So you want to know how to play guitar notes. Single line playing can be a major part of your
playing style. How you choose to play notes can depend on your basic playing style. The two basic
techniques for learning how to play guitar notes are with a pick and finger style. Let’s take a
look at the basic technique for playing with a pick.
There are two basic methods for playing notes with a pick: a down pick and an up pick. Start
with playing single notes on the first string in groups of four, counting one-two-three-four to
yourself or out loud using a down pick only. You can also use a metronome set at a lower tempo, say
about 60 beats per minute. Try to match each down pick with the click of the metronome. Strive for
a clear, full and even sound in volume.
Now you can learn how to play guitar notes by playing across all six strings from the lowest to
the highest and back down again, four notes per string, again: simple down picking only, and
Once you have this basic string crossing exercise under control, play a simple scale in open
position, using a simple down pick in groups of four. You can use the following tab. It is built
from a C major scale across all six strings:
Playing with a down pick on each beat in a single line melody will become an effective way to
learn rhythms and how to play guitar notes and will be an important part of your technical
For developing speed, try playing notes by alternating up and down picks. First, adjust your
Now go back to the first single string exercise, using alternating picking and the new counting
pattern. The main beats: one, two, etc, will still be played with a down pick while all the ands,
the off-beats, will be played with an up pick. This is the standard method for playing single line
melodies and solos.
Once you are comfortable playing with alternating picking, try it with the above tab. Once
again, strive for a clear sound where each note is at the same volume. Don’t be concerned about
playing fast yet, just build the coordination.
A final exercise in learning how to play guitar notes is to try and play with the up pick only.
Use the same counting pattern and tab as with alternating picking, but play only on the off-beats,
the ands. Give yourself some time to work this out as it may take a few attempts before you can do
it consistently. That's fine. Taking your time to learn to play on the off beat with an up pick
will be worth the effort later on.
That’s it! We’ve covered here the basic technique of how to play guitar notes in single line
melodies. Our three basic exercises are: 1) play with a down pick only on the beat, 2) play with an
alternating pattern – pick down and pick up and 3) play with an up pick only on the off beats.
These three basic picking techniques will help you learn how to play guitar notes and take you far
in developing your speed as well as your accuracy.