Achievable speeds on alternate-picked 3nps scales


If you are alternate picking a 3 note per string exercise with 16th notes in 4/4 time across all 6 strings, how many bpm’s would be a reasonable speed for the fastest the exercise can be played smoothly?

1 Like

I think it depends on your goals and ability, but most people who want to pick fast are probably looking to get to 180 bpm at minimum. If I don’t have all the time to warm up on a given day, I’ll just make sure I can get at least that far.

1 Like

I’ve seen several threads on here where people mention 12 notes per second as where we really start perceiving things as ‘fast’ and that’s indeed 16ths @ 180 BPM, so that sounds reasonable. We’re all different in what we’re good at. If you happen to have an easier time with a triplet or sextuplet feel, you could also match this speed by doing sextuplets at 120 BPM.

One important thing I’ve learned from all of Troy’s research is that while it’s a nice goal to have, most good guitarists don’t do a ton of playing straight scales using alternate picking, let alone doing it across all 6 strings. Most of them use patterns that conform to the escape that their joint motions naturally do and these have a natural contour that rises and falls within the phrase. If they do play straight scales, it will typically involve some economy picking, legato or swiping. The exception would be the DBX players, but not everyone is DBX player. Again, the fastest examples we’ve seen aren’t just 3nps across the strings.

Besides that, do you really want to get fast at playing scales, or do you want to get good at playing the phrases that you enjoy? Because the former is often musically useless anyway :slight_smile: I know we’re conditioned to think if we get fast at scales that it should transfer directly to the ‘real’ playing we want to do. @guitarenthusiast had one of my favorite all time quotes, where this notion of getting good at exercises first then trying to play the real music being an ‘insidious form of procrastination’.

I love that. It’s fun to say out loud too lol! I think a better approach is to go straight to the phrases you’d like to play and attempt to get them up to speed. Leave the straight scale playing for people in conservatories whose teachers make them do it. Also, most instruments are easier to play straight scales on than guitar, and most of them have some notion of ‘slurring’ at the top speeds. We guitarists are just gluttons for punishment I sometimes think lol!


Fastest for you personally, or for anyone? If you’re progressing - by speed, comfort, cleanliness, etc - then it’s a win for you. If you’re looking for the fastest anyone has played something like that, you’ll have to do some digging, but I’m assuming at least 220 BPM or more?

Thanks for the replies! I was curious about the 3 note per string issue and was talking with some friends who didn’t believe that this exercise could be played at or near shred level due to the odd number of notes per string. I told them I was playing it at 160 bpm and they insisted that I must be economy picking it at least part of it, but I know for a fact that I’m only alternate picking it. Every time I move to another string, my pick angle changes and I start every other string with either a down stroke or upstroke. I’ve been playing for over 30 years, bit I’m not a shredder. After all these years of playing, I’m just now getting to that faster level. I can play about a million and one songs though. :grinning:

I’ve seen fast (something in the 200s) from other people, and I even posted a video of me here doing it at 210 BPM, so yeah definitely tell them it’s possible.

1 Like

Agree with @joebegly that a straight scale is a bit of an awkward pattern, but it is totally possible to do it blazing fast, or more precisely, approximately as fast as your max picking speed. Note: it will be easier with a flatter neck (because the strings themselves will be flatter)

I think the scale playing in Paul Gilbert’s “intense rock” is in the 210bpm ballpark

This is me playing an ascending scale at approx 195bpm16ths, reasonably clean (first example of the lot). This is at the boundary of what feels comfortable for me

This is me doing circular scales @180, which is typically the fastest speed I use in my own writing, because it’s fast but comfortable :slight_smile:

I think I could manage a rep or two @210 bpm like Pepepicks, but it would not be very comfortable or reliable for me. Also I think @Pepepicks66 is holding back, that mofo can pick faaast :smiley:


Wow - glad I’m not the only one tommo! As I am going through all the early Yngwie stuff I find I consistently seem to end up playing at about 180bpm - whereas Yngwie tends to hover around 200+ .

I CAN get to 200 -but I don’t think I could play that in an improvised solo. I have to REALLY work up to it - and I might have to do 100 takes to get one acceptable one at 200bpm!

What have you found is the most reliable way to determine your upper speed limit? I would really like to accurately determine mine as I feel I am wasting time trying to play accurately and consistently at speeds that are outside my limits.

How did you calculate that? Mainly asking because I’ve seen Troy post clips where he slows down the time and actually gets counts of notes per second and was wondering if this was how you arrived at your 210bpm assessment.

I could be wrong since my method of calculating is error prone. I just tapped along on a metronome. I’m no drummer but I have pretty good timing :slight_smile: Paul seems mainly locked into a groove but I see readings in the 130bpm range on my metronome and it feels like he’s playing sextuplets. That would equate to 16ths @ 195. Still super fast, but I think when you get to these upper speeds even a 15bpm difference is HUGE. Meaning 210 seems WAY more challenging 195…much more so than 180 being more challenging than 165. He’d need to be playing 6’s at 140bpm to match 16ths at 210bpm in terms of NPS and to me, I just don’t think he’s at that speed.

Can you link it? I’d love to see it! And I swear I’m not being snarky at you @Pepepicks66 or @tommo . That ain’t how I roll :slight_smile: I legitimately thought when people played straight scales it was far beneath 210 so I’m just eager, in a nerdy excited way, to see footage of this thing that I thought wasn’t a thing. Petrucci at his peak in the Rock Discipline era struggled to get that chromatic run above 208 and we all know that’s WAY easier to pick than 3nps.

The only stuff I’ve personally heard that I felt was clean that gets above 210 with alt picking is Rusty Cooley, MAB or Shawn Lane and in all cases they play ‘patterns’ and not straight scales. I probably just need to widen my sample size, but that’s where I’m coming from in my personal experience, limited as it may be :slight_smile:

1 Like

I’m not sure there’s a “limit”. With certain motions I know, almost any speed I can pick on a single string, I can also play lines of varying complexity across the strings. You shouldn’t perceive any kind of cutoff point.

We’ve seen your playing in the other thread. I can tell you that worrying about questions like this is not going to help. You have no “speed” issues, your playing sounds great and can go very fast even on the kind of lines we think of as complicated.

Also, stop worrying about what Yngwie does. He uses one-way economy for the fours pattern, which we’ve discussed. It’s irrelevant how that compares to players who use pure alternate.

But if you can alternate pick pure alternate at 200, then you can definitely do some version of fours at or near that speed, especially the outside picking version like Batio. I don’t want to derail this thread, so refer to yours for more on that.

But you can do it!


@joebegly not sure how to do timestamps, but starts at about 2:14, do 2 attempts of all 6 strings ascending / descending. The video is me just coming up with patterns that felt challenging to see how fast I could pick them (you can see the metronome app on my phone) from one of my livestreams. There are other straight scales in there that aren’t all 6 strings (just 3, octave to octave).

You’re such a bad ass :slight_smile: Great playing as we’re used to with you!

Since knowledge is power, just rightclick the video when it’s queued up to where you want and choose this option. It will showup in the link you paste and magic happens

1 Like

Lol thanks man! It’s very appreciated.

And thanks for this too! I mostly browse on my phone so I’m guessing this is the “desktop” interface. I remember there being a way to add the minutes / seconds in the link manually, can’t remember it though.

The exercise I’m playing that inspired me to start this thread is as follows:
It’s a very simple pattern that I use to improve my alternate picking technique. Begin on string 1 with a down stroke using an upward pick slant. On string 2, continue with the upward pick slant, but begin with an upstroke. Going to string 3 is where it starts to get tricky. As you are playing, but before leaving string 2, Change to a downward pick slant and begin string 3 with a downstroke. For each of the remaining strings, the pick slant must be changed as well as the startIng out with an up or down stroke. Someone please try this and let me know how it works out for you. I’m ripping it!

That sounds crazy hard compared to an even easier path down up down and up down up, economical directional picking approach, which by the way is the faster path.

@DrSmith What you’re describing is (I think) DBX. If you want to apply 3 note per string chromatics to a solo, you should check out “As I Am” by Dream Theater. I vaguely remember it leaning heavily on 3 note per string chromatics a good deal:

@bradejensen the OP specifically mentioned it was a pattern to improve alternate picking:

Exactly and I also haven’t mentioned yet the most important reason (for me at least) that I developed this exercise. Being a chromatic based exercise provides me an excellent opportunity to improve fretting hand dexterity and finger independence. I place a slide on my pinky and use fingers 1, 2 and 3 to fret the notes. So I’m benefiting both hands. It’s a real beast to play it with any sort of speed when finger 4 is kept straight and not moving along with the other fingers, especially finger 3.

I was just letting him know if he wants to go faster than his alternate picking max, economy is the way to go.

Economy picking can definitely make this little exercise faster and I would definitely use it to play an actual lick like s1-15,14,12; s2-15,14,12; s3–15,14,12. However, I only use economy picking for specific situations. Alternate picking helps me to stay organized.

Thanks Troy! Yes am working away with some new forms and improving. Other threads are better for my stuff I agree- I don’t want to derail this either! It is a great thread!

@Pepepicks66 - great playing!

1 Like