How fast can you go with alternate picking?

Hey guys,

Right now I’m accelerating my alternate picking speed. But I have doubts about how fast you can probably get with this kind of picking.
I’m working with a learning book on scales in which most patterns are 3 notes per string.
Now the question is how I should play these patterns to learn the propper technique?

Can we sum it up to this range of speeds?

  • DWPS --> Very Fast
  • Alternate picking --> Medium … Fast
  • Only downward picking --> Medium

An even if DWPS is the technique with the fastest capabillities; how then should I approach these 3 notes per string patterns?
I tried it already with legato, but this confuses me even more and I can’t play fluently anymore…

It really depends on the fretting pattern and picking pattern. If you give a specific example we can probably ballpark it.


And that is exactly what I need to know.
When to use what kind of picking technique?

Because I could easily tell myself: "Yeah, well this pattern can’t be played that fast with alternate picking. "
But maybe I just have to learn alternate picking to the degree where I can play fast and effortlessly.

Here is the Lick (4)

If your goal is to improve your strict alternate picking, I would recommend playing it that way no matter how slow you have to go to get it clean!

From my perspective, downward economy picking is the fastest. But can turn into groups of three, or whatever fretting pattern you’re doing.

Alternate is fast and even.

What you should do is whatever feels right for you. I personally have obsessions with picking cetin ways, when I saw EVH I wanted to pick just like him, no other way would satisfy me. Then I saw Jason Becker, and once again if I wasn’t picking like him I wasn’t happy. And tbh this whole dance of trying to do it a certain way has slowed my progress and made me think way to much about picking.

I honestly believe if I’d never became obsessed with those two players and just played the music I enjoy and went by feel, I’d be a much better player. So basically just do what feels right, you’ll get control and speed eventually. Most the best players couldn’t tell you how they do it, as they let their body just do its thing and focused on the music.

Thanks a lot for your reply.

Yeah, makes sense. Nearly no one of the top player can say why they chose a certain way of picking. Got that.
My whole point is this:

After seeing Troy Grady explaining his findings I switch over from trailing edge picking to front edge picking. Just like himself!
I discovered that even though it felt weird the first time I could shred a lot faster on a single string.

Now that I chose a different pick grip after almost 16 years of playing I have to “relearn” more or less the whole picking technique anyway.
So obviously there is a better way to hold the pick. Then I reason there is also a better way to pick.
So in which technique should I invest my time now?

I mostly did alternate picking.
Economy picking would be quite new for me, but it seems appropriate for groups of three notes.
There is a video section where Troy talks about the technique Eric Johnson uses.
And he switches his techniques during playing for certain riffs. So this got my attention.

So to recap all of this, there are various approaches and a few top players master more then one:

  • DSX

  • USX

  • DBX

  • Alternate picking

  • Economy picking

  • String hopping

So right now my focus is on USX in combination with alternate picking. For these 3 note per string riffs I will now try economy picking.
For example I also could do it like MAB - He quickly changes from USX to DSX for uneven notes per string riffs. Or I could restructure the fretting pattern.
But this is not what I prefer because I want to be able to also handle uneven pattern.

In my opinion you should try them all and see what works for you. But not think about it to much, I think it’s way to easy to get caught up in focusing on technique. Thats been my experience anyway, and it’s slowed me down.

The one that works for me best is downward pick slanting, and using pulloffs when my pick might get trapped. It’s way more relaxed and less complicated for me than alternate picking. But ofcouse it can be less even than alternate. So I do alternate if it’s needed to be even.

I’m probably not being too helpful :stuck_out_tongue: But maybe another perspective is useful. I’d enjoy having a look at your playing.


Vocabulary woud be very limited with either single-escaped approach (DSX or USX), unless you use them with economy picking. In fact, some of the more callous rejections of CTC I’ve seen online boil down to “he’s just describing economy picking.”

For example, Yngwie and Eric Johnson use USX, and many of their licks involve economy picking. Frank Gambale uses both USX and DSX, and does economy picked licks with both.

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Don’t forget that you still have the “old” technique when you want it!


What I’ve noticed switching between various anchor points and pick holds is they each have their own most efficient picking motion. Take Jypsy jazz for an extreme example, you’ll have a very hard time alternate picking holding the pick like that.

Realistically, you want to use whatever technique allows you to play the passage consistently at the required speed. What bpm is the riff you posted supposed to be played at?

As far as I can tell, this lick needs some kind of double escape/two way slanting strategy if you want to play it picking every note. I suppose this is what you call “alternate picking”?

Or, you could play it using the Yngwie strategy: USX with downstroke sweeps ascending and pull-offs descending, whenever there is an uneven number of notes per string.

Another solution is to rearrange it to make it fit whatever motion you use, or feel most comfortable with.


Sorry, I just realised that you had already posted almost the same thing yourself!

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Thanks for sharing your opinion!

It’s astounding to me that most of you guys tell me I should not focus too mcuh on the technique.

  • Because thats my main focus now, after many years of not caring enought - =)

Right. I think it would be best if I could capture some of my playing on video.

One thing to add that I did not mention:
When playing only on two neighbour strings for a section I do - I think thats called “inside” picking -.

Yeah - True.

And if I compare the sound of the old vs. the new technique, the old technique - trailing edge picking - sounds somewhat brighter or clearer to me.

Maybe its just because I do not master the new technique - but thats the reason why I automatically switch back to the old technique as soon as I play open chord type music - like AC/DC.

Can you tell if there really is a difference?
Concerning the geometry of the pick the sound should be equal in both cases…

I tabbed it in Guitar Pro. -s. attachement
If I set it up to 130 bpm it sounds just like the example track on the study CD.
Please take a look. :wink:

Scale_Technique_a_aeolian.gpx (17.6 KB)

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Apart from my comment about performing it (using whatever is consistent), what is your long term goal? Have you found a particular technique more pleasing from a tone / attack perspective? Have you identified strengths and weaknesses in your playing which have influenced what you like to play, or how you play it?

I can’t find the video, but there’s a clip by Chris Thile where he says that he alternate picks everything, because he can more or less “autopilot” the right hand and just think about fingerings. I definitely resonate with that sentiment, and don’t do anything other than alternate picking. This has made me very comfortable with alternate, to the point that I can guess I can play the example you posted pretty easily (but I doubt I could play it economy). I’d personally change the fingerings to not change positions as much, which goes to my point of strengths / weaknesses dictating preferences: I find that I’m pretty sloppy doing too many position shifts, so I’d rather stay in a pretty tight position and just skip strings if I need too. I also rather not do big stretches. Those are some of the things that influence how I personally play things, and guide how I spend my time practicing (currently trying to be better at finger rolls).

I’m probably just not explaining myself to well, I’m not great with text lol
What is your normal anchor point?

To try explain myself better. I’m not saying to not focus on technique, as you say thats your current interest and you want to find a more efficient way of playing. So I’m quite interested with your efforts as you’ve been playing a long time.

All I really wanted to get across was that the focus on technique can become an obsession, or a comfortable pattern of just running through exercises. And in my experience it’s a very easy trap to get into that has stalled my musical learning. Every time I pick up the guitar I feel I need to do my technique excersises. And it becomes this bodybuilding type mentality of excerise, turning the guitar into a excersiser or stress ball type thing, rather than a musical instrument.
Hope I’ve explained myself bit better. As I say look forward to your vids if you can upload them.


I made two videos where you can see me playing the riff I posted in pure alternate picking and one where I tried my best to do it with economy picking.
The Speed is about 70-75% of the final speed.
Hopefully I can upload it via Youtube so I can send you the link.

My long term goal is to be able to pick fast licks. Any technique that enables me fast picking / fretting is fine for me.