Practicing guitar picking technique exercises is a great way to develop your playing and improve just about every other facet of your playing along the way.
In this lesson, you will learn various picking hand exercises, as well as common roadblocks many guitarists face and how to overcome them.
Why Guitar Picking Technique Exercises Are Essential
I’ve been teaching guitar for a long time and the one question I hear all the time is:
“How can I improve my guitar pick accuracy?”
The answer to this question is very simple: picking exercises. By implementing guitar picking exercises into your daily practice routine you will dramatically improve your guitar pick accuracy.
Don’t have a practice routine? You should. Build yours today using my lesson on Guitar Practice Routines.
Regularly incorporating picking exercises into your routine has many benefits, just a few include:
Where These Exercises Fit Into Your Practice Plan
As mentioned, these exercises should always be incorporated into your daily practice sessions. After you’ve completed your warm-ups and chord practice, you should always devote some time to guitar picking exercises.
Don’t overdo it, though. You only need to be spending 10-15 minutes, at most, with these exercises each day. Consistency will serve you much better than inconsistent, but longer sessions.
For example, 15 minutes a day, every day, is a lot better than an hour a day, every 3 days.
Another great trick to help kill 2 birds with one stone is to try to incorporate a little theory into each of these exercises. Try to say the names of the notes as you first learn each exercise. Say each note aloud as you play the lick slowly. Obviously this isn’t as possible once the tempo picks up, but these subtle reminders will pay dividends to your overall musicianship.
Common Roadblocks to Watch Out For
If playing fast was easy, every guitarist would be shredding the neck. However, it does take a lot of practice and patience. Many people give up at the first roadblock. Don’t let that happen to you.
Roadblock #1: Going Too Fast in the Beginning
Many people set themselves up for failure from the start by trying to immediately play these picking exercises at full tempo, or even half tempo if that is too fast for them.
The tempo’s I give you are just guidelines here. Always start at a speed that you can comfortably and clearly play every note in the exercise. Play the licks painfully slow. Once you have it completely down, zero mistakes, increase the speed by 5-10 BPM at most.
Don’t try to speed things up too quickly. These exercises are about more than just speed. These picking exercises are also deliberately designed to improve your dexterity and accuracy with a guitar pick, as well.
Roadblock #2: Biting Off More Than You Can Chew
Another common mistake people make is trying to learn these whole exercises at once. This is a great way to get overwhelmed very quickly.
First, break the lick/riff/etc into small pieces. We’re talking 4-5 notes at most. Once you can play those 5 notes without thinking, learn the next 5 notes (without the previous 5 you just learned).
After you are able to play that second section, learn to play the first 2 sections you just learned together. These are your building blocks.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to break the exercises into sections smaller than 4-5 notes. If there is a series of notes or a weird, uncomfortable jump for you from 1 fret to another, slow it down, and just practice that transition a few times slowly until it gets comfortable for you.
Roadblock #3: Clammy Hands and Sweaty Fingers
This issue is one not commonly discussed. For many folks, myself included, hands and fingers start to get sweaty as tempos increase and practice sessions get longer.
There are a few things you can do to combat this while playing.
First, check your pick. If you are using a pick that’s not well suited to your hand and play style, it will hold you back. Check out my lesson on how to choose a guitar pick for more info there.
Second, keep an instrument cleaning rag on you at all times. This rag should be used for wiping down your strings and fretboard after each jam session, however you can also use it to wipe off your sweaty hands in a pinch.
Finally, slow down. I’ve said it a few times already and I will keep saying it. If you are pushing yourself to move faster than is comfortable, you’re going to get sweaty. Relax. This isn’t a race. Focus on accuracy and speed will follow.
Roadblock #4: Too Much Tension In the Picking Hand
Our body’s natural reaction to stress is to tense up. When working on your guitar picking exercises, this is no different. Many folks will find themselves flexing every muscle in their hand and wrist trying to play these exercises at full speed.
This is bad.
This tension in your hands is only going to slow you down, make your hands tired faster and eventually lead to injury.
If you suddenly notice your hand is kinda sore or getting super sweaty, pause and take note of if your picking hand is relaxed or stiff. If it is stiff, put your pick down and shake your hands out a little. Do some light stretching, maybe some starbursts to get the blood flowing.
Then once your hand is feeling good and calm again, go back to what you were practicing, but at least 15 BPM slower. That tension was your hand’s way of trying to tell you that you are going too fast for it.
Guitar Picking Technique Exercises:
Chromatic Picking Exercise
This exercise is one I learned from Michael Angelo Batio over at Metal Method. This is a guitar picking exercise he swears by for his warm-ups as he gets ready to play some extremely fast licks.
The lick is a simple pattern with your fretting hand, think: 0-2-1-3-2-4-3-2. This is the pattern for all 6 strings. Play the whole exercise using alternate picking.
As you get more comfortable with this pattern, try moving it up the neck. Try playing the same pattern all the way up to the 5th fret for each string.
Once that becomes easy, see if you can do it all the way to the 12 fret cleanly.
Reminder: This is a warm-up exercise though. Therefore, as you begin to use it as more of a warm up than a speed building exercise, it probably isn’t worth the extra effort to play to the 12th fret on each string. I usually just go to the 5th fret in my warm-ups with this one.
Pentatonic Picking Exercises
E Minor Pentatonic Lick from JamPlay Lick Library
This lick is a variation of a lick you can find in JamPlay’s huge library of guitar licks that include TABs and video lessons. This exercise is supposed to be played with alternate picking throughout, except for your hammer ons.
The tempo goal for this lick is about 150 BPM. Start slow, at about 60 BPM and work up from there.
I like this lick a lot because it forces you to use all 4 fretting fingers while working on your picking. This will help a lot with not only your picking accuracy but also the synchronization between your left and right hands.
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More on Pentatonic Picking Practice:
Alternate Picking Exercises
Another common question I get asked all the time is:
“How Can I Improve My Alternate Picking?”
Well, buckle up buttercup. This whole section is for you.
The above lick is a great one from Steve Steven’s lesson on Jamplay.com in his Lessons with Steve Stevens series. I love this exercise because it requires very little horizontal movement with your fretting hand, allowing you to put more focus on your picking.
The goal tempo for this lick is 130 BPM.
This exercise is also great because you can use the shape to traverse the neck. Much like you did earlier with the chromatic exercise, you can do the same with this lick. Practice playing the same pattern at various positions on the fretboard.
More on Alternate Picking:
Another really great way to improve your picking is to practice pedal tones. Pedal tones are performed by alternate picking a root note (usually an open string) and incorporating notes within the series of open tones. They originated from brass instruments so it’s a little awkward to explain for guitar and much easier to show.
You would continuously alternate-pick the open string and hammer-pull the pedal tones. This makes this exercise great for picking dexterity and hammer-pull technique.
More on Pedal Tones: GuitarWorld Lesson on Pedal Tones
Wrapping It Up
At this point you have the building blocks you need to effectively practice guitar picking technique exercises. You have a handful of licks in your toolbox to practice. Finally, you have reminders for when you start to fall into poor habits.
If you have any questions or comments regarding this lesson, please leave them in the comments section below and I will get back to you as soon as possible (usually within 24 hours).