Most beginning guitar players have an easier time playing songs with strummed chords than picked note chords. They have a hard time hearing and recognizing that those patterns that sound so complex are made up of simple, repeating parts. The key to mastering this type of playing is learning to break down these patterns and practice them in small, easy pieces.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you are just starting out on the guitar – it’s not easy. All beginning guitar players have felt this way, especially when trying to learn picking patterns and incorporate them into songs. It’s more difficult than just plain strumming because there are more hand movements to coordinate and remember. It is very important to realize that guitar picking patterns can be broken down into small parts that are easy to learn and play.
There are many reasons that beginners have problems playing songs that use picked chord patterns. The main ones are:
- Not realizing that a song that sounds like it has very “busy” picking is usually made up of just a couple fairly simple repeating picking phrases.
- Not understanding that those simple picking patterns are applied to lots of chords in the song.
- They try to learn too many parts of the song at once instead of breaking the parts down and mastering them separately.
- They practice the parts in a haphazard way that takes a long time to learn them and play the song.
Now that we’ve figured out the problem, let’s look at the best way to overcome it. As we look at the solution, keep in mind that almost everything that you play on the guitar that sounds difficult is usually simple once you know the right way to break it down and practice it. Learning to play picking pattern songs on the guitar is easy if you follow a few simple steps. Almost any song can be broken down in the following way:
First, take the picking patterns and break them down into just a few notes that you can learn and practice easily. Second, master the picking motions in each little pattern and practice them by themselves. Third, practice the fret hand part by itself. And last, learn to combine the fret and pick hand parts and put the pieces of the song together.
How to Break Down and Practice Picking Patterns
For our example, we are going to use a six note picking pattern. Look at the tablature and notice that each chord has six notes played with it:
At first glance, it looks somewhat overwhelming. Notice that the strings played in each chord are exactly the same. It is important to know this because it means that there is only one pick pattern to learn for this entire example – this makes things much easier and a lot less overwhelming.
Starting with the first six notes – notice that they are all played within a C chord. For the fret hand, all you have to do is put your fingers in a C chord shape for now and leave them there.
Continuing with the first six notes – let’s break them down and just focus on the first three. With your fret hand holding down the C chord, pick the fifth string, followed by the fourth string and then the second string. Use a downstroke with your pick for each note and practice playing just those three notes until you can play them easily and consistently.
Now look at the second group of three notes within the C chord shape. We will learn the next group the same way that we mastered the first three notes. To play the second group of notes, pick the third string then the fourth string (using upstrokes for both of them) and then the third string again using a downstroke. Watch and learn exactly how to pick, practice and play this pattern in this guitar picking pattern lesson video.
Are you able to easily play each group of three notes? If you can, the next step is to put the three note sequences together to create the full six note sequence. Play them slowly and evenly – all notes should be for the same duration with now gaps between any of them. Once you can play all six notes over the C chord, we can add the rest of the chords in the fret hand part.
There are just three chord shapes in this entire chord progression. The C chord (which you already played), a G/B chord and an Am chord. The next step is to make sure that you can play all of these chords from memory. If you cannot play them from memory yet, learn them now.
Once they are memorized, practice changing from chord to chord using one strum of the strings on each chord. You want to practice these chord changes in isolation first – without using the pick pattern. Once you are able to play these chord changes easily without hesitating between the chords then you are ready to add the picking pattern.
Now try putting both parts together. Go slowly. Remember that you are trying to ingrain the correct movements into each hand. Take your time and remember that breaking these pick patterns down into small pieces is exactly what you need to do to learn any song that uses them.
Practicing picking patterns in this way will accelerate your guitar technique in just a short time – the benefits of this practice are many. It’s “real world” guitar practice because you are working on techniques and parts taken directly from songs that you want to play. You are improving your overall technique while learning songs – your practice is totally relevant to what you want to be able to play.
You can apply the picking patterns to any chord progression to make it sound interesting. Experiment and try it using different chords and at different speeds. Even though they sound hard to play, now you know that they are not difficult at all. Make them part of your guitar playing and songwriting arsenal.
Watch this guitar video picking lesson to learn, play and practice these picking patterns. The video includes an eight note picking pattern as well as a PDF with all the tablature so you can easily master picking patterns now.