unaware of this. This is why so many people find/assume that alternate picking is difficult.

From the "outside" of the strings it is Up skip over pluck down pluck up


From the “Inside” of the strings it is Down skip over pluck up.


The mechanics of alternate picking when the guitar pick crosses the strings



Down skip over pluck up-when crossing

Michael Angelo Batio sextuplets guitar exercise for the up stroke

UP skip over pluck down-when crossing

Paul Gilbert alternate picking guitar exercise for the up stroke

Coming UP on the Up stroke Exercises

These 3 simple exercises emphasise the coming “UP” on the upstroke creating a rolling effect. These are “EVEN” groupings meaning that the picking pattern repeats itself.

Exercise 1

2 strings crossing repetition alternate picking “EVEN” Groupings

alternate picking guitar exercise crossing the first 2 strings

Exercise 2

2 strings crossing and left hand shifting whilst alternate picking “EVEN”Groupings

alternate picking guitar exercise number 2 for beginners


Start with a downstroke and feel the last stroke in the group of 16th notes which will be an upstroke. Use this to be aware in order for you to pluck and accent the 1st stroke in the next group of four 16th notes. Repeat the pattern.This is essential to get the double timing 16th notes rhythmic and precise whilst alternate picking.

alternate picking guitar  1 string exercise

The exercise/lick below on a 2 5 1 is built on 4 note groupings of 16ths called “TETRACHORDS”.Take it slowly using the rhythmic method from the 16ths exercise above.

Alternate picking guitar exercise tetrachords jazz fusion guitar line



Exercise 4: GROUPS OF 6 NOTES “ODD” Groupings

Start on a DOWN STROKE and then come “UP” on the second group of triplets and follow the sequence. These are repeated patterns but are “ODD” Groupings meaning that on every 3 notes the picking pattern changes, e,g down 2 3 Up 2 3. [Although as a group of 6 it would be an even grouping].

FREVO “Rasgado” INTRO By John Mclaughlin/Paco De Lucia

frevo Rasgado guitar trio John Mclaughlin Paco De Lucia guitar intro lesson


In the diagram below we can easily see the right hand crossing the strings picking each string naturally as it comes. We can also see that the right hand is always aligned with the string it wishes to pluck.

Aligned with the 6th string Open E

alternate picking plectrum alignment

Aligned with the 5th string Open A

pick alignment 5 string

Aligned with the 4th string Open D

pick alignment 4th string

Aligned with the 3rd string Open G

plectrum alignment for alternate picking on the guitars 3rd string

Aligned with the 2nd string Open B

plectrum alignment for correct alternate picking

Aligned with the 1st string Open E

1st string plectrum alignment



If you do alternate picking properly and pluck each string and each note of a phrase with a loose wrist and and relaxed arm/hand then you will avoid injury.

But if you just do a tremolo and hammer on then you will put yourself at risk.

The principles outlined in this short book are very simple and easy to understand. They are not only here to help you  progress but also to help you avoid injury.

Correct wrist technique when alternate picking at the guitar


Anchoring means pivoting on the bridge lightly

Floating means not resting on the bridge for support. Although this support could come from resting the arm on the body of the guitar [mainly acoustic].

Below is an example of what I do which is a mixture 70% FLOATING with 30% Anchoring.

Floating and pivoting when alternate picking guitar demonstration

alternate picking lesson

Angling the pick

Some people prefer to angle the pick. Some people do this naturally.

Angling the guitar pick for alternate picking


It is best to use a “Hard” Plectrum for alternate picking. [Jim Dunlop do some very good hard plectrums].

guitar picks


metronome   digital metronome

Employing the metrenome is the only way to learn quickly and effectively. This amazing device will have you alternate picking smooth and precise rhythms on your guitar. Wether it’s jazz, fusion, improvisation or heavy metal the metronome is the best way to achieve mastery with the guitar pick.



This website page is only a guide and was written for the main purpose of helping a beginner/or anyone struggling to understand alternate picking and avoid injury whilst learning it.


Alternate Picking "Triplet" Style   Al di Meola  CLICK
Al Di Meola REH Guitar video

Alternate Picking Jazz Fusion Improvisational Style of John Mclaughlin  CLICK

John Mclaughlin This is the way I do it


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