Speed up your leads with this alternate-picking workout

Speed up your leads with this alternate-picking workout
(Image credit: Future)

Just like strumming, alternate picking has down- and upstrokes at its core. Unlike strumming, this is more of a lead guitar technique, so we’re talking mainly about playing one string at a time. 

Okay, this might not sound overly exciting but bear with us. How you pick massively affects your playing; get it right and your solos will soar! 

In truth, it’s much like strumming – synchronise your downstrokes with the musical pulse and place your upstrokes in between. Follow our exercises to see improvements in both speed and timing

1. Pickerslave

(Image credit: Future)

Here we have two different six-note patterns on the middle two strings, each played with a sequence of alternating down- and upstrokes. Notice how the second grouping begins on an upstroke.

2. Pick Label

(Image credit: Future)

This Zakk Wylde-style lick has a two-note-per-string picking pattern. It’s quicker than the previous lick but each grouping begins on a downstroke, which can make it feel more natural.

3. Flatts pickin' – a challenge

(Image credit: Future)

This bluegrass-style lick will have you moving about from string to string – quite the challenge when you’re using strict alternate picking. Practice slowly and learn four or eight notes at a time, keeping your pick moving ‘down-up’ throughout. 

Try flicking your pick away from the strings on the upstrokes to lessen the chance of hitting the wrong string on the downstroke.

Start at 60-90 BPM, and just remember: ‘down-up, down-up’. Don’t veer from these picking directions.

Move onto 90-120 BPM. Now, the middle tempos are important. You should start to ‘feel’ the music now.

Finally, play it at 120-150 BPM. When you are alternate picking cleanly at this tempo, well, let's just say we're envious!

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Chris Bird

Chris has been the Editor of Total Guitar magazine since 2020. Prior to that, he was at the helm of Total Guitar's world-class tab and tuition section for 12 years. He's a former guitar teacher with 35 years playing experience and he holds a degree in Philosophy & Popular Music. Chris has interviewed Brian May three times, Jimmy Page once, and Mark Knopfler zero times – something he desperately hopes to rectify as soon as possible.