How Arpeggios Can Improve Your Alternate Picking

Very few people use alternate picking to play arpeggios unless the tempo is very slow. That’s what sweep picking is for, right?

But what if we’re missing a really useful skill?

Being able to pick arpeggios with alternate picking is not only a useful tool to have because of the tonal clarity you can get, but it’s also a secret weapon in the fight against alternate picking gremlins.

Let me show you how.

Take this first minor shape.

(Image credit: Ben Higgins)

Starting on a downstroke, pick it with strict alternate strokes. Notice how we step up and come back one position before going up again?

This is a really neat trick to use with arpeggios. You don’t always have to go from one end to the other straight away. Stepping up and down adds variety.

It’s also easier to use alternate picking when you’re concentrating your movements in a small area so that’s why we’re using this stepping up approach.

Let’s try a major arpeggio as well.

(Image credit: Ben Higgins)

The picking pattern is the same here because we always start on the A string and come back to it the same way.

What we’re going to do is move down through the E Minor scale playing the appropriate arpeggio for each scale degree.

This will use both minor and major shapes that you’ve become familiar with but there’s one last surprise before the end. A diminished arpeggio!

(Image credit: Ben Higgins)

Fret not (sorry about the pun). The picking pattern is exactly the same, it’s just the finger positions that are a bit different.

Treat this sequence as a workout, but it’s always useful to be able to move through a scale using the chords associated with each interval as well. So not only does this sequence help your technique, but it can also be useful in phrasing or composing.

Let’s get back though, to the main reason that we’re doing this.

If you can pick through arpeggios like this, then how much easier does it feel when you go back to ‘normal’ picking exercises?

The intense string crossing actions needed to pick through these shapes should make scale based patterns feel easy in comparison.

That’s why learning to use alternate picking on arpeggios really gives a boost to your overall picking technique.

Ben Higgins started playing guitar at age 10. He’s released five solo albums and continues to teach guitarists from around the world. In 2012, he released the YouTube video “30 Shredders in One Solo,” in which he emulated the style of 30 of the world’s greatest guitarists. He topped this in 2017 with “101 Shredders in One Solo.” In 2016, Ben developed his “Badass…” online courses, which are aimed at improving people’s technique in picking, sweeping and hand synchronization. To find out more about Ben and his courses, visit

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