Seven Picking Styles Every New Guitarist Should Learn

Guitar picking is the execution of hand and finger techniques to produce notes and can be done with a plectrum or pick, through fingerstyle playing, or by hybrid picking and other techniques. Picking is generally categorized into two basic types: fingerstyle and flatpicking (or simply picking).

Flatpicking covers a number of techniques in which a guitar is played with the use of a plectrum or pick held between the thumb and fingers to sound the strings. The use of finger and thumb picks, which players wear instead of hold, falls under the fingerstyle category. A nice spot to find a suitable acoustic guitar for picking is here.

Guitar solos are usually played using a pick, with the exception of a few famous guitarists who use their bare fingers such as Jeff Beck, Hubert Sumlin, Lindsey Buckingham and Mark Knopfler.

Today we’ll learn all about the picking styles new guitarists need to learn (or at least be familiar with). Let’s get started!

Beginner level

Alternate picking

Alternate picking is the most basic and essential type of picking and uses alternating down and up strokes. Because it allows guitarists to play fast-paced passages fluidly, most guitar solos and scale runs are done using this picking style. This style of picking is used in a variety of genres, including R&B, country, jazz, heavy and thrash metal, rock and bluegrass. Bass players also use this picking style.


In this picking style, the pick is used mostly for downstrokes, producing a tight, heavy and aggressive sound suited for punk, hard rock and metal music.

Hybrid picking

A combination of fingerstyle and flatpicking, hybrid picking is accomplished by playing with the pick held in the traditional way (between the thumb and the index finger) while also playing other notes or adjacent strings using the remaining fingers (usually the middle and ring finger) on the picking hand. With practice and mastery, players can make it sound like there are two (or more) guitarists. Hybrid picking is often done in country, bluegrass and some types of jazz music.

Tremolo picking

Similar to alternate picking, tremolo picking is done by playing a single note repeatedly and evenly at high speed to add sustain to a melodic line. When this picking style is done fast enough, the articulated note sounds constant. Think mandolin playing. Or thrash metal, whichever you know better.

Intermediate-Advanced level


Often heard in bluegrass, this technique uses a pick to simulate the sound of finger picking and can be thought of as doing banjo rolls on the guitar. Crosspicking is usually done to accentuate certain passages in a song. The plectrum is used to pick a group of strings in a repeating pattern.

Sweep picking

Used almost exclusively by guitarists who play large arpeggios (when the notes of a particular chord are played one at a time) and want to do so quickly and fluidly. The physical motion is similar to strumming, but instead of hitting the notes together as one chord, players hit notes one by one. This is done with a quick, sweeping motion of the pick in just a few masterful strokes. Downstrokes are used when moving down; upstrokes when moving up. Additionally, each note is fretted individually by the fretting hand instead of being held together as one chord.

Economy picking

Economy picking is essentially alternate picking with a lightning-fast switch to sweep picking when changing strings. This is accomplished by executing an upstroke when moving to a lower-pitched string, then doing a downstroke when moving to a higher-pitched string. Sounds complicated? A combination of practice, some meditation and lots of patience will get you there.

Mark Woodburn is both a blogger and a musician at the same time. His instrument of choice is the acoustic guitar which he has been playing since he was a boy.

Mark Woodburn