Arpeggiating chords - picking direction of individual string

Whilst learning my first Grade 2 piece I wondered about string picking direction and I dont know if theres a guitar theory answer behind the question for this so?

If you’re arpeggiating chords does it matter the direction you pick each string or (when you change direction) ! , if it can be played in more than one way.


I have started with doing whatever feels natural, then shifting later to some small adjustments for placing my hand in the best position for the following note. Natural is usually pretty close but not always. Sometimes you need to work forwards or backwards a couple notes to get the sequence to flow well.

Recently, I have been hearing the difference and am learning a song that direction makes a tonal difference that stands out. In this case, I am trying to learn with that in mind first instead of falling back on “natural” direction.


I find that alternate picking works best for me. This has 2 advantages:

  1. I don’t have to ever think about it and I always play it the same way.

  2. Alternate picking helps with keeping time: down picks on the beat, up picks on the “ands” (if I’m doing 8th note picking).

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Rachel, at this stage I would think of the picking as strumming a single string. So in 4/4 time if playing 4 quarter notes it would be analogous to 4 down strums so 4 down picks. If playing 8 eighth notes that would be simple down up strumming, no skips, then alternate picking as @jjw1 suggested.

Now you may end up wanting a pattern with a mix of quarter and eighth notes, then you can just follow the strum pattern with your picking pattern.

As you progress you may find that you naturally adapt and break those patterns, often due to the sequence you play the strings. For example if you down pick on the D string and the next note is on the B string, maybe it feels mroe natural and fluent to play to down picks in a row.

While those suggestions make sense to me, I would consider them to be rules to follow.

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Maybe examples will help. My answer is not really for arpeggiated chords only, but more of picking direction in general. I can probably find cases my answer applies to arpeggiated chords.

Consider the first four notes from Sweet Home Alabama. if I were to strictly use alternate picking, I’d have timing trouble. It feels very much to me like DDUD in order to have my hand in the right place, but then I see Justin playing it DDDU and it SOUNDS proper.

The song I am working on now is I’m Tore Down. My initial feel is to use all down-picks, but there are some staccato notes (before the up) that I cannot do that way, and playing the riff DUDUDUD makes it sound right. In this case, it is generally alternating, but I would have no trouble changing that if it sounded better to play it differently or if I struggled with timing.

The basic rule is as @davidp described.

Down on the beat for quarter notes and up for 1/8th notes.

So if the song is all quarter notes then is all down picks.

If the song is all 1/8th notes then it is alternate picking, down on the beat, and up on the “and”

If it’s a mixture then down on the beat and up on the appropriate “and”

My 2 cents? Whatever serves the rhythm or pulse of the piece. In time, your fingers will work it out.
Having said that, I think alternate picking is a good place to start off with.

Cheers, Shane.


To me it depends on the speed. If playing fast arppegiated patterns then sweep or economy picking would probably be best? But for a beginner stick to alternate picking for sure.

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Thanks everyone, I best go relearn the mid part of that song as it all 1/8 notes.

Thank you all.


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I agree and by all means, experiment and use your ears.

Arpeggiating a chord is he first step to playing parts of chords mixed up sith single strings to create interesting melodic AND rhythmic ideas in combination.

You will also notice that as soon as you start arpeggiating your chords, your voicings start to matter even more; the same pattern will sound different when playing, for example, an open A or a barred A. In that example, the highest notei n the chord is higher on the barred version.

After a while, you will come up with patterns or strings picked in certain orders combined over chord shapes, offering a lot of interesting combinations.

(*voicing; which notes from which octaves are played in your chord, which are doubled and which are not etc).

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@LievenDV, thank you for this description, I didn’t understand the meaning of “voicing” before. This is yet another example of why I love this community - I learn things I didn’t even realize I didn’t know.

@Libitina Rachel - great thread, thanks for starting it.