Alternate picking is said to provide more sustain and tone control, as stated by guitar legends such as Steve Morse. This type of picking pattern takes more time to learn than natural picking patterns such as directional picking. Most guitar players seek to use a hybrid of the two picking patterns instead, so the best of both worlds may be enjoyed.
Alternate picking is an easy concept to grasp, but much harder to put into proper use. The idea behind alternate picking is to alternate picking directions with each sounded note. This means that after every down stroke of the pick, there is an up stroke as well. Beginners will find this to be a little hard to do at first, but it will eventually lead to an easier method to learn tremolo picking. It also makes most rhythms much easier to play, and faster. The downside to alternate picking is the arpeggio. An arpeggio incorporates multiple strings, so staying with the alternate picking pattern will also decrease speed.
Alternate picking vs. direct picking
The main argument between alternative and direct picking is speed. Direct picking pattern supporters claim that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. This is true, but so is the fact that the guitar pick almost always surpasses the guitar string on a down stroke. So it is usually much faster to pluck the string again while returning to the original position. This lets speed be taken to the next level, but as stated before, it doesn’t work so well for multiple string arpeggios.
The majority of self-taught guitar players will of course use directional picking- as it is the natural way to play. Alternate picking does have its benefits for those who require speed, so it is usually learned after directional picking is picked up. Of course, there are guitar legends that stick to both picking styles- so neither group is necessarily right or wrong. In fact, the best way to go is to achieve a hybrid sense of picking. In a hybrid picking between alternate and direct picking, both picking styles are used for what they do best. Direct picking can allow guitar players to play arpeggios, and also play crtain rhythms faster. Alternate picking can allow amazing speeds to be achieved through practice- as long as the rhythm is based around only a few strings at most.
With the fusion of alternate and direct picking, comes the term economy picking. Economy picking is usually the best way to get the best speed from both picking methods. If the next note to be played lies on another string, it obviously shouldn’t incorporate alternative picking. Each change of string brings another direct pick technique. If there are a few notes located on one particular string, then alternate picking should be used if necessary.
Those who are new to the guitar shouldn’t be afraid to learn the alternate picking technique. It is usually what fast types of music such as metal rely on. Learning it can be tough especially without a teacher to act as a guide, and it will take some time to master. But guitar legends such as John Petrucci can attest to the fact that alternate picking is just as important as direct picking.