Does your guitar picking lack clarity, speed, and a good, consistent-sounding tone? Many beginning guitar players begin by trying to pick all the notes they play using downstoke picking since this feels comfortable to them—at first. If you have been a “downstroke picker” yourself, you may have already realized that it is very difficult for you to play in time with steady rhythm and that your pick hand sometimes gets lost and plays the incorrect string.
Let’s begin by making certain that your hand setup is sound—from there we can start to incorporate the upstroke picking motion into your playing.
Gaining control and mastery of your guitar picking starts by making sure that your pick hand is in the best possible position to pick the correct string at the right time. While this may seem obvious, very small changes in your hand position can make a very large difference in your ability to pick accurately and get a good sound.
Sit down with your guitar in playing position. Looking down at your pick hand, make sure the side of it is resting lightly on the front of your guitar on or near the bridge of the guitar. The key word here is “lightly.” Your pick hand should not be anchored tightly to the front of the guitar—it should have to freedom to be able to move as your pick moves from string to string.
The sensation in your pick hand should be similar to the feeling you have in your hand when you write with a pen or pencil. Watch this free guitar picking lesson video that will show you how to improve your guitar picking and get control of your picking hand. Once again, good guitar playing is the direct result of creating a good setup with your hands on the guitar.
Grab a pen and a piece of paper and write some sentences. Notice how the side of your hand rests lightly on the table. Now try writing with the side of your hand lifted off the table and just the tip of the pencil in contact with the paper and the table top. It is more difficult to control the motion of the pen without the stabilizing effect of also having the side of your writing hand lightly anchored.
This same principle applies to your pick hand on the guitar. The tip of your pen and the ability to control it is very similar to the tip of the guitar pick when you pick single notes. Noting the similarity between the two will make it more simple for your to get the correct position and feel in your hand for your guitar picking.
Once you are familiar with the hand position, you can start to work on the upstroke picking motion in today’s lesson. The pick motion involves the first three strings played in the order of first, second and third. Practice the sequence using upstrokes:
Play the sequence several times in succession. You want to keep the following points in mind when you play it:
- Play slowly—we are trying to ingrain the correct, accurate motion. This is not a race.
- Keep your pick motion in control—do not use a large “follow through” with the pick after you pick each string.
- Use the hand position detailed in the first part of this lesson—the side of pick hand resting near the bridge and not floating above the guitar.
- Keep the speed of the notes even.
- Make sure the notes are all sounding at an equal volume and sounding clearly.
If you can play the sequence cleanly now, try closing your eyes and playing it. If your pick hand is in the correct position it may still be difficult for you but not impossible. With your hand resting near the bridge of the guitar, you should be able to pick the strings without looking at them after practicing this way for a short time.
This is why it is so very important to use the correct hand position. It will allow your pick hand to learn to find its way to the correct string without needing help from your eyes. The reason you want to be able to play it without watching your hand is so that you can now focus your eyes on helping your fret hand find the correct notes in the full Upstroke Picking Etude. This video will show you exactly how to position and use your pick hand to quickly improve your guitar picking technique.
Now we can add the fret hand part to the picking sequence to play the full etude. In the Guitar Upstroke Picking Etude your fret hand will play the notes on the first string while the pick hand plays the recurring three string upstroke sequence. The pick hand should play the notes just like you practiced before adding the fret hand—all notes should be evenly spaced and sounding loud and clear.
The benefits of upstroke picking practice are many. In addition to developing pick hand independence and playing without watching the strings, you will also obtain:
- Faster pick hand speed.
- Better timing and ability to keep a steady tempo in your playing.
- Pick hand consistency. You will develop a reliable, repeating pick stroke.
- Control over your guitar sound.
- A better sounding guitar tone.
In most cases, nothing happens on the guitar without the pick making it happen. While it is also important to develop your fret hand control and coordination, do not neglect the pick hand. The pick hand is the engine that makes your guitar playing go!
Get the tablature and video for the upstroke guitar picking lesson so you can see exactly what you need to do to improve your guitar technique now.
About the author: Paul Kleff helps guitarists at all skill levels break through the barriers that hold them back from reaching their guitar and musical goals. Get more beginner guitar articles and lessons at Guitar Lessons for Beginners Online.