Picking Exercises Part 1: Using a Pick

Choose a number of notes between 1 and 8 and play it evenly to a metronome on each string in the following order:

#1 E A D G B e B G D A
#2 E D B e G A
#3 E D A G D B G e G B D G A D E A

For example, if I had picked the number 5 and exercise #1, I would play 5 notes on the E string, 5 notes on the A string, 5 notes on the D string and so on.

Playing with a Pick

When using a pick it is important to alternate direction (down, up) when repeating notes on the same string. The most economical way to pick 2 notes on exercise #1 would be to play Down Up on the E A D G B and e strings and then Up Down on the B G D A and E strings if you were to repeat the pattern, which I recommend you do. The pattern will be similar with other even numbers (2, 4, 6, 8). When picking uneven numbers, such as 3 notes per string, the pattern would begin Down Up Down on the E A D G B and e strings and then become Up Down Up on the B G D A and E strings. The pattern would also be similar with other uneven numbers (3, 5, 7).

Notice that when exercise #1 descends (i.e. E A D G B e) each string begins with a down stroke and when it ascends (i.e. e B G D A E) each string begins with an up stroke. This will continue for exercise #2; however now there is string skipping involved. For exercise #3 the pattern is still the same but the direction now changes constantly. If you were to play exercise #3 with 2 notes per string the pattern would begin Down Up on the E and D strings, then Up Down on the A string, then Down Up on the G string, then Up Down on the D string, etc.

The motion with which you would start for any exercise would be dictated by the direction you are going. If you are going to a string above the one you just played (i.e. B string to G string) you would begin with an Up stroke. If you are going to a string below the one you just played (i.e. G string to B string) you would begin with a Down stroke.

The Chromatic Scale

The chromatic scale is Western music’s ABCs. It is a symmetrical scale built with twelve consecutive semitones ascending or descending. Most of the instruments we know and use such as the piano keyboard, guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, flute, saxophone, trumpet, xylophone, etc. are equal temperament tuned instruments that utilize the chromatic scale as a basis.

Practicing The Chromatic Scale

Music has become increasingly chromatic over the centuries and that is a trend that doesn’t seem like it will be ending anytime soon. So if you want to keep up with this musical development, it is important to practice the chromatic scale in every way possible to be proficient on your instrument. If we compare music to language, being able to play your chromatic scale is like knowing how to pronounce all the syllables in English.

Chromatic Scale Exercises for the Guitar

If you play the guitar as I do, you should practice the chromatic scale in each position, on each string and in combinations thereof across the fretboard. First you should try playing the chromatic scale in the open position, like so.

Exercise #1

Exercise #2

This slightly modified chromatic scale in the open position doubles the “B” at one point by having it both on the 4th fret of the G string and on the open B string. This is done to continue the symmetry of the picking hand pattern.

The pattern for players that prefer the plectrum is down-up-down-up-down on every string when ascending the scale and up-down-up-down-up when descending the scale. For finger pickers, the right hand pattern is thumb, pinky, ring, middle, then index whether ascending or descending.

Exercise #3

This exercise starts in the fifth position (index on fifth fret) and shifts down a position on each new string as indicated (except for the switch to the B string). For this exercise, alternate pick (alternate down-up) with your right hand the entire time. Finger pickers should practice doing it with two fingers (thumb, index) and four fingers (thumb, ring, middle, index). Please pay attention to the indicated fretting-hand fingering.

Then try it with a triplet feel.


Then a 16th note feel.

Then try different combinations of those rhythms. Play 8th notes ascending then triplets descending, 16th notes ascending then triplets descending, 8th notes ascending then 16th notes descending and so on.

Exercise #4

I like practicing this single string exercise with two different fretting hand fingerings, here’s the first.

Here’s the other.

Make sure to run these on each string and from your lowest fret to your highest fret. You can also practice playing it in one position. This is an exercise that sounds great on any instrument.

Exercise #5

Here’s yet another chromatic exercise I do as part of my warm-up routine. This one is great for practicing string skipping with the picking hand.

Try coming up with your own chromatic scale exercises and patterns. The possibilities are endless. What chromatic exercises do you like to do? How do you practice the chromatic scale on your instrument?