[Guitar student’s before & after] Alternate Picking

睇睇呢位同學點様改善佢彈16分音嘅 Alternate Picking 技巧。  留意影片中佢嘅PICKING 方向!

Alternate Picking is an essential skill for all guitar players.  It gives us a consistent feeling of rhythm and is a great way to achieve better control of time.

Here’s a quick sketch showing how we normally play continued 16th notes (4 notes to a beat) with alternate picking.   I only show the first beat here because it is the same for the other beats.  All down beats ( in 16th notes, it means beats 1, 2, 3, 4 and all ‘ands’)  are played by down strokes while all the off beats (e, a) are played by up strokes.


In some situations, such as when you are crossing strings or playing notes in groups of 3, students may be distracted and neglect this picking pattern.  The repetitive arpeggios in the end of “Hotel California” is an example.


Watch this video and see how my student corrected his mistakes and made some good progress in learning alternate picking.

In the [Before] part of the video, the student neglected the normal alternate picking pattern.  It is understandable because the arpeggio notes form a series of ‘groups of 3’ and, it seems more natural to play a down stroke each time you go back to the first string to hit the high note.


I advised the student that we should insist in learning the alternative picking (down-up-down-up) patterns and keep focusing on the consistent “down up down up” rhythm that it formed in your right hand.   Do not be distracted by the grouping of notes and the need to cross strings!  It is a little tricky at first, but you will feel more natural as you progress.  Just focus and practice slowly.

That is:

My student came back after one week and showed me his progress. Watch the [After] part of the video and see how he executed the normal alternate picking pattern.  You will notice how his overall timing improved.

As a beginner, you may think this is insignificant because it takes lots of practice and may not ‘sound’ so much different after all.   My advice is that once you form the habit, it opens the door for you to play thousands of great riff and solos with better control of time.  Alternate Picking is not the only way to pick, but it is an essential foundation of our playing.



Each episode of “Guitar students’ before & after” captures how my students, especially beginners, improve on certain aspects in playing over time. I mainly focus on correcting mistakes, solving problems and explaining skills that are easy to be overlooked. My aim is to let guitar learners understand and fix their own problems by watching how other students did it. Potential students can get a feel of what kind of improvement they can take home after each lesson. No fancy playing and killer licks here. Just real life students showing how they are making progress a little at a time.

“Knocking on heaven’s door” intro guitar


Learn how to add decorations and variations to ordinary open chords.  Feel free to add your own dynamics and make it sounds more “organic”.

This little short exercise comes from my “SongX’ercises” collection. Songs are your best teachers! Feel free to message me with your own videos of this exercise if you have any questions .  I will try to help.  If you want a tailored video response, it is available in an affordable price. Message me (johnnyonguitar@gmail.com or Facebook : johnny on guitar hong kong) for more details.  Thank you and have fun.

Black House

Baby please don’t you cry for me, well you know I’m still alive
But they locked me in a black house, and they said it’s a study class
Evaporation is the final destination
No explanation in a silenced population
This is my grave
Now that’s my fate
For I from the world disappear today
Hands of the state
So now they celebrate
For I with the truth gone forever
Baby please won’t you just stay safe, don’t let them see your face
Maybe you’ll learn the truth someday if the letters don’t fade away
I ain’t got vanished but no one hears what I say
I need no punishment and I need no education
There’s nothing wrong, there’s nothing wrong, the disappeared ones
May the wind wipe away tears from their eyes
Gone Forever
Gone Forever
#Black House

Thumb position

“The classical approach is that your thumb should always be in the middle of the back of the neck.  This means that there should be a clear space between the neck and the palm of your hand, and that your wrist will be slightly bent so that your fingers will rest comfortably on the strings.  Your thumb then act as a fulcrum, allowing you to deliver just the right amount of pressure to your fingertips in order to fret the notes clearly.  Many chord progressions are difficult unless your thumb is providing pressure from the back of the neck.  This position will give you maximum precision, flexibility and speed”

“In some modern styles, the thumb is hooked over the top of the neck to fret notes on the bottom E (6th) string.  This may be done either when extending a barre chord or when playing separate melody and bass lines.  Although condemned by classical guitarists, the technique does open up other fingering posibilities.  It is also useful for getting extra leverage for bending strings.”

(The Guitar Handbook, by Ralph Denyer)

Adding vibrato to a bent note

“…you’re essentially bending and releasing so it’s essential to continually reach target pitch accurately (you don’t need to drop back a whole tone each time though; a semitone often sounds better). The bending motion should come from a rotation of the forearm, rather than from the fingers alone.” (from “Bend it like Hendrix!” by John Wheatcroft, Guitar Techniques Oct 2011)

The guitar is a transposed instrument

“…What many guitarists don’t realize is that the guitar is actually a transposed instrument.  This means the notes sound different pitch than written.  The guitar sounds one octave lower than written.  So, when E in the top space is written, the guitarists play the notes on the first string open.  The pitch which is heard is actually one octave lower.” (Fingerboard Theory for Guitar by Mike Christiansen, p.5)


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