Most Effective Picking Technique For Playing Guitar With Speed

Author: Tom Hess

Want to greatly increase the effectiveness of your picking technique so you can play much faster, with much less difficulty? You don’t have to learn countless exercises for guitar… you simply need to make one easy adjustment (you can do it right now). Follow this basic concept from now on to make your picking technique more efficient, and enable yourself to play faster on guitar with ease:

1. Whenever you ascend while playing strings on guitar (go from a heavier string to a lighter string), ALWAYS use a downstroke – regardless of the notes that came before or after what you are playing.

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2. Whenever you descend while playing strings on guitar (go from a lighter string to a heavier string), ALWAYS use an upstroke – regardless of the notes that came before or after what you are playing.

(…you can still use alternate picking while playing several notes on a single string).

This picking concept is referred to as “directional picking”. I teach this to all my guitar students to help them become fast guitar players. Many guitarists would (falsely) refer to this technique as “economy picking”. However, this term is a name for a separate technique (more on this below). The point is, out of the three most common techniques for lead guitar (alternate picking, directional picking and economy picking), directional picking is the least difficult to develop and build incredible guitar speed with.

Here are four main reasons why directional picking is the best way for you to become a faster guitarist:

Reason #1: If you don’t use directional picking, you must use 30% more movement to play the identical notes (slowing down your picking speed drastically)

If you play three note per string scales (this is when directional picking is fundamentally different from strict alternate picking) you don’t need to skip over strings, as you have to while using alternate picking. Instead, you always move directly to the next note (hence the name: “directional”) by picking in its direction.

Here is an example of an ascending scale that displays this (the symbol means “downstroke”, while means “upstroke”):

Alternate Picking:

Directional Picking:

In the diagrams above, the red indicators surround two downstrokes in a row when the scale is changing strings with directional picking versus alternate picking.

Notice: to develop incredible guitar speed using directional picking, you have to properly complete string changes with two consecutive down/up strokes and avoid a frequent mistake guitarists make when they initially use this technique. If you do it incorrectly (like most people when they begin), your guitar picking speed will not achieve its greatest potential. Check out the video below to see a demonstration of this idea to one of my guitar students who is just learning it for the first time:

Reason #2: You guitar practice become more efficient so you can build speed faster

After watching the video above, you saw how directional picking contains similar picking motions used in sweep picking technique. In other words, while practicing directional picking, you are also working to improve sweep picking. By practicing sweep picking, your directional picking becomes more clean and articulate.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that directional picking takes the place of any sweep picking practice you could be doing – it just means that practicing each individual technique (directional picking and sweep picking) simultaneously uses the other technique. Learn more about how this works by checking out the sweep picking video below:

Check out the rest of the sweep picking improvement video above.

With this in mind, practicing exclusively with alternate picking will NOT help you master sweep picking (and sweep picking will not help you master alternate picking). So you must invest additional practice time into mastering both guitar techniques separately.

This makes directional picking a great choice whenever you have little time to practice guitar and/or want to become a faster guitarist in less time.

Reason #3: Directional picking greatly improves your picking articulation

The above headline is the opposite claim of what you hear in a lot of guitar communities and YouTube videos. What you frequently hear is that alternate picking helps you play stronger accents because downstrokes are naturally louder and that directional (or economy) picking prevents you from playing with great articulation.

Here is some reasoning to show you why this false claim is TOTALLY misguided and why reality is the opposite:

*You can articulate any note using either an upstroke or a downstroke, whenever you want. To see for yourself, choose any note on guitar and play it with a downstroke… then immediately play that same note using an upstroke (but played with additional force). Chances are, you could easily do this. And if you could, then you already know that you don’t need to use a downstroke to have the note be accented. Accents and articulation are accomplished by having good control over your overall picking technique, NOT by focusing on downstrokes vs. upstrokes.

*The concept of alternate picking (strictly making ALL downstrokes be heavily accented and ALL upstrokes not accented) is very restricting. Since any note can be accented with any type of pick stroke, there is no true advantage to forcing yourself to play in the same manner all the time. On top of that, whenever you need to pick a different way (by articulating an upstroke or having the accent fall anywhere other than the downbeat), your playing will feel very awkward.

However, if you practice using directional picking (where accents can fall on any pick stroke), you won’t run into the problems above. You will learn to articulate notes either on downstrokes or upstrokes and will not be limited to doing so only on the downbeat. So directional picking provides more options for articulating notes in any manner you desire…IF you master control over BOTH downstrokes and upstrokes. After helping many thousands of students become world class electric guitar players, this has been the case for each one.

The main reason why guitarists who exclusively use alternate picking make the claim above is their upstroke articulation is weaker than their downstroke articulation. Therefore, when they try directional picking, it feels weird to them to use upstrokes for accents, and they have to come face to face with the weaknesses in their guitar picking technique. Instead of taking on their technical weaknesses to improve their technique, many merely choose to move back to their comfort zone and claim that “directional picking limits one’s articulation”.

*When you make string changes with directional picking, by playing two notes going in the same direction, these notes are more accented, due to the momentum and follow-through of the picking motion (watch the video above to see this).

Think about this motion in terms of boxing. Boxers are told to throw punches that go THROUGH their opponent in order to get maximum power in their punches. This is the same thing that happens with directional picking when you switch strings by playing two continuous upstrokes or downstrokes. You pick using momentum from a previous note to follow THROUGH the next note. This makes it much more loud and articulate (when you choose to make it this way).

When you only use alternate picking during string changes, you must go around the next string, kill all momentum and then reverse the motion to perform an upstroke. This is a complete waste. Additionally it keeps you from taking advantage of the momentum from the previous note because of the inefficient picking path.

Reason #4: Directionalpicking = a more powerful version of alternate picking

People who are against using directional picking who use alternative picking exclusively, defend their preference to do so while overlooking the obvious: in nearly all guitar picking scenarios, directional picking and alternate picking are used in the same exact manner. Whether you talk about picking many notes on a single string, playing 2 or 4 note per string phrases or endless other contexts, your pick will move EXACTLY the same way using directional picking as with alternate picking (in most cases).

The only scenario where directional picking separates itself from exclusive alternate picking is during 3 note per string scales, where it is logical to do so for the reasons stated above. As a result, directional picking has ALL the advantages of alternate picking, with none of its disadvantages.

Directional picking is NOT a separate picking technique and doesn’t require learning new picking patterns or relearning the way you play guitar. The only adjustment you must make in your guitar picking technique is what I talked about at the beginning of this article. With a little practice, you can apply this change into your everyday technique and build your guitar picking speed fast.

That said, even with all this information in front of them, many people decide not to take advantage of this technique, because of several false rationalizations…

False Rationalization #1: “I want to completely master alternate picking, then transition into directional picking”. This makes no sense because it doesn’t follow that you should use a technique that 1. is less efficient and 2. will need to be unlearned later ANYWAY. It’s much easier to make the switch to directional picking so you can gain the benefits of alternate picking (without the downsides).

False Rationalization #2: “My favorite guitarist plays very fast with only alternate picking, and I want to play like him. Therefore, I will continue using only alternate picking”. If you think this way, know that:

*Directional picking is precisely the same as alternate picking in just about every scenario…only made MORE efficient when possible. So it only makes it faster and easier for you to increase your guitar speed.

*There is no doubt that many people play guitar fast while exclusively using alternate picking… however, you also can’t deny the obvious inefficiencies of this technique. So while you definitely CAN learn to pick fast on guitar while exclusively using alternate picking, you will build the same degree of guitar speed much faster, with little effort and frustration if you use directional picking.

False Rationalization #3: “Directional picking makes string skipping/inside picking harder because the pick is more likely to touch the string that is being skipped.” This is a poor argument for the same reason that the argument about directional picking having weaker articulation is poor.

Directional picking is not to blame for making anything more difficult, it only exposes the weaknesses in your ability to play cleanly in some situations. These situations include continually picking inside a pair of strings and playing specific styles of string skipping that exclusive alternate pickers stay away from. When you understand weaknesses, you have a decision to make – you can master them and gain control to play how you want OR you avoid them and continue the lie about directional picking supposedly making string skipping harder. :)

Incidentally, rock guitar students who learn directional picking from me, almost never experience the issues with string skipping and inside picking that exclusive alternate pickers do.

False Rationalization #4: “Directional picking requires you to map out picking patterns before you even play them.” If this is what you believe, then you are confusing the term “directional” picking with “economy” picking (a totally different technique). Economy picking is an entirely separate technique that requires you to change strings with sweep picking motions at all times – thus making you map out how many notes per string you need to play.

Directional picking is not like this – you simply use the 2 rules I gave you at the top of the article. Then, you will alternate picking notes when it is the most efficient path to the next note, OR use sweep picking on string changes when it is the most efficient path to the next note.

False Rationalization #5: “Directional picking is only for rock/metal guitar players, it won’t work for my playing style.” Think again. Just because directional picking makes it easier to quickly build really fast guitar speed, this does NOT mean it cannot be used in non-rock/metal styles. Its most critical benefit is that it makes your overall picking more efficient so you can play better in any musical genre.

Now that you understand why directional picking is a crucial technique to add into your guitar playing, I want to teach you HOW to master it so you can reach your guitar playing goals in the quickest, least difficult and most straightforward way possible. Read this electric guitar lessons page now and find out how you can build incredible speed in your playing, reach your other musical goals and become the guitarist you always wanted to be.

About The Author:

Tom Hess is a highly successful guitar teacher, recording artist and virtuoso guitar player. He teaches guitar players from all over the world in his online guitar lessons. Visit his website to get free guitar playing resources and to read more guitar playing articles.

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