Guitar Picking – 5 Unique Approaches To Picking On Guitar

Let’s look at five unique picking techniques that you can use on your guitar right away!

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • Why downpicking isn’t just for beginner guitarists
  • How to inject some smoothness into your playing
  • How to play clean arpeggios
  • How to fingerpick
  • What hybrid picking is & how to use it

Let’s Explore Some Different Approaches To Guitar Picking

Your pick is the most vital tool that you have when it comes to playing guitar.

Picks can be made of all sorts of different materials to make all sorts of different sounds, but it is limited by our physical capability with it.

In short, your pick is only as good as you are.

Many of our favourite guitarists have a variety of picking techniques at their disposal that help them create some absolutely stellar sounds, but they’ve gotten there through years of practice.

In this lesson, we’re going to show you five different techniques to help level-up your guitar picking in a massive way.

We’re also going to show you how to incorporate them like a pro.


Guitar picking is an integral part of everything that we do as guitarists.

One of the most beautiful things about music is that one piece can be played in an insane amount of different ways on the same instrument.

This would be achieved through using different techniques to express that piece in different ways.

And that’s exactly what we’re going to do today – take a piece of music and interpret it with different guitar picking techniques.

This lesson will help you understand five different approaches to picking that can be used over a variety of different styles of music.

But first, why should we want to develop this technique at all?


Why Is It Important To Develop Your Guitar Picking Technique?

Learning all the chords and scales under the sun is great, but we need a method of learning how to express all of them in a musical way.

This is where picking comes into play in a big way.

You could play an entire scale with downstrokes (as we’ll see below), but you might find that it sounds heavy and laboured.

You could play that same scale with alternate picking and you would find that it would sound much more fluid.

You could also fingerpick the notes in the scale for a softer tone from the fingers – it’s ultimately up to you!


This is exactly why we need to develop our guitar picking approach – because it gives us options within our technique.

If we really want to push ourselves forward in the realm of lead guitar playing, having a variety of techniques to approach a song with does two things:

Not only does it give us confidence in our technique, but it lends some uniqueness to our musicality (no matter what level you play at.)

Without further adieu, let’s dive into the five styles of guitar picking in today’s lesson.


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Guitar Picking Level I: Downpicking

Downpicking is a great first step into the world of picking techniques.

This technique is exactly what it sounds like – we use only downstrokes to play whatever piece of music we’re trying to play.

This technique is favoured by many beginner guitarists as a first-step to figuring out alternate picking.

Interestingly, this guitar picking technique is also favoured by metal guitarists for it’s percussive feel – so don’t give up downpicking once you’ve “moved on” to alternate picking!

We’re going to use the chromatic scale as a playable example for this exercise, so start by downpicking “1 – 2 – 3 – 4” on each string.

Use the tabs below as your guide to this exercise.


Notice how this guitar picking technique sounds heavy and abrupt?

Although it’s not the best approach for every style of music, downpicking certainly has its place due to the flavour that it brings to your sound.

Pro Tip: You’ll notice this technique favoured by blues and jazz guitarists as well as punk, rock and metal guitarists alike.

The abrasive sound of downpicking works well in blues where chords are strummed heavily downward, and also in harder styles of music like rock and metal where intense downpicking is always welcome for a grittier sound.

Try downpicking the chromatic scale backwards to get a feel for the ascending and descending motion, then let’s move on to the next guitar picking technique.


Guitar Picking Level II: Alternate Picking

Alternate picking gives us a much wider sense of motion than the rigidness of downpicking, and for good reason:

We’re picking in both directions instead of just one.

This style of guitar picking is absolutely essential for every guitarist to learn, as it teaches us how to smooth out our playing and add some butter to our guitar tone.

Try This: Pick back and forth on the low E string in the open position and count “1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &.”

These are called eighth notes. Every downstroke should land on beats 1, 2, 3 or 4; while the upstrokes should land on each “&.” Give it a shot.


Once we’ve gotten a feel for the motion of alternate picking, we can apply it to the same chromatic scale shape we downpicked our way through above.

This time, you’re guaranteed to have a smoother sound due to the back-and-forth motion of alternate picking.

Pro Tip: Try both of these guitar picking techniques and see how different they sound from each other.

As we add more techniques to our bag of tricks, it will be important for us to understand how they sound in order to know what works best as well as where, and why.

Try descending the chromatic scale now with alternate picking instead of downpicking.


Guitar Picking Level III: Using Alternate Picking With Arpeggios

If you’ve been playing around with chords for a while now, you may have already come across the infamous arpeggio in your travels.

Arpeggios are what happen when we play a chord note-by-note and string-by-string rather than all at once.

This is a guitar picking technique all its own, but it sounds a lot better with alternate picking.

Alternate picking allows the type of motion we need to play through the strings of a chord with buttery smoothness, and you’ll hear a distinct difference when you play arpeggios this way.

Let’s give it a shot over this A minor chord, and then try it with a C major chord as well.



(If you don't understand the above image please read our article "How To Read Guitar Chordboxes In 60 Seconds". It will make everything clear!)



Pro Tip: When using this guitar picking technique over chords, make sure to pay attention to your fret hand.

You’ll want to make sure that all of the needed strings are ringing out clearly, so make good use of wrist rotation to get those notes resonating all together.

Using alternate picking with arpeggios gives our chords a clean sound and helps us work on our wrist movement in the picking hand.

Try this exercise with a metronome if you really want to start tightening up the screws on this guitar picking technique.

If you want a deeper lesson on arpeggios, click here – otherwise, try this exercise with the next two chords below:




Guitar Picking Level IV: Fingerpicking

Alright friends, after three levels of picking practice it’s time to do the unthinkable:

That’s right, we’re putting the pick down for Level IV of this guitar picking lesson.

Fingerpicking is an amazing way to breathe new life into familiar chords, and now that you know how arpeggios work it will be that much easier.

Here’s how we’re going to lay our hand out across the strings:

Thumb: E & A strings

Index: D string

Middle: G string

Ring: B string (& E string optional)

Pinky: (Optional for beginners) E string

This layout works best for beginner guitarists who are opting to try out fingerpicking on guitar.

To start with, let’s take those same two chords from Level III and apply them here with the hand layout above:



Pro Tip: It’s important to practice fingerpicking in both directions, not just ascending a chord and then moving to the next one.

Ensuring that you practice this guitar picking exercise in both directions means that your hands will learn a wider range of motion than they would if they simply went up each chord and didn’t come back down.

Fingerpicking is a technique that takes time to work out, so give yourself the time and patience needed to make the best use you can of it.

Once you’ve learned how to go up and down each chord, try the chords below and begin mixing up your finger patterns to find new sounds within the same chords.

From here it’s on to Level V, where we put the majority of these guitar picking approaches together into one awesome technique…



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It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again.

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Guitar Picking Level V: Hybrid Picking

This is where things get to a much more intermediate level, but it’s a good exercise for anyone to get into regardless of skill level.

Hybrid picking is a guitar picking technique used by country, folk and jazz fusion players alike – and for good reason.

Hybrid picking requires that we use our pick to pluck strings, while also using our other available fingers (namely the middle and ring fingers) to pick adjacent or non-adjacent strings.

Try This: We’re going to use a similar chromatic scale exercise to the one from Level 1, only with a twist.

This time, we’re going to play the first three frets on one string, then pluck the fourth fret of the string above with our middle finger in the picking hand.


Hybrid picking isn’t necessarily a guitar picking skill that you need to pick up as a beginner, but it’s one that you’ll want in your bag of tricks further down the line.

With that being said, it never hurts to start early!

We’ve got one more hybrid picking example to send you off with before we talk about how to practice these picking approaches.

This guitar picking exercise is quite simple: Pick one string with your pick, pluck the next with your middle finger.

Give it a shot for yourself to see how easy it is to incorporate hybrid picking into your playing.

Now, onto some practice tips for success.


How To Practice For Progress

There’s practice, and then there’s progressive practice – the practice that gets you further toward the results you want in a good way.

We love progressive practice, and it’s what we like to preach the most here at the National Guitar Academy.

Here are some pro tips that will help you tune up your focus during your guitar picking practice, and help you achieve better results faster:

  • Don’t rush your picking – it’s important to keep an even pace, no matter what picking approach you’re using. Focus on clear and consistent pick attack, rather than speed. Your hands (and ears) will thank you!


  • Use a metronome to help even out your playing even further – With consistency being the most important thing, you’ll want your timing to be as even as your pickstrokes. Metronomes may come off as annoying tools, but they’re one of the best things you can have.
    Click here to check out Google’s free metronome.
  • Keep a practice log of what you have practiced each day. This will help you pick up where you left off more easily, and will lead to a more consistent practice regimen overall. It will also lead to a more consistent guitar picking style.
  • Listen to other guitarists and how they play! Every guitarist is different, as is their approach. Everyone you listen to will impart a bit of knowledge about the guitar upon your brain, so listen carefully and pick up whatever you can!


Check Out Some Of Our Favourite Guitars With Unique Picking Styles!

This wouldn’t be a guitar picking lesson if we didn’t have a few recommendations of excellent pickers for you to check out.

It’s important to listen to guitarists with a wide variety of different styles in order to garner as much inspiration as we can for our own style that we’d like to build within our guitar playing.

For this mini-list, we’ve picked a mix of classic and modern players who all have their own amazing approach to the guitar. You’re bound to find some inspiration, so click the links below and have a listen!

Recommended Resources

If you enjoyed this lesson on guitar picking approaches, you’re going to love the other lessons we have for you below:

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