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Improve your guitar playing speed with these top 10 alternate picking exercises, inspired by lines from the greatest guitar players.
With these exercises, speed picking and high-octane shredding are just a few exercises away!
These are alternate picking exercise tabs, so check out this lesson if you need to know how to read tablature.
Spider alternate picking exercises
The spider exercise is the most iconic guitar exercise.
It’s a chromatic exercise that uses all 4 fingers on the fretting hand, and it builds up your alternate picking chops and hand synchronization.
Pentatonic 8th notes
This is one of the best alternate picking exercises in A minor pentatonic. It’s simple, and it rocks.
It descends the scale in groups of 8. As long as you know your 5 pentatonic scale shapes, you can apply this phrasing concept/exercise in any pentatonic position.
A minor pentatonic string skipping exercise
This is a great speed picking exercise overall, and is great for practicing string skipping, pentatonic scale shapes, hammer-ons, and alternate picking! On top of all this, it’s easy.
I realize that this is notated using hammer-ons, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use alternate picking alternatively!
Try applying the same string-skipping style to your other pentatonic shapes.
G major speed picking exercise
You can speed pick your way through major scale octaves using alternate picking or economy picking.
With the ascending shape, which is measure 1, use your index, middle, and ring fingers on each string.
For the descending shape, which is measure 2, descend using your pinky, middle, and index fingers.
Resolve on the 3rd fret of the low E string, the G note, if you want a nice sounding resolution.
Whole tone alternate picking
This is one of my favorite outside licks. It’s easy, and sounds so cool.
It’s a simple whole tone lick moving in whole steps, 2 notes-per-string, on the G and B strings.
You’ll use your index and ring fingers consistently for the entire lick.
While this is one of the best alternate picking exercises, it’s also a great guitar exercise for hammer-ons and “outside” playing.
Hexatonic alternate picking
The idea is simple: move up or down in hexatonic patterns (groups of 6), using diatonic 3-notes-per-string shapes across two adjacent strings. They’re very easy to create if you know your 3-notes-per-string major scale shapes.
Diatonic simply means it comes from a scale, for those of you that don’t know.
You can also play this exercise using hammer-ons, which is why I notated it with them.
Zakk Wylde style 2 notes per string blues lick
This is a 2-notes-per-string alternate picking exercise using the blues scale! It’s in the style of Zakk Wylde, the ultimate pentatonic speed-picking master from Black Label Society, and Ozzy Osbourne.
Bluegrass style open G major
This is a bluegrass style lick utilizing the open position of the G major scale.
It uses groups of six notes organized into triplets, and each group of six is played: D-U-D | U-D-U. The space in the middle represents the string shift.
This will increase your “inside picking” speed. Inside picking happens when you move to the above string using an upstroke, coming from a downstroke.
When you move to the above string using a downstroke, coming from an upstroke, it’s called “outside picking”.
You’ll end with a simple G major triad.
String skipping third intervals in C major
This is an alternate picking or hybrid picking exercise.
The exercise cycles through the thirds in the C major scale, the thirds being on the D string.
Looking at and playing the notes on the B string alone will give you a single string major scale starting from the root note, C.
John Petrucci string skipping right hand exercise
This is a simple ascending and descending, string skipping exercise using an A major barre shape at the 5th position.
This particular A major shape is derived from the Open E major CAGED shape.
The exercise comes from John Petrucci’s Rock Discipline DVD, and starts around the 17:00 mark.
Remember to simply pick D-U for each string skip.
Alternate Picking Exercises Summary
Alternate picking exercises unlock the path to technical freedom, and assist in the synchronization of the right and left hands on the guitar.
While these exercises will help you gain speed and technical fluency, make sure you practice songs and other licks that incorporate alternate picking to diversify your fretboard knowledge and not sound mechanical/robotic in your guitar playing.
Thanks for reading, and keep shredding!