How To Improve Your Upstroke Picking

Playing Guitar Scales

Is your single note guitar picking choppy, uneven and inconsistent sounding? Beginning guitar players often start out picking all notes using only a downstroke picking motion. Initially, this usually feels like the most comfortable way to pick notes on the guitar. In reality, it leads to timing and coordination issues with your picking and makes it very difficult to increase your picking speed. This lesson will help you develop the other half of the picking equation – picking upstokes – and show you the best way to get a better sound, increase your pick speed and improve your timing.

Gaining control and mastery of your guitar picking starts by making sure that your pick hand is in the best possible position to pick the correct string at the right time. While this may seem obvious, very small changes in your hand position can make a very large difference in your ability to pick accurately and get a good sound. Let’s make certain that your hand setup is sound—from there we can start to incorporate the upstroke picking motion into your playing.

Once again: good guitar playing is the direct result of creating a good setup with your hands on the guitar.

Sit down with your guitar in playing position. Looking down at your pick hand, make sure the side of it is resting lightly on the front of your guitar on or near the bridge of the guitar. The key word here is “lightly.” Your pick hand should not be anchored tightly to the front of the guitar—it should have to freedom to be able to move as your pick moves from string to string. The sensation in your pick hand should be similar to the feeling you have in your hand when you write with a pen or pencil. You can watch this guitar pick hand video to see the correct position and learn exactly how to improve your upstroke picking now.

Grab a pen and a piece of paper and write some sentences. Notice how the side of your hand rests lightly on the table. Now try writing with the side of your hand lifted off the table and just the tip of the pencil in contact with the paper and the table top. It is more difficult to control the motion of the pen without the stabilizing effect of also having the side of your writing hand lightly anchored.

This same principle applies to your pick hand on the guitar. The tip of your pen and the ability to control it is very similar to the tip of the guitar pick when you pick single notes. Noting the similarity between the two will make it more simple for your to get the correct position and feel in your hand for your guitar picking.

Once you are familiar with the hand position, you can start to work on the upstroke picking motion in today’s lesson. The pick motion involves the first three strings played in the order of first, second and third. Practice the sequence using upstrokes:

Upstroke pattern - figure one

Play the sequence several times in succession. You want to keep the following points in mind when you play it:

  • Use the hand position detailed in the first part of this lesson—the side of pick hand resting near the bridge and not floating above the guitar.
  • Play slowly—we are trying to ingrain the correct, accurate motion.
  • Keep the speed of the notes even.
  • Make sure the notes are all sounding at an equal volume and sounding clearly.
  • Keep your pick motion in control—do not use a large “follow through” with the pick after you pick each string.

If you can play the sequence cleanly now, try closing your eyes and playing it. If your pick hand is in the correct position it may still be difficult for you but not impossible. With your hand resting near the bridge of the guitar, you should be able to pick the strings without looking at them after practicing this way for a short time.

This is why it is so very important to use the correct hand position. It will allow your pick hand to learn to find its way to the correct string without needing help from your eyes. The reason you want to be able to play it without watching your hand is so that you can now focus your eyes on helping your fret hand find the correct notes in the full Upstroke Picking Etude. You can see how to practice and develop the correct picking motion by watching the upstroke guitar picking video.

Now we can add the fret hand part to the picking sequence to play the full etude. In the Guitar Upstroke Picking Etude your fret hand will play the notes on the first string while the pick hand plays the recurring three string upstroke sequence. The pick hand should play the notes just like you practiced before adding the fret hand—all notes should be evenly spaced and sounding loud and clear.

Guitar Upstroke Picking Etude

The benefits of upstroke picking practice are many. In addition to developing pick hand independence and playing without watching the strings, you will also obtain:

  • Better timing and ability to keep a steady tempo in your playing.
  • Pick hand consistency. You will develop a reliable, repeating pick stroke.
  • More pick hand speed.
  • A better sounding guitar tone.
  • Control over your guitar sound.

In most cases, nothing happens on the guitar without the pick making it happen. While it is also important to develop your fret hand control and coordination, do not neglect the pick hand. The pick hand is the engine that makes your guitar playing go!

Watch and hear a demonstration of the upstroke guitar picking etude in this free free guitar picking lesson. Learn how to get your hand in the correct position and the right practice technique so that you can pick with confidence and a great sounding guitar tone.