Alternate picking is a guitar playing technique, necessarily used only by pick-users, that employs strictly alternating downward and upward picking strokes in a continuous run. It is the most common method of plectrum playing. If this technique is performed on a single note at speed then it may also be referred to as tremolo picking.
"Good" alternate picking involves a continuous up-and-down motion of the picking hand, even when not picking a note (except when the gap lasts longer than one full up-and-down motion). In this manner, an up-beat (e.g. an even-numbered eighth note or, at faster tempos, sixteenth note) will always be played with an upward picking stroke, while the down-beats are always played with downward picking strokes. This allows for fluid incorporation of legato notes in the middle of picked phrases.
Alternate picking can be heard in almost all styles of picked guitar music, from Jazz to Bluegrass, to Heavy Metal.
It has some advantages and some disadvantages, largely depending on the licks the guitarist is attempting to play. For example, most scalar runs are most easily played using alternate picking. Similarly, the complex, syncopated rhythm guitar patterns found in death metal require a good alternate picking technique to play fast and accurately.
On the other hand, large arpeggios (especially spanning more than one octave) are very difficult to play using pure alternate picking, and almost impossible to play at great speeds, which is why many guitarists choose to employ sweep picking to play these arpeggios. Similarly, some kinds of licks are easier when played using such specialized techniques as legato playing, economy picking, or tapping. Despite this, some guitar virtuosos (especially Al Di Meola and Steve Morse) emphasize the near-exclusive use of alternate picking, even in situations where another technique would be easier, claiming that pure alternate picking leads to a more consistent sound and allows for greater control of tone. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)
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