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Basic Picking Technique

Lead Guitar Quick-Start Series - Lesson 2/12

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Welcome to video two of the Lead Guitar Quick-Start Series. In this lesson about basic guitar picking techniques, we’re going to start with some universal picking tips, downstrokes, and upstrokes. Once you have those mastered, we’ll put them together and try alternate picking.

As a newer guitar or lead guitar player, I recommend starting with a medium, regular shaped pick. Get a feel for that pick first, and then decide if you want to go with a different pick based on your personal preference. I like a thicker pick myself, but experiment to find what works best for you.

The first universal tip I want to give you is to relax. I see many new guitar players tense up because they are focusing so hard on their picking. If you notice yourself tensing up, take a moment to shake it out. Staying relaxed will help you avoid injury and keep your picking efficient.

The next tip to keep in mind is avoid locking your wrist while you pick, otherwise you’ll be picking from your elbow. Playing from your elbow can possibly lead to injury and cause inefficient playing. Be sure to keep your wrist loose and relaxed.

Often, I see new guitar players use big sweeping motions from the elbow when picking, but by focusing on picking from your wrist, you’ll be able to keep your motions nice and small. Pick the string just enough to make a sound. By using efficient motions, your pick will always be right there, ready to play another note.

When gripping your pick, it’s subjective to personal preference. Start by placing your thumb on the pick, and come down on the pick with your finger. Depending on what’s comfortable for you, your fingers may end up being curved in or more straight, but it doesn’t matter as long as your pick grip is comfortable for you.

Picking angle is another area where technique is subjective. Most guitar players angle the pick downward, some use a flat or parallel angle, and I’ve seen some who angle the pick upwards. Play around with different angles to find what works best for you.

Now let’s start practicing the downstroke. Start with the high E string and push down just enough to make the string sound. Keep practicing your downstroke, and don’t forget to practice your downstroke on every string. Each string will feel a bit different, and it may take days, weeks, or even months to feel really comfortable here.

I should also mention here that while practicing your downstrokes, you should figure out where you want to hit the strings. I keep my hand pretty close to the bridge, and I end up hitting the strings right around the middle pickup of my guitar.

As part of your guitar lessons, you’ll need to practice upstrokes. Keeping your wrist loose and remembering to keep your movements small and efficient, pull up on the string just enough to make a sound. Upstrokes will probably take more practice than downstrokes for you to get comfortable with them, and that’s okay. Just be sure to practice on each of the strings.

Once you’re comfortable with both downstrokes and upstrokes, it’s time to combine the two into a technique called alternate picking. That means you’ll follow an ‘up down up down up down’ pattern of picking all the way through. This is where those small efficient motions really become important. Again, practice alternate picking on all six strings because each string feels different.

Practicing these skills with a metronome will help your progress and your overall sense of time. If you don’t have a metronome, there are lots of websites with free apps, or you can use an app on your phone like I do. Don’t start out setting your metronome too fast though. Instead of speed, your first goal should be to make your picking clean and even. A good speed to start with is 70 beats per minutes.

This kind of practice can be tough, but is well worth it. Exercises like these will take you from an average guitar player to a guitar player that people notice because of your skill and timing. I still practice my picking all the time to keep my skills sharp.

Keep all the tips from lesson two in mind while practicing, and remember them as we go through the rest of the videos in the Lead Guitar Quick-Start series. In video three, we’ll put together right and left hand technique to go over your first scale: the major scale.

Next Lesson - The Major Guitar Scale
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