Should "alternate pick everything" be the standard in guitar education?

I figured teacher’s lounge is the best place to post this.

When teaching total beginners, especially children, despite all we’ve learned through CtC, should we still teach the idea of “alternate pick everything” despite all the string crossing challenges, and then apply the more in depth discussions of escape motions, pick slanting, etc. once a student has a basic control of their right hand, even if its messy and full of string hopping and inefficient motion? Or should “proper” escape and pick slanting mechanics be taught from day 1?

I’m posing this question because I need to present an argument to “higher ups” at the music school I teach at that are implementing a curriculum with method books that show some rather cumbersome pick directions for certain examples, especially early on in the beginner books. One of which is a two-way pick slant/crosspicking nightmare of a pentatonic scale “3s” lick that is usually done with pull offs (you know the lick I’m talking about… the one everyone and their mom learns to do). The initial idea in the book is the standard “kids need to learn to alternate pick everything” because… well because no one ever questioned that concept before CtC came along.

For a very long time now I’ve been starting students off with one way, DWPS, since I personally feel its the easiest to learn with the least amount of variables, but I wonder if there is merit to the idea of getting a beginner to try to alternate pick through odd numbered, two-way escape patterns, even if their movement is inefficient, just to learn to get control of their right hand. I’m especially interested in what @Troy himself might think of this idea. Keep in mind, we have students as young as 8 and 9 years old that we have to teach this material to.

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Not a teacher (though I gave some piano lessons to kids:) ) nevertheless…

I believe that technique must not be in front of musicality. But.
I think it’d be good to standartise some stuff (from the methodical point of view). And “alternate pick everything” is a nice approach among others. As in any physical activity: first you learn the form, then you learn how to brake the form.
The question is - whether this approach fits for everyone. If a student is a total newbie - that’s one story, but if he has some experience - it could be a problem. Breaking old habits could take a looong time.
Difficult question.

If you’re asking me, I take the practical approach. What is the easiest system for a beginner, and children in your question specifically, to learn? Teach that systaem. Meaning, all these picking techniques are basically holisitic systems that rely on a couple core motions, and can handle certain types of phrases. And they can be taught as such.

Just as an example, look at Gypsy guitar. It’s basically a one-way economy system — specifically, a downward pickslanting economy system:

You have two core motions here, the downstroke sweep, and the alternate picking motion. You have a specific arm and hand position that goes along with this, and a couple pick grips that work with this. This is all pretty straightforward once you know how it works, and you can take someone new, place their hands on the instrument, and show them how to do these motions. Then you can show them some phrases to play that fit these motions. Again, very simple. I think this is why when you look at players who learned Gypsy technique, they all look pretty similar, and they can all execute the technique to some extent or another. Not everyone is Joscho, but you end up with a much higher degree of consistency and general competence than when you just tell people to do whatever comes naturally to them.

Edit: I would add that the Gypsies have a solid track record of teaching their technique to children, again, with what appears to be a high degree of uptake. You’d really need to investigate this in a controlled fashion, but if I had to guess, I would guess that the Gypsy approach, just given its simplicity, being one that would test highly as far as teachability and results.

Bluegrass guitar is similar, but slightly less standardized. Everyone is taught some variation on a double-escape motion, but they’re given less instruction on which grip and which specific motion to use. The techniques that result from this are more all over the map, but they do bear a certain similarity. Our Winfield footage shows this pretty clearly:

Note that Gypsy is not “all alternate”, whereas bluegrass for the most part is. I think that’s mostly irrelevant. Find something that works and that is easy to communicate, and teach that. You’ll get people playing real music the fastest.


Thanks, @Troy! I think what I’m going to communicate to management is that, at least as far as the very beginner level examples are concerned that the pick directions be completely removed, so that it’s up to the discretion of the individual teacher as to how to teach the student to navigate it. I think incorporating simple legato into pentatonic phrases would make something like the examples they provide much more workable to a beginner than the “pick everything” approach.

They claim they hired an “accredited guitar instruction author,” but knowing what I do now thanks to the CtC material, that standard kind of guitar instruction is out-dated, and I find it frustrating to have to explain otherwise.


What a great post Troy! I think this could be the next huge chapter of CTC. After the first one which is “teaching people the motions, moves and principles of each style”, the second one could be “teach people how to teach all that material to other people”.

Fascinating once again!

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The most general technique is double-escape, and it is fast enough for most music, and it lacks the irregularity and special cases of the Gypsy technique; perhaps it would be the simplest, conceptually? Then, later you can teach single-escape if there is any reason?

But Troy’s argument for Gypsy sounds very powerful, perhaps you can explain both to students and ask which one they want to do first?

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Yes and no - but I gues this is a matter of semantics and you seem aware of it :slight_smile:

Any player who uses only double escapes, even at very high level, would probably struggle to imitate gipsy virtuosos like Joscho. Well, I think so at least!

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I’ve had the greatest success teaching single escape DWPS only because the rest stroke concept is so easy to understand even for a young child, to the point where I haven’t even had to explain economy picking because they did it naturally. Inevitably, because of the nature of the school (having kids cover songs from different artists/genres) they will be put into scenarios where they’ll need to learn other movements.

On the surface, double escape is probably what most people would be inclined to do, I guess. I don’t do this because of the reason I mentioned above and also, I’m a little biased towards single escape DWPS because it’s the system I implement exclusively in my lead playing and know the best in terms of spotting and teaching the correct movements.

Yeah, but Joschio can’t play MAB, and I’ll bet that MAB can’t play bluegrass (although this is speculation on my part, I don’t know).

I think each technique has strengths and weaknesses, so in some sense a particular piece of music “demands” the appropriate technique. It could be that people playing one style of music can eventually develop a technique that’s good for it, and often times their technique is not transferrable.

For lower speeds, however, I think that any technique will work, and most people just don’t play that fast, hence perhaps they can use the simplest. The simplest, I believe, is double-escaped, because it works in the obvious way on any number of notes/string, including 1, and it looks a lot like strumming. DWPS has problems sweeping down or one distant note per string, or odd numbers of notes per string (where it forces you to not pick at least one note); UWPS has the identical problems except reflected, and 2WPS has problems with one distant note per string and is of fairly high cognitive complexity.

So, depending on the music and the degree of interest in dealing with exceptions (“you have 3 notes hence you have to pick two and hammer one”), one technique might come to the forefront of instruction, and I am guessing that double-escaped really is the simplest.

Thing is though is that you have the highest odds of not getting the feel right and string hopping all over the place. I think that if double escape was really that simple and straightforward we would see a lot more people nailing those movements, and I just don’t see that at all. Trust me when I say out of probably over 100 guitar students I’ve seen come through our school I can count on one hand the number of students who ever got their right hand to what I would consider to be an advanced degree, VS easily double or triple the amount of drummers that got their chops to an advanced level. The difference is in the pedagogy, drummers have set ways of doing things and unless you follow Troy’s work, guitarists just have “alternate pick” and then “maybe try economy if you get advanced enough” (why economy is reserved as a more advanced technique is very weird to me).

So I would disagree that double escape is the simplest. Maybe it has the simplest base instruction (just alternate pick) but unless the student refines those movements with great intuition, they aren’t going to be getting to any decent degree of accuracy.

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I’m sure that your teaching experience is rich and that you’re an excellent instructor; I have no such experience. But to me, in terms of pedagogy, “sweeping” and “strumming” a chord are surprisingly similar, and “cross picking” is really like strumming just one note.

Indeed, if I could give only ONE sentence to express the concept of “alternate picking,” perhaps it would be “pretend that your pick glides in a uniform arc of large radius and hits one string and rises back up, only to turn around and hit another; no sudden deviations are permitted.” (When asked “why,” it would be, “your rhythm will arguably be more uniform.”)

And to really get to the bottom of it, I view the half-escaped motions as what happens if the arc goes down “too low” and rest-strokes result. Then again, all that matters is helping students to make progress, and you know best in this area. I totally believe you that the drummers advance must faster than the guitar players, and believe that this likely holds for any instrument that I can think of (certainly cello, violin, piano, etc.). I think the reason they do better is that there is a CORRECT way to do something, and the teacher enforces it over the course of learning lots of repertoire; it is only in guitar where everybody has their own opinion of everything and insists on improvisation, a toxic combination.

I’m still embarrassing mediocre after all this time, but as somebody who did take lessons initially and did NOT have alternate picking taught to me…my opinion is YES.

While there’s a lot to be said for creativity and individual form+style, the precision that alternate picking allows for is too important to not be the foundation for everything IMHO.

Don’t have the words to explain how unfortunate it is, for me at least, to not have had this knowledge at the beginning.

@BlackInMind, it seems to me that alternate picking in the absence of other information only recently starting to be codified can be a very, very, cruel trick to play on a student.

Guitar is still a relatively young instrument, pedagogy-wise. I daresay I wouldn’t trust a formally “accredited” guitar teacher in the absence of other credentials, given that we’re coming off of at least a half a century state of pedagogical flux. It’s most likely that a particular accreditation wouldn’t reflect what actually makes a given instructor great. I shudder to think what would be required if we snapshotted the current state of the industry.

Imagine if sound engineering was codified to reflect norms at the peak of the loudness war. We are in a similar period with regard to guitar education. The successful approaches are out there to build upon, but they are not likely the most popular nor obvious choices yet.

Good luck with your powers that be!

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Agree with the post above this, and TBH I thought about this a bit more before arriving at the following conclusion:

The technique is, for the most part, secondary to the end result (if the end result is acceptable by all measurable standards)

IMHO what should be presented are common use cases and the basics for each technique…think 16th notes for example. What would have been amazing for me during my initial learning might be something like:

  • Here are some complicated 16th note patterns
  • Here are common techniques used for playing 16th notes
  • Here are measurable performance requirements to “pass”
  • Here is the amount of time you have before being required to pass this test
  • BONUS - here is a metronome kid, you may need it one day

So if it’s say a week to play 3 songs with 90% accuracy (each flubbed note or mistimed pluck being a ding), student goes home and tries to see what “feels best” to them. If it feels good but doesn’t pass the accuracy test, try to force ‘proper’ technique.

Bit of a ramble but hopefully there’s some understanding of what I mean