8 Types of Guitar Picking Techniques to Mastering Your Lead Guitar Playing

Developing proficient picking techniques is essential, particularly for those who play lead guitar. There are various methods of picking that one can employ, involving both the use of fingers and a pick, as well as combinations of the two.

Lead guitar encompasses playing melodic lines, instrumental fills, guitar solos, and occasionally certain riffs within the context of a song. It is the central focus of the music, often utilizing single-note lines or double-stops.

In rock, heavy metal, blues, jazz, punk, fusion, some pop, and other musical genres, a second guitarist usually assumes the role of rhythm guitar. This involves providing accompaniment chords and riffs that complement the lead guitar lines.

Here, are 8 Types of Guitar Picking Techniques

Cross Picking

Cross picking is an excellent method to infuse your rhythm guitar playing with added vigor. This session will focus on arpeggiating your chords and enhancing your picking precision to master the fluid technique of cross picking.

It is advisable to include cross picking in your routine practice sessions and consider using it instead of strumming when playing chords. Achieving a balanced integration of cross picking and strumming is a surefire way to breathe new life into your compositions.

Down Picking

This technique primarily involves using downward strokes with your pick, as the name suggests. It is commonly employed in genres such as metal and punk because, when executed effectively, it produces an aggressive and intense sound.

Downpicking is relatively easy to learn and works particularly well for playing short, abrupt sections. However, it is not as fast as alternate picking, and sustaining it for extended periods requires a strong and steady wrist.

Tremolo Picking

Tremolo picking is a technique widely employed in almost every genre of music that involves electric guitars.

Contrary to popular belief, tremolo picking is not solely limited to lightning-fast speeds. In essence, it entails playing a rapid sequence of single notes evenly and repeatedly, creating the illusion of a sustained, elongated note. When executed at a sufficiently rapid pace, the individual notes blend together seamlessly, producing a continuous sound.

Alternate Picking

Alternate picking is a guitar playing technique that involves continuously alternating between downward and upward strokes. By practicing and training yourself to adopt a down-up-down-up motion when playing fast lead parts, you will gradually increase your speed and it will feel more natural.

Incorporate this method into your scale warm-ups, and before you know it, you’ll be using alternate picking consistently. It’s hard to imagine watching shredding guitarists like Malmsteen and Satriani perform without employing alternate picking in their playing style.

Hybrid Picking

Hybrid picking is a technique that combines the use of a pick and your fingertips when playing the guitar.

This method allows you to simultaneously play two strings, which is not achievable with a standard pick alone. It is particularly favored by heavier guitarists like Zakk Wylde and finds popularity in blues music as well. Hybrid picking not only facilitates playing multiple strings, but it also provides a pizzicato-like attack that is distinct from using a pick.

Mark Knopfler is known for seldom using a pick in his playing, and the variance in tone and attack is noticeable as a result.

An added advantage of hybrid picking is the ability to execute string jumps that might prove challenging with only a pick.

Despite the slightly uncomfortable angle at which the pick and plucking are held, hybrid picking is a valuable technique to have in your repertoire.

Sweep Picking

Sweep picking is a technique that enables super-speed playing on the guitar. It involves moving across multiple strings in a sweeping motion instead of picking each string individually.

Although it should not be mistaken for strumming a chord, sweep picking is commonly used for executing rapid arpeggios.

Sweep licks are often played staccato, where guitarists release their fingers immediately after playing the notes. This differs from chords, which are typically played to sustain the sound. By playing staccato, a faster sound, a more aggressive attack, and improved articulation are achieved.

Sweep picking is a vital element in heavy metal shred guitar, where speed is paramount. It is frequently employed by renowned guitarists such as Malmsteen, Becker, Friedman, Vai, and Michael Angelo Batio, among others.

Economy Picking

Economy picking is a technique that replaces alternating picking when crossing strings with a continuous pick motion. You may already be familiar with this term.

For example, if you play three notes on the A string starting with a downstroke, you would also end with a downstroke for the third note. Then, you would utilize the same downward pick motion to strike the A string again after fretting the next note on the D string.

The key is to perform this in one smooth motion. As you pick through the A string, the pick remains in contact with the D string, similar to employing a rest stroke technique. By pushing the pick straight through the D string, you catch the note while simultaneously fretting the note on the D string in our example lick.

When playing multiple notes on a single string, the general principle of economy picking is to alternate pick each note. However, when transitioning between strings, a sweeping motion is used.

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Finger Picking

In fingerstyle music notation, the letters P, I, M, and A are commonly used to represent the fingers. P represents the thumb, I represents the index finger, M represents the middle finger, and A represents the ring finger. Generally, P is assigned to the lower strings, while I, M, and A are used for the G, B, and E strings respectively.

When playing on multiple strings, you have the option to either pluck them simultaneously or strum them using the nail of your index finger.

Another technique is the pinch technique, where you play one of the higher notes with your finger and the lowest note of a chord with your thumb.

Fingerpicking can range from being extremely challenging to very simple, depending on the style you wish to explore. Folk fingerpicking is generally straightforward, while classical guitar compositions can be technically demanding.

In bluegrass-style banjo music, players of other instruments like the guitar and autoharp can also utilize fingerpicks. These fingerpicks, typically made of metal or plastic, are used to enhance the picking sound and come in various thicknesses.


Guitarists have their own personal preferences when it comes to picking techniques. Some struggle with maintaining control of the pick, leading to undesired strikes on the strings and dissatisfaction with the sound produced. On the other hand, some find it challenging to coordinate their finger movements, experiencing difficulty in executing the desired actions.

Guitarists employ various hand and finger methods collectively known as “guitar picking” to manipulate the guitar strings and produce audible notes. These techniques encompass brushing, strumming, and picking. Picking involves holding a pick (also known as a plectrum) in the hand, using either natural or synthetic fingernails, fingertips, or finger picks for techniques commonly referred to as fingerstyle.

Additionally, guitarists may utilize their free fingers in combination with the pick held between the thumb and one finger, known as hybrid picking or sometimes referred to as “chicken pickin'”. This allows for a versatile approach to picking and expands the range of sounds that can be achieved.

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