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How to Do Alternate Picking & Play 16th Notes

Let musician Alex Skolnick teach you how to do alternate picking and play sixteenth notes in this heavy metal guitar lesson from Howcast.


Let's talk about alternate picking and 16th notes. One of the simplest ways to play this is just on an open string as a rhythm, either the E string or the A string. Or.
And you'll often hear that with chords thrown in. But either way, you have to be very careful with the right hand. Make sure you're always playing up and down. And it gets a little trickier when you start dealing with the scales. So as a simple exercise, here are the first five notes of an A natural minor scale, also known as A Aeolian mode. Just five notes - one, two, three, four, five. Okay? So notice how I'm starting with a down stroke, then an up stroke, down.

Now here's the crucial part. I'm switching from the 6th string to the 5th string and I'm doing down stroke and an up stroke. There may be a temptation to do a down stroke, and it's not that you couldn't do the same stroke in a row but it gets a special sound with alternate picking. So, one, two, three, four. And now I'm going to go down the scale as well, so up and down this five note pattern. Now notice when I descend the pattern I'm starting on a down stroke as well, and I'm ending on an up stroke. So, down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up.

I'm using my thumb and my index finger. I'm keeping the pick very close to the strings. People use different picking positions. I'm also using my fourth finger to anchor the hand here.

I would recommend practicing this slow and working your way up. So if the tempo is this, these are the 16th notes. Once you have that down you can practice all the way up or down the scale, or try different patterns. Here's another pattern using A Aeolian and all alternate picking 16th notes.

And there you have it. Have some fun with alternate picking and 16th notes.

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