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My Favourite Picking Exercise for Guitar

Doubling Select Notes in the scale

Guitar picking exercise

One of the challenges we face when we create improvised solos is that we tend to always follow the notes of the scale in sequential order. Makes sense and indeed that's probably what we should do most of the time otherwise it won't sound melodic. But if do it all the time, it can sound like we are just meandering around the scale.

I have several picking exercises that I teach to my guitar students here in their lessons in Vancouver. This particular exercise is my new favourite. I started using this technique about a year ago and I love the results. My students are making much more interesting lines now in their improvised solos. And the best part of it is that the exercise is actually fairly easy to do.

Let's start with just a warm up of our alternate picking but doubling each note in the A Minor Pentatonic Scale.

Guitar picking exercise A Minor Pentatonic doubled

The real exercise is this: Try repeating only certain notes. Let's keep it to just the first octave. You'll see below that we repeat only the root note, then only the second note, third note, etc.

Guitar picking exercise Double only select notes

Remember to keep your pick direction consistently down then up. When we double a note, it can feel like it reverses our pick direction, especially when we cross strings. Resist the temptation do play two down picks in a row.

Now let's try the same thing but descending the scale. We'll start on the C note at the 8th fret and descend down to the tonic.

Guitar picking exercise descending

Again, don't forget keep your pick direction consistently down then up.

How to apply the technique to your Solos

Once you get so accustomed to doubling certain notes, you can start doing it in your own improvisations. A good way to start that is to set a metronome at a steady beat and just play a continuous string of 8th notes, occasionally selecting any random note to double. Keep a constant motion of 8th notes. This isn't supposed to sound great yet, it's just to get your hands used to selecting random notes to double. Below is an example.

Guitar picking exercise constant motion

Now, let's take a standard classic rock lick and apply the doubling technique to it. You can choose any of your own licks you might already have memorized. Select any note in the lick and double it.

Guitar picking exercise change up common licks

When you do this, you'll notice that the notes that were down beats now become up beats and vice versa. It can dramatically change the way a tired-worn old like and make it new again.

Practice the Exercise in Other Scale Shapes

Finally, make sure the practice the exercise in other scale shapes, especially all the pentatonic shapes.

Apply the picking exercise to other pentatonic shapes

Then when you're ready, put on a jam track and try doubling any random notes you like. You'll find it's a great trick that can extend your lines or just shake up the otherwise meandering sense we get from playing too diatonic.

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