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New guitar players will sometimes overlook their right-hand to pay attention to all of the activity on the left. But the picking hand holds the keys to a variety of textures and styles. This summary of various picking techniques will help you to explore some of these textures and then incorporate them into your guitar playing.


This is the first one everybody learns. Using your pick you will stroke downward, towards the ground, then let it come to rest against the succeeding guitar string (known as a “rest stroke”). Make certain that you do not pick out from the guitar and into thin air. To do so results in a longer gap to get to your following note and there is a greater risk that you may come back to the incorrect string. Employing the rest stroke allows the pick to move within a finite space each time, training your hand muscles to come back correctly for the upcoming note.

Double Stroke

Double stroke or “alternate picking” means alternating down strokes with up strokes. It’s usually used for 8th notes and faster. Although at times you’ll use all downstrokes for 8th notes depending on just how much aggression the song demands. As with the downstroke, you need your pick to come directly back upwards, rather than away into thin air. In order to accomplish this, ensure that you’re moving sideways with your wrist not rotating your lower arm at the elbow. Make sure you are alternating: down – up – down – up. You will find picking techniques which will occasionally repeat a down or up movement, nevertheless, you will need to get good at this even double picking first so that you don’t develop undesirable habits.

Sweep Picking

This kind of picking style may be used for speedy arpeggio runs. The idea entails stringing together all downstrokes or all upstrokes on adjacent strings in order to sound a quick series of notes. Think of it in this way: Get a barre chord and, instead of a typical strum, pick through each of the guitar strings using a down stroke in a single fluid motion towards the floor. After that do the very same using up strokes. The difference will come in your left-hand. For a sweep picked line your left hand should not hold down all the notes at once, but one at a time, like a normal single note melody. The big aim at this point is to have clean articulation between the notes and don’t let them ring together. All using that steady single movement in your right-hand.

This may not be a technique that everybody needs to have, however it’s a striking tool for your guitar player tool box. This can also be used in a simpler way, for a few notes as opposed to a massive flurry.

Music artists to listen to: Yngwie Malmsteen, Herman Li (of Dragonforce), and Frank Gambale.


This approach calls for losing your pick entirely and simply using your fingers. It is prominent in classical music as well as folk and world music styles, but can also be used for almost anything you would like. In general, the thumb will deal with the bottom two or three strings and your second, 3rd, and 4th fingers are going to deal with the top three strings. You can experiment with a rest stroke, which is similar to the picking option above where by your finger tip comes to rest against the next string. The other option is a free stroke in which your finger tip finishes its motion hovering above the guitar strings. Free strokes are usually used for chord arpeggios in which you want the notes to ring against each other. Rest strokes are used for melodies where you want cleaner articulation between your notes.

Music artists to listen to: Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits), Andres Segovia, Merle Travis, and Joao Gilberto

Hybrid Picking

This style uses a pick, held as normal between your thumb and second finger, plus your additional fingers used bare. You’ll find it’s good for articulating clean bass lines as you are playing chords or melodies on the upper strings using your fingertips. You might also use it along with ordinary picking techniques when you have to hit notes on non-adjacent strings.

Music artists to listen to: Buckethead, Brad Paisley, Albert Lee, Brian Setzer

Finger Picks and Thumb Picks

These are guitar picks that are attached to each individual finger (excluding the pinkie) and thumb by a plastic band. The principles are generally basically the same as those regarding fingerpicking. The big difference is that the picks provide a sharper, louder sound as compared to regular fingerpicking. A lot of players use only the thumb pick as a substitute for a traditional pick. Finger and thumb picks are most often used by banjo players, yet also by slack key, Dobro, and slide players.

Music artists to listen to: Nils Lofgren, Chet Atkins, Robert Johnson

All these picking styles have traditional uses in certain genres, but do not be afraid to play around with them in whichever style you might be playing. Every technique is just yet another tool for getting to the ideas you hear in your head.


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