Guitar Picking Exercises – 5 Essential Drills To Supercharge Your Guitar Picking

Want to tighten up your picking hand? We’ve got the ultimate guide for guitar picking exercises. Grab your metronome and let’s dive in!

In this free lesson you will learn…

  • 5 essential guitar picking exercises
  • How to ‘sync up’ your fret and picking hands
  • Tips for better note articulation
  • How to create variations on exercises you’re already familiar with
  • A cool picking and sliding technique at the end of the article!

An Introduction To Guitar Picking Exercises

There are two things that every guitarist chases after over the course of their musical career:

Speed and Accuracy.

These are skills that can only be developed through a commitment to practice and exercise where our fingers are concerned.

It’s easy to forget that our fingers need a workout as well as the rest of our body if we want them to develop well.

Many guitarists tend to focus on the dexterity of the fret hand, forgetting one simple principle:

Your one hand is only as skilled as the other will allow it to be.

That’s why we’ve put together this guide to guitar picking exercises. Read on!


What does that mean?

It means that you can develop your fret hand incredibly well, but it won’t be able to play as fast as you want it to if your picking hand isn’t playing at the same level.

The same can happen in reverse, where our picking hand is more developed than our fret hand.

  • This is a common problem that many guitarists might run into at some point.
  • We’re here to help you sort that out once and for all.

We’ve put together five guitar picking exercises that will not only help you improve your picking hand, but help you ‘sync-up’ your hands as well.

First, let’s talk about why it’s important to develop our picking hand.


The Importance Of Developing The Picking Hand

One of the greatest parts of playing music is that there is no limit to how great we can be at it.

A key component involved in improvement on the guitar is challenging our fingers and hands to grow.

  • This is achieved by practicing more intricate and complex guitar picking exercises that push our limitations as guitarists.
  • The practice routine we’ve laid out below is designed to start out easy and increase in difficulty in each section after for that reason.

Through a well-paced practice regimen, we can develop our picking hand to perform at unimaginable speeds.


Patience is key in these guitar picking exercises, and taking frequent breaks to let your forearms rest is important.

  • Frequent practice without proper stretching and breaks can lead to strains on the wrists, hands and forearms which will set us back in our progress.
  • As much as it is important to focus on improvement in the realm of our favorite instrument, it’s just as important to take frequent breaks and stretch.

This ensures that our body is always able to keep up with our guitar.

On the topic of patience, let’s talk about why practicing these guitar picking exercises slowly is so crucial.

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Why You Should Practice Slowly

We preach this often only because it’s so important:

Slow practice helps you pay better attention to what you’re playing.

  • This helps you grow quicker as a guitarist and play with better precision.
  • It’s very easy to want to blaze through these guitar picking exercises at blinding speeds, but if we can’t articulate our notes with precision, it will end up sounding messy.
  • Slow practice builds the precision we need to play effectively at high speeds.

Want to shred like Steve Vai?

Start with some guitar picking exercises at a slow speed.

When we start out slow, we are able to build momentum better than if we started out by playing fast and messy.

Momentum helps us get used to one tempo and build our way up into the next.

If you haven’t already, find yourself a good metronome. If you don’t want to buy one, you can type “Metronome” into Google and it will present one to you.

See? Even Google wants you to practice properly.

Pro Tip: A great method of practice with a metronome is to start out practicing at a slow tempo (ex. Whole notes at 80bpm) and staying on that tempo until your playing is smooth.

Once you’re comfortable, bump the speed up by 10bpm and continue practicing.

  • If this proves too fast, pull the tempo back by 5bpm and practice there until you’re comfortable.
  • Repeat this process to effectively increase your speed over time with confidence!

Now let’s talk about syncing our pick and fret hands together!

How To Develop Both Hands With Using Guitar Picking Exercises

As we’ve stated above, it’s important to make sure that both hands develop in unison.

These five guitar picking exercises are designed to make sure your hands stay in sync.

Below, you’ll find a few Pro Tips that will help you conquer the regimen we have outlined below.

  1. Start slow, worry about speed later.
  2. Keep an eye on both hands as you first work through these routines to make sure they are in sync with one another.
  3. Listen for the Pocket!

The ‘Pocket’ is the sweet spot in the metronome where you are most on-point with your rhythm. When our hands are in sync and we are in turn in sync with the metronome, we fall into the Pocket.


  1. You will be able to feel when your hands are in sync, and playing slowly will help you feel out that sweet spot.
  2. The closer attention you pay to what you are playing now, the easier and more naturally it will come to you later – Don’t forget that muscle memory has got your back!
  3. Remember to practice these guitar picking exercises forwards and backwards as often as possible. Take the initiative to find new ways of practicing different exercises and you’ll never be bored!

Are you ready? Let’s dive in!


Guitar Picking Exercises I – Picking Across Two Strings

This first run focuses on just two strings at a time, and can be applied to any two adjacent strings on the guitar.

  • We encourage you to try this exercise in as many fret positions as possible, and on every string pair.
  • Start out with your fingers positioned on the first four frets.
  • Your index and middle finger will take the low E string on the first two frets; while your ring and pinky take the third and fourth frets of the adjacent A string.

This is an alternate picking exercise, so begin on a downstroke on the first fret, followed by an upstroke at the second.

The following downstroke should pass over the E string and land on the A string, with your ring finger at the third fret. Finish this bar on another upstroke.


Like many of these guitar picking exercises, this one can be flippedto provide a new challenge.

The back-and-forth momentum between the two strings helps us focus our picking hand and land each pick stroke with precision.

Start this exercise at 80 bpm using whole notes (one note per beat) and increase the tempo to accommodate your comfort level from there.

For an added challenge, try shifting this exercise up one fret position every time you complete these two bars of music:


Guitar Picking Exercises II – Picking Across Three Strings

For this drill, we are going to make an X shape across any set of three strings with either our index, middle and ring fingers; or our middle, ring and pinky fingers.

Once again, take note of the alternate picking in this passage. We should begin once again on a downstroke to make each pick stroke precise.

  • The key to this exercise is keeping our fingers close to the fretboard so that we don’t waste valuable time getting them there.
  • When it comes to guitar picking exercises fluidly, every nano-second counts.

With that, it’s important to keep a close range from the fretboard to our fingers for quick changes.


The tricky part to this drill is playing it without the index finger.

Pro Tip: Try playing these guitar picking exercises with your middle, ring and pinky fingers.

This isn’t an easy task, as your index finger is quite often the ‘anchor’ that holds different shapes together.

  • The challenge here is to play as fluidly as you would if you were starting on your index finger.
  • Playing this way helps to build strength and independence in our non-dominant fingers.

This is an important concept to master, as building equal strength in each finger helps us progress more effectively.


Guitar Picking Exercises III – Picking Across Four Strings

This is an expanded version of the exercise above, but this time we’re going to include the pinky finger right away.

Once again, alternate picking is our go-to technique here.

Writer’s Note: We’ve constructed these guitar picking exercises to help further sync up both of your hands. You’ll notice that at roughly every fourth note, there is a pause at that fret to play it twice.

Playing this way helps our hands better communicate who should be moving where and when.

This type of coordination helps us advance our playing and keep our hands talking to each other.


These types of guitar picking exercises are a challenge on their own, so we aren’t going to flip this one on you.

  • What we do recommend is playing this exercise on each four-string group, as well as in as many different fret positions as possible.
  • What may be simple to play in one spot on the guitar may not be as easy in another, and it’s important to iron out those details.

Pro Tip: Exercises like these help us spot the inconsistencies in our playing and improve upon them with insight. Pay attention to what you’re playing and how fluid it feels!


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Guitar Picking Exercises IV: String Skipping

Being able to play a passage of music in a variety of ways helps us to think outside the box about what we play, as well as how to approach it.

We’re going to further expand on what we’ve been playing so far by approaching a similar example with string-skipping.

  • These types of guitar picking exercises will cause a fuss the first few times you play it, no doubt.
  • If you approach this drill slowly and with a good flow of alternate picking, you’ll be nailing it in no time.

Pro Tip: As we’ll be jumping over strings, keep your pick sweep wide to begin with, and play slow. This will help your pick to really nail those string changes as they occur.


Challenge Yourself: We’ve flipped these guitar picking exercises in reverse, but try playing this one as soon as you get to the top of the example above.

You’ll notice that your alternate picking will switch directions on the way back down through this second example.

  • This is natural, and you should focus on honing this skill as much as you can.
  • Being able to switch picking directions as needed helps to smooth out any inconsistencies in our playing, and keeps us sounding sharp.
  • Keep this in mind throughout these guitar picking exercises.

This may be considered a bit more of an advanced style of alternate picking, but we believe it’s something that everyone should be familiar with.

Besides, you’ve already made it this far – what’s one more challenge, right?

Give it a shot, but remember – Don’t rush!


Guitar Picking Exercises V: Combining Picking And Sliding

Our last drill is a variation on exercise II that involves sliding.

We are going to make the same X shape as we have been with our first three fingers, with one finger per-fret-per-string.

When we get to our ring finger on the third fret, we are going to pick the note, then slide it two frets up and begin descending to the index finger at the 3rd fret.

Repeat this process until you run out of frets!


The ‘flipped version’ of this last one can get tricky, so watch your fret hand carefully. We’ll begin with our index at the first fret on the D string, and descend according to the tab below.

Pro Tip: You can perform these same guitar picking exercises with your middle, ring and pinky fingers as well to build better endurance and finger strength. It’s strongly recommended that you do this exercise with both sets of fingers.

Additionally, you can apply this exercise to the four-string exercise in section III.

Once again, building finger independence and equal strength is extremely important.

Don’t wind up with one dominant finger that’s stronger than all the others!


Where Do I Go From Here?

Can’t get enough of these guitar picking exercises?

Good! Here are some more things you can do for your practice routine:

  • Practice everything to a metronome and increase the speed as your comfort level increases.
  • Practice these guitar picking exercises in different fret positions
  • Check out Uncle Ben Eller’s series “This Is Why You Suck At Guitar” and his video on alternate picking
  • Try this 30 Minute Guitar Workout from The Art of Guitar on YouTube
  • Try playing these exercises a variety of different ways!

Recommended Resources

If you loved this free lesson on guitar picking exercises, you’ll love some of the other free content we’ve got in store for you!

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