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Guitar practice exercises: alternate picking chromatic scale

Everybody knows the warm-up exercise where you play 4 chromatic notes in sequence and move sequentially through each string without shifting positions up or down the neck:
chromatic warm-up exercise
Chromatic warm-up PDF ::: Guitar Pro 5

This is fine for developing basic coordination between your left and right hands, but it’s not exactly musical.

Life is short: if you’re going to spend time working on technical exercises, it makes more sense to design exercises that at least have some potential for musical application. Making an exercise more musical makes it more fun to play as well.

With some slight changes to the warm-up exercise above you can turn it into a true chromatic scale. This gives you both coordination practice AND the benefit of musical applicability:
chromatic exercise 1

Chromatic exercise 1 PDF ::: Guitar Pro 5

Make sure that you stick to strict alternate picking, even on the slides — every note should be picked.

I encourage you to experiment with variations on this exercise — for example, playing it with a triplet feel instead of straight sixteenths. And make sure that NO MATTER WHAT you play it clean. If it’s sloppy, you’re playing too fast. Pay particular attention to fingers 2 and 3 — for me those tend to be the troublemakers.

Have fun!

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+ Comment by Mark Richman
2007-09-07 03:56:02

What is the rationale behind the strict alternate picking? I studied sweep/economy picking (a la Frank Gambale) for many years, and I find it somewhat unnatural at this point to alternate pick every note.


+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-09-07 12:52:17

Ummm, the rationale is that it’s an alternate picking exercise, not an economy picking exercise. *snort*

Why am I not writing about economy picking INSTEAD of alternate picking? That’s easy: alternate picking is my focus at the moment, so it’s natural for me to write about it. When I move on to economy picking, then I’ll write about that.

Ideally it would be fun to master both alternate and economy picking (like Michael Romeo and Paul Gilbert).

What would be the most efficient way to economy pick a chromatic scale across all six strings?

+ Comment by Mark Richman
2007-09-07 13:02:31


I do see your point, but my comment was more general than specific to this chromatic exercise. Clearly, with 4 notes per string, you must use alternate. I am just generally curious as to why many guitarists tout alternate picking as the be-all-end-all technique for any note-per-string grouping. Is economy picking “cheating”? I personally find strict alternate picking very limiting in terms of achieving maximum tempo. However, if there is a more valid reason such as timbre, clarity of pick attack, etc. I’d really like to learn.

- Mark

+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-09-07 14:25:39

Alt picking does have a characteristic sound — Paul Gilbert is the best example I can think of. (He does economy picking too.)

I won’t presume to speak for other guitarists, but have certainly never claimed that alternate picking inherently superior to any other technique.

For the record, in the Play like a Girl philosophy, there is no “cheating” in technique. If your technique works for you and takes you where you want to go, then it is good. Period.

In my experience, guitarists who accuse other players of “cheating” are an insecure, opinionated lot who seek validation and self-esteem by criticizing others. So if anyone gives you a hard time about economy picking, tell ‘em to go jump in a big, steaming pile of poo. :guitar:

+ Comment by Hugo
2007-09-14 19:34:07

I agree with you on the “cheating” issue. Those who proclaim that using some techniques is “cheating” are those who don’t see beyond the techniques, their purpose, and probably will never become true musicians.
So many wannabe guitarists shout-out-loud about “cheating” techniques and such.
This is not a race! This is not a game! This is Music we’re dealing with…any musician should use every means necessary and available to them to materialize his music into reality! Technique is just a mean to an end!…to creating Music!

Hugo (aka Hvm)

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+ Comment by MamadalicA
2007-09-07 19:16:05

I think alt picking is the basic and it’s a must-know for every guitarist. I’m working on it to the point where I’m satisfied with my picking. Then I’ll probably move to economy picking, because it will surely come in handy in some places where alt picking seems to be a pain in the butt.
My guitar god is John Petrucci and he seems to be perfectly comfortable alt picking in whatever position he is or whatever pattern he’s playing.

+ Comment by Dinosaur David B
2007-09-07 21:46:15

I’ve seen these chromatic things all my life, and sometimes I try them out, but I was taught to practice my alternate picking on layovers ( – particularly 4 point layovers, as they are not only more useful in a real-playing context, but also that they will bust your balls, and may expose more/different AP weaknesses more quickly as you play the layover patterns from one string to the next. For example, I often hit a snag between the G and B strings when playing the ascending 4 point layover. :-x

A caveat to my comment is that a plenty people who alternate pick a LOT better than I do have had success using the chromatic exercises Lori’s posted (or very similar). But if you’re flying through those exercises with no problem, try alternate picking on the 4 point layovers – ascending and descending. If you’re getting through those at or greater than 120bpm without your picking hand cheating, you’re golden. :wink:

+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-09-08 01:46:23

The layover thingies rule, ’tis true. What I like about the chromatics is that they work fingers 2 and 3 (weak points for me). I’ve been practicing the exercise I posted for about a week now, and it’s made a noticeable difference.

It would also be fun to be able to throw in a cool chromatic run now and then (I’ve thought that ever since hearing that chromatic lick at the end of Uli’s solo in the song Firewind).

With respect to layovers, I find that anything that has me picking on the inside of two strings can be problematic. It seems to help to really focus on getting the upstroke right — sometimes I practice totally exaggerating the upstrokes just to drill ‘em into my brain.

+ Comment by Dinosaur David B.
2007-09-08 15:31:35

Yeah, Joebuddha (who can AP effortlessly) gave me an exercise for that called the “inside outside” that specifically works that issue, but I never practiced it. I should dig it out. If I find it, I’ll let you know.

+ Comment by jomaheux
2007-09-08 17:49:12

Thanks Lori an David.I’m off to practice now.

+ Comment by Devon
2007-09-26 04:06:54

Forgive my lack of guitar language knowledge,but what is this layover you speak of ?
By the way you have become my new favorite guitarist.I’ve been studying guitar for 20 years and have only revered the most progressive metalists (George Lynch, Steve Vai, John Petrucci, Phil Keaggy, Micheal Angelo Batio-in my opinion). You have stunned me with your licks and impressed me with the drive in which you pursue them. I thoroughly enjoy the erie melodies(this is a good erie) that flow in divine unison from your fingrtips to my heart.
I hope I don’t sound like some lovesick groupie.I am just really impressed.
So what’s a layover ?

+ Comment by jomaheux
2007-09-08 04:51:39

Hi David,

Just to make shure i have it right.

Does the 4 on your tablature means the pinky and so on?

+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-09-08 15:12:52

I can’t speak for David, but I’d play the 4′s with my pinkie. There are some guitarists, however, (Michael Schenker comes to mind) who rarely use their pinkie. They’d probably use their ring finger for both the 3′s and the 4′s. It will be interesting to see what Dave’s original intention with the exercise is.

+ Comment by Dinosaur David B.
2007-09-08 15:12:57

Yes. Those are just the fingerings to use for layovers for standard min penatatonic boxes in any position. 1 is index finger, 3 is ring finger, and 4 is pinky.

I supposed it you looked at those examples as strict TAB, they would be in F, but you’d use the same fingering in any position.

+ Comment by Dinosaur David B.
2007-09-08 15:26:28

Yeah, Schenker used his third finger for a LOT of stuff I was taught to TRY to use my fourth finger for. I was taught to try and use one finger per fret, and was instilled with a fear if having a weak pinky. :shock: I’ve probably been making things more difficult on my self than need be. :roll:

Coincidentally, I was trying to shamelessly cop some Schenker licks off a video last night, and there’s some of his trademark pentatonic licks are probably easier to play using the 1-3 rather than the 1-4 because he’s doing some repetitive patterns over the E and B strings then onto to the G and D strings.

While Schenker has made many of these licks his own, a lot of the ideas behind such licks came from Jimmy Page (think of Heartbreaker) – who I think used his pinky more on them.

But Schenker, when he’s playing his stock pentatonic licks, doesn’s use his pinky much, but I think when he rips off a 4 point layover, he uses his pink. I’d have to check some footage to be sure. :geek:

+ Comment by Stephen H
2007-09-07 23:24:11

I’m sorry…
SO off topic ! – But today’s “THYLACINE DAY !”

God bless Benjamin – (7th September 1936) – An absolute disgrace !

+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-09-08 01:43:38

You never need to apologize for Thylacines, Stephen! :)

+ Comment by Kat
2009-06-08 15:17:35

God bless dear Benjamin – it isn’t thylacine day today and I am in the United States, but God bless dear Benjamin anyhow.

Have a swell day.

+ Comment by Stephen H
2009-07-10 04:13:54

Awww, really ! – Thank you Kat ! – I love you !

Lori ?!
I oh – so r-e-a-l-l-y miss you !

+ Comment by Stephen H
2009-07-10 04:37:09

Omigosh ?!
Kate….?! – I think I really n’ truly DO love you !!


+ Comment by Stephen H
2009-07-10 05:14:57


KAT…!! – Not Kate !!


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+ Comment by Stephen H
2009-07-10 05:19:47

Just to make sure…
…KAT n’ not Kate !


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+ Comment by Michael
2007-09-24 13:09:11

Lol, Thylacines. Just, lol.

Anyway, good exercises there. I find that when I start string-skipping, I have trouble hitting the right string, and not hitting any in between either, so I will have to work on these exercises.

+ Comment by Andreas S
2008-09-25 01:33:11

I got the same problem! :???:

+ Comment by Ghost|BOFH
2009-02-20 00:24:50

I personally have to say that “sweep picking” produces low-end music. It’s not quality. A guitarist who can flick a pick quickly through the strings with alternate picking, to me, produces a much better quality piece of music.

IMHO, sweep picking just mangles the music. Your mileage may vary.


+ Comment by Stephen H
2009-07-10 04:21:28

Oh yeah…
……You’re not alone there !

+ Comment by steve
2009-03-22 03:34:33

Hi Lori I just discovered you and was amazed I started playing in high school but there was a gap of about 10 to 15 years that went by that I hardly ever played aboutr 4 years ago I startedplay ing seriously again .I need all the help i can get.
I am not sure I get the diff between alt pickingand economy picking??? :banana:

+ Comment by Lorinator
2009-03-22 13:28:06

Maybe this will clear it up for you?

+ Comment by steve
2009-03-29 08:05:16

Thanks Lori you and your site are really helping me get back into playing again

+ Comment by guitarrr
2009-06-27 15:20:11

If there is time only for one exercise, this will be the one!


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