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Picking and Downstrokes (Guitar Lesson)

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Brad Henecke

Picking and Downstrokes

This lesson is all about the downstroke. Brad discusses technique and shows you how to pick in different rhythmic groupings.

Taught by Brad Henecke in Speed and Technique seriesLength: 5:20Difficulty: 0.5 of 5
Chapter 1: (05:29) Downstroke Picking Technique This lesson is primarily geared towards beginners. However, it is very important to watch this lesson carefully regardless of your current ability level. This will help you eliminate any bad picking habits that you may have picked up in the past.

Brad demonstrates some basic picking exercises designed to get your right hand acquainted with playing downstrokes. As its name implies, a downstroke is a picking motion made in a downward direction. Upstrokes will be discussed in a future lesson in this series. Before you dive into the exercises presented in this series, be sure to review the picking rules discussed in the previous lesson.

In order to practice the picking exercises presented in this lesson, you will need a metronome, drum machine, or some other reliable type of timekeeping device. Brad suggests playing along with one of your favorite records. Playing along with a record allows you to practice valuable technical material while still keeping things fun and interesting. Find a song that is played at a suitable tempo for what you are currently working on. Then, find the tonic note of the song. Pick this note within the context of the rhythmic exercises outlined below.

Picking Exercises

Note: Open "Downstrokes" under the "Supplemental Content" tab for tablature to all of the exercises discussed in the lesson video.

Brad begins with the largest note value, the whole note. First, set your metronome to a relatively slow tempo. Seventy beats per minute is probably a good place to start. Then, pick any given note on the guitar. This is the note that you will be picking throughout the course of each exercise. Open strings work the best, because they enable you to focus all of your attention on your right hand. When practicing this exercise, you want to vary the string on which you play to ensure that each string receives an equal amount of picking practice. Once your metronome is on, practice playing whole notes in perfect time. If this tempo is too fast for you, slow it down. Remember that it is impossible to play fast until you first learn how to play with perfect accuracy and rhythmic feel at a slow tempo. Also, you must make sure that all picked notes are identical in volume and tone.

The next division of the beat is the half note. Repeat the same process outlined above to practice playing half notes with downstrokes. You will pick once for every two clicks of the metronome.

Next, practice picking quarter notes using all downstrokes. Pick your chosen note every time the metronome clicks. You may find it helpful to tap your foot along with the metronome. Then, do the same with eighth notes. Count "1+2+3+4+" as you play these note groupings.

Brad Henecke continues in the lesson by demonstrating how to play sixteenth notes. In the lesson video, Brad accidentally plays sixteenth notes as eighth notes. The counting syllables that he uses are correct. However, four sixteenth notes should be picked using all downstrokes for every one click of the metronome.

Finally, Brad demonstrates how to pick eighth note triplets. Triplets are usually something that beginners struggle with. Most beginning players get so used to playing notes in groups two or four. As a result, playing three notes to a beat may seem quite awkward at first. If this is the case for you, try counting "tri-ple-let" or "1 and ah" aloud with each group of three triplets that you play. Also, like Brad suggests, you may need to slow your metronome down a few notches to ensure that you are playing perfectly in time.

John McLaughlin Picking Exercises

Note: Open the "Supplemental Content" tab for tablature to these exercises.

Guitarist John McLaughlin is well known for his virtuosic right hand abilities. John argues that the best way to develop a fast, accurate right hand is to pick a single note at one tempo with all possible note groupings. Brad Henecke discusses about half of these groupings in the lesson video. However, he purposely leaves out some of the rhythmic groupings that beginning and some intermediate players struggle with.

For advanced players who want to challenge their right hand as well as their rhythmic abilities, Matt Brown has included a basic transcription of McLaughlin's picking exercises in the "Supplemental Content" area. The appropriate counting syllables are listed above each note grouping. Notice how there are no syllables listed for the quarter note triplet exercise. You'll have much more success playing this rhythmic grouping if you simply "feel" it out. Once you reach the groups of quintuplets, you will most likely need to switch from strict downpicking to strict alternate picking.

Video Subtitles / Captions


Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

roggethomasroggethomas replied


partythrasher118partythrasher118 replied

People should really start using the Gordon Syllables to express notes verbally. It may sound silly at first, but it's much more appealing to the ear and mouth than "one-e-and-a two-e-and-a".

partythrasher118partythrasher118 replied

People should really start using the Gordon Syllables to express notes verbally. It may sound silly at first, but it's much more appealing to the ear and mouth than "one-e-and-a two-e-and-a".

handsfromasshandsfromass replied

that is very useful. i'll try at home

ben5628ben5628 replied

that guitar is beautiful

adambhoyadambhoy replied

Did you actually say "Metrodome" at 1:32? ;o) Good lesson though--always good to solidify peoples' foundations and eliminate bad habits that may have been learned over time.

destrilogydestrilogy replied

I think the guitar might be a little too loud.

jboothjbooth replied

We're going to likely be reshooting this entire series soon and making it more in depth, so stayed tuned guys.

jweaks48jweaks48 replied

yea i had noticed that the 16th note wastnt quite right. good lesson anyways

renegaderenegade replied

Technically there's little difference between Lesson 2 & 3; so I think you could practically combine the two and cover the same material. It also wouldn't be a bad idea to turn down the volume on your PC when watching this lesson. Brad uses the A on the 5th fret high E string for the examples, and that can easily turn out to be an "ear bleeding" experience if you don'

mipoohmipooh replied

Right, you just count one on two beats, so the speed is half...

praderypradery replied

Hi Brad! You've been measuring the 16th note as an 8th. The same in lesson 4. :)

Speed and Technique

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Technique is extremely important to playing in any style of music. Perfect technique combined with blazing speed can take your playing to a whole new level.

Series IntroductionLesson 1

Series Introduction

Brad introduces his Speed and Technique series.

Length: 1:15 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Picking and TimingLesson 2

Picking and Timing

Brad Henecke covers proper picking technique and gives a basic lesson on notes/timing.

Length: 6:10 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Picking and DownstrokesLesson 3

Picking and Downstrokes

This lesson is all about the downstroke. Brad discusses technique and shows you how to pick in different rhythmic groupings.

Length: 5:20 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
UpstrokesLesson 4


Brad covers the proper way to perform an upstroke.

Length: 4:16 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Alternate PickingLesson 5

Alternate Picking

Brad Henecke covers alternate picking and how it can speed up your guitar playing.

Length: 5:00 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Alternate Picking with UpstrokesLesson 6

Alternate Picking with Upstrokes

Brad Henecke presents alternate picking exercises that start with an upstroke.

Length: 3:26 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Sweep PickingLesson 7

Sweep Picking

Brad explains the basics of sweep picking in this fun speed building guitar lesson.

Length: 9:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Economy PickingLesson 8

Economy Picking

Brad explains the basics of a technique called economy picking.

Length: 5:33 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Series ReviewLesson 9

Series Review

Brad provides a brief review of this series. He gives information regarding why technique is so important.

Length: 2:00 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
String SkippingLesson 10

String Skipping

Brad covers proper string skipping technique and gives you some exercises that will speed up your playing.

Length: 8:10 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Hammer-on / Pull-offLesson 11

Hammer-on / Pull-off

This lesson is all about improving speed by applying hammer-ons and pull-offs. Learn some exercises that sound great and boost speed.

Length: 11:27 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Hammer-On LickLesson 12

Hammer-On Lick

Brad Henecke demonstrates a speed building lick that makes heavy use of hammer-ons.

Length: 0:00 Difficulty: 0.0 Members Only
Brad Henecke

About Brad Henecke View Full Biography Brad Henecke was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on May 5th of 1963. He has been a fan of music for as long as he & his family can remember. You could always find him running around the farm wailing on his cardboard guitar, pretending to be a member of the rock band KISS. Additional inspiration came during his first concert when he got the chance to see Boston & Sammy Hagar in the early 1970's.

This opened up a whole new world of rock and roll music for him; his parents noticed his growing interest in music and enrolled him into guitar lessons when he was 13.

From there he jumped into two years of lessons at a local music store in Cedar Rapids. After discovering Eddie Van Halen, Brad knew that the guitar would always be a part of his life. He took his love throughout the city as he played as a pit musician & jammed at parties for friends.

This made him thirsty for more. He enrolled classes at Kirkwood Community College & also took lessons from the one & only Craig-Erickson (

His love for music landed him a gig opening for Molly Hatchet in Cedar Rapids with a band called "Slap & Tickle". He has also played in the Greeley Stampede show for quite a few years with "True North".

Brad is currently playing in Greeley, Colorado with a rock band titled "Ragged Doll". They play a wide variety of music with an emphasis on classic rock from the 60's to present, with Brad playing electric guitar in the five piece lineup.

He currently jams on his all-time favorite guitar: a Paul Reed Smith Custom 24. Beyond guitar, he plays also plays drums & bass guitar. He has also been known to thrash a banjo from time to time. He is still actively playing & passing his 31 years of playing experience on to others (you!).

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