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Flat Picking - Part 1

by Mike Lindyn
www.GuitarKnowledgenet.com ©2004

Flat-picking is very common today and dominates most rock, pop, blues, and alternative genres. When a guitarist uses a pick the technique he or she is using is called Flat-picking. A pick is held between the index finger and the thumb of your picking hand and is used to strike the string or strings of a given note or chord. There are a few skills you will need to develop to become an accomplished flat-picker. Among these are, alternate picking, sweep picking, and a few others. A true mastery of all the flat picking techniques may take years but needless to say the more you practice the quicker your skills will develop. Below is an example of a B Minor chord picked out in a Travis picking manor. In this example the first note is picked using a down stroke on the note B the next note is also a B one octave higher but this time picked with an up stroke. The third note is again a down stroke on the note F# and the fourth which is played as an up stroke is the note A. This example can be thought of as a flat picking Travis pick that uses alternate picking. (Alternate picking is examined next.)

* Note: For the following examples the notes being played are not nearly as important as the strings being hit or the fingers being used. Therefore, all the examples in this section will be shown using only tablature.

Holding a Pick
Since it it much easier to show you how a pick should be held than it is to try and explain I have included the picture below. Hold your pick up to the screen and see if your holding your pick correctly.

Alternate Picking
Perhaps the most important flat-picking technique is called alternate picking. Alternate picking simply means that your pick moves in a constant up and down motion. For every down stroke you make you will also make an up stroke. If this is not something you already practice, do so for about two or three months, it may help you out a lot. Below are four examples of alternate picking in various musical situations. Remember to keep a constant up and down picking motion even when changing strings.

1) Alternate picking shown in passages consisting of single notes:

2) Alternate picking shown in a passage consisting of all chords:

3) Alternate picking shown in a passage consisting of chords and single notes:

4) Alternate picking shown in a passage consisting of chordal arpeggios:

* Note: Make sure you keep a constant down, up motion even when changing strings. Many students can use alternate picking just fine on a single string, but when they have to cross two or three strings to arpeggiate a chord they will sweep pick these strings in the direction of the movement (down or up). For this exercise, don’t do this. I am not saying this is a bad thing to do in your everyday playing, but when practicing this technique avoid any sweep picking.

Sweep Picking
Sweep picking is another useful flat-picking technique. The idea here is to drag your pick across the strings in all down or up strokes over a given melody line. Make this sound as smooth as possible but sounding each note individually. Remember we are sweeping a melody line not creating a chord.

1) Sweep picking shown in a passage consisting of chordal arpeggios:

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