How To Easily Switch From Alternate Picking To Directional Picking

by Tom Hess

If you are used to playing guitar with alternate picking...

... and if alternate picking has been your main guitar picking technique for years...

... how long would it take (and how difficult would it be) to switch your guitar technique to directional picking?

After training thousands of guitarists to develop pro-level guitar technique and build virtuoso guitar picking speed (using directional picking), I can confidently answer that: 

It doesn't take nearly as long as you might think.

And it is not nearly as hard as you might imagine.

This guitar picking article will show you how.

Here are 7 things to know about switching from alternate picking to directional picking:

1. Making Your Guitar Picking Technique More Efficient (By Switching To Directional Picking) Is No Different Than Undoing Any Other Bad Guitar Technique Habit.

Think of any great guitar player you admire (the one with virtuoso guitar picking chops and flawless guitar technique). 

Most of them seem to improve their guitar technique (and guitar picking speed) throughout their career. This means they keep refining their guitar technique year after year, by gradually making it more efficient and undoing bad guitar picking habits they have become aware of. 

Point is:

Don’t feel bad about needing to change your guitar picking technique from alternate picking to directional picking. 

It’s one of many guitar technique nuances you will almost certainly change in your guitar playing career.

In fact, I recommend to all my students to not even think about improving their guitar picking as “undoing bad guitar technique habits”. (That puts you in a negative frame of mind.)

I instead encourage you to think of any changes in their guitar picking as guitar technique ‘refinement’.

This sounds better and makes you feel better about the process of switching to directional picking from alternate picking (or improving any other element of your guitar technique). 

Also, the less advanced you are right now...

... the quicker and simpler it is to make big (positive) changes in your guitar playing. 

All you need to do is have a simple process for improving your guitar technique on an ongoing basis. 

Here is the process I recommend to all my guitar students for improving their guitar picking technique: 


2. Don’t Overestimate The Difficulty And The Stakes Of Switching From Alternate Picking To Directional Picking. 

When your average guitar player considers switching from alternate picking to directional picking... 

You’d think they are pondering switching from playing guitar to playing the tuba.

In reality?

The differences between the 2 guitar picking techniques are much smaller than you might imagine.

Think about it:

When you are picking on one string, the 2 techniques (alternate picking and directional picking) are 100% identical.

When you are playing guitar licks that have an even number of notes per string (such as 2-note-per-string pentatonic guitar picking licks and 4-note-per-string chromatic licks, for example)...

The two guitar techniques are also 100% identical.

When you are playing inside picking – the two guitar picking techniques are identical.

When you are going from a higher (thinner) guitar string (where the last note was played with a downstroke) to a thicker string, the 2 techniques are identical.

When you are going from a thicker guitar string (where the last note was played with a upstroke) to a thinner string, the 2 techniques are identical.
And on it goes.

In fact, the ONLY difference between alternate picking and directional picking is the rest stroke that (sometimes) happens when you change strings in the same direction. (That is where the name ‘directional’ picking comes from.)

Here is how to practice it to make it easy to switch to directional picking from alternate picking:

3. Realize That Switching Your Guitar Picking Style To Directional Picking Helps To Master The Guitar Technique Of Sweep Picking.


That rest stroke that happens when you do directional picking on guitar is the same ‘rest stroke’ motion that makes it easy to sweep pick cleanly and fast.

Watch this video where I show this motion in more detail as it applies to sweep picking cleanly and fast:

This means 2 things:

1. Even if you somehow resist the idea of switching your guitar technique from alternate picking to directional picking...

As long as you want to sweep pick fast and clean, you ‘still’ have to learn the motions required for directional picking. (So, you might as well benefit from them in ALL of your guitar picking – including playing scales and scale sequences... not only arpeggios.)

2. Realize that whatever time you “lose” switching between the two guitar picking techniques (alternate picking and directional picking), you “gain back” by not having to spend that time on sweep picking.

4. Practice Your Guitar Picking Hand Motions Without Fretting Notes.

One common reason why switching your guitar picking technique might take a lot longer than it should...

... Is because you may be practicing everything with both hands. This limits how much bandwidth your brain can put into learning the new guitar picking motion needed for directional picking.

The result?

The change from one guitar picking technique to another takes much longer than it has to take.


Practice your most challenging guitar picking licks (such as the ones that include the rest stroke motion used in directional picking) with your picking hand only, like this: 

5. Vary Your Pick Attack And Articulation When You Practice Switching From Alternate Picking To Directional Picking.

Here is what I mean:

When practicing at a given guitar picking speed, alternate between playing your guitar lick softly for a few repetitions and aggressively for a few repetitions 

The reason to do this?

Varying your pick attack makes a given tempo feel harder or easier to play (depending on whether you pick harder or softer).

This helps you ingrain the guitar picking motions you are trying to learn into your muscle memory more quickly. 

Note: when you pick the notes aggressively, pay attention to tension levels in your fretting hand (and the rest of your body).

Make sure that your jaw, your shoulders, your arms, your stomach, your thighs, calves and feet stay relaxed as you practice switching from alternate picking to directional picking. 

This process is called ‘tension audit’ and here is a demonstration of how to do it as you work on building your guitar technique and guitar picking speed:

6. Use Guitar Picking Speed Bursts To Make It Easier To Build Guitar Picking Speed With Directional Picking

This aspect of guitar picking training is easier to show than it is to explain, so here is a video demonstration of how to use speed bursts to build guitar speed with directional picking:

7. Take Advantage Of Directional Picking Efficiency To Clean Up Sloppy Guitar String Noise

As you practice switching from alternate picking to directional picking, you’ll notice that – among its many advantages –

Directional picking allows your pick to stay in the trench (space) of the strings much more that alternate picking.

This makes it easier to use the ultimate guitar string muting technique: thumb muting.

How To Mute Guitar String Noise

So, use the time you are already investing into improving your guitar technique and guitar picking efficiency... to make your playing cleaner as well.



Just in case you are not fully convinced that it’s even ‘worth’ switching from alternate picking to directional picking...

Or, if you believe that alternate picking has some inherent advantages that directional picking does not...

Check out this epic guitar picking technique article that compares alternate picking, directional picking and economy picking to see which is the ultimate picking technique for guitar.

Tom Hess
About Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher, music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He teaches rock guitar lessons online to students from all over the world and conducts instructional live guitar training events attended by musicians from over 50 countries.

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