Develop Your Downstroke Technique With These Tips (+ Songs For Practice)


Downstroke picking technique may seem easy when you watch someone do it. In reality, it can’t be further from the truth.

Although the downstroke picking technique is not complex to perform (you just pick down!), it’s really hard to keep the tempo. Arm muscles get pumped up and sore in a few seconds!

It takes time to develop the strength needed to perform fast downstrokes. Here, in this article, I’m going to tell you what I did to improve my downstroke technique.

Later on, you’ll see the list of some really cool and challenging songs you can play. Play them with your metronome, at slow tempo at first.

You can be sure your downstroke picking technique will dramatically improve in days! Let’s go.

1. Reduce Picking Depth

What is picking depth? It’s the distance between your pick and the string you’re picking. Longer that distance is, the more energy you dissipate around.

It’s an important factor. Reducing picking depth improves not only downstroke picking, but alternate picking, as well.

Let me show you what I mean. Take a look at this GIF below.

As you can see, I’m downstroking the low E string. But pay attention to the picking depth. You see that distance my hand is taking for each downstroke.

That distance is too long. My hand has to use more force and energy to perform each downstroke. That picking depth can be shortened. Take a look at this next GIF below.

Can you tell the difference? Picking depth is significantly smaller. For each downstroke, I’m saving more energy, and I have to use less force to perform it.

Watch out for this detail. It’s subtle, but nevertheless significant factor that can improve your stamina. Exercise. Get used to this. Smaller picking depth will make you use about 50 percent less energy.

2. Relax Your Hand

Don’t grab your pick to hard. Your pick has to be loose. Stiff hands will make your downstrokes so much harder to perform.

Also, try to relax your arm muscles. Use only your forearm muscles. You know that feeling when you perform downstroke picking when your arm is collapsing out of tiredness?

That happens when you use your arm muscles. Those are not necessary to use when performing downstrokes.

At first, you’ll definitely feel the tension building in your forearm muscles. That’s a good sign. The key is to strengthen them up so they can carry downstroke picking all along.

You’ll notice the strength building in your forearm muscles in just a few days.

3. Start Slow

Don’t perform downstrokes at speed you’re not comfortable with. The fastest way to master any guitar technique in general is to start at the speed you’re feeling comfortable with.

So, it doesn’t matter what that tempo is. If it’s just 80 BPM, that’s perfectly fine. There’s no need to rush. You won’t accomplish anything with rushing to speeds you can’t keep up with.

So, the bottom line is this: Start slow. Start at the speed you’re comfortable with. You’ll soon notice that your hand unconsciously wants to move faster. Then you can turn your metronome up.

And yes, use a metronome. There are a ton of online metronomes available. Or you can just use Guitar Tuna app on your smartphone, it doesn’t matter.

4. 3 Minutes Rule

You know you can perform downstrokes at some specified tempo when you can perform it at least 3 minutes without feeling tired.

If you can, let’s say, do downstrokes at speed of 140 BPM for 3 minutes straight, but you feel your hand falling off out of tiredness – you still don’t have enough strength in your hand to play at, let’s say, 145 BPM.

Remember, you have to be comfortable at performing downstrokes at certain speed. When you are, you can safely go to some higher speeds and practice further.

5. Stop When You’re Tired

If you’re performing downstrokes at some certain tempo, but you soon start to feel tired, stop.

There’s no need to push your muscles to boundaries. You can only get your muscles sore. That sucks, since you’ll have to eventually stop and rest for a day in order to rest your muscles enough.

If you feel your muscles burning at certain speed, lower the tempo. That’s the only right way. I know it’s psychologically challenging, but that’s the reality!

Patience is the key. It’s the only right way, and fastest way at the same time to improve.

Songs Good For Practicing Downstroke Picking Technique

Downstroking without playing any actual song can get so boring. And boredom often plays part in mastering any guitar technique.

Songs can help to keep you entertained enough. Being entertained enough to continue your downstroke practice is an important factor.

Here is the list of some songs that can really keep you entertained. At the same time, you’ll practice your downstroke technique.

Of course, if you’re a guitar beginner, you’ll have to play them slow. These are very fast songs. Remember, start slow, and over time you’ll build up enough strength to eventually play them in their original tempo.

Let’s go!

1. Master Of Puppets by Metallica

Master of Puppets is perhaps the most famous song that uses donwstroke picking technique. Also it’s very, very fast! The tempo of this song is around 212 BPM.

That’s around 7 downstrokes each second!

Start slow, at speed you find comfortable. I remember myself when I practiced my downstroke technique, playing this song at around 150 BPM! Over time, I managed to develop enough strength to carry on through the whole song.

2. Creeping Death by Metallica

This one is a bit slower than previous one. The tempo of Creeping Death is “only” 200 BPM.

When I started to learn this song, I thought that it’s not that challenging. Boy, how I was wrong! After that beginning riff, James Hetfield’s guitar starts to downstroke the low E string and the rest of E powerchord.

It may sounds easy, but it isn’t! That’s what makes this song suitable for practicing downstroke picking.

Again, the formula stays the same: Start slow enough, and then build the speed up patiently.

3. Too Young To Fall In Love by Motley Crue

If you like hair metal (I know I like it!), this is the song for you. I heard this song for the first time on that famous V – Rock radio station in GTA Vice City.

It has a tempo of 200 BPM. Also, it’s played on dropped D tuning. Nevertheless, you can play that opening downstroke riff alone on standard tuning, as well.

It’s really a catchy tune! And most importantly, you’ll improve your downstroke technique by playing it.

4. Tornado Of Souls by Megadeth

This song is one of the greatest trash metal songs, hands down. It has a tempo of 194 BPM. Interestingly, it uses natural harmonics on 7th fret and downpstroke technique at the same time. It’s the opening riff.

Later on, we have another downstroke riff using powerchords. Sounds really powerful, and it’s great for improving your donwstroke picking technique.

5. Number Of The Beast by Iron Maiden

Iron Maiden is a band that uses a gallop rhythm a lot. That’s like their signature rhythm, accompanied with that loud bass, played by Steve Harris.

In this song, on the other hand, a downstroke picking technique is used. You would think it’s not that hard to keep up with their tempo, but it is!

Anyway, this is another great song you can play to improve your downstroke technique.

6. Seek And Destroy by Metallica

Seek and Destroy is one of Metallica’s earliest hits. Tempo of this song is around 140 BPM, which makes it easy to play for everyone, including guitar beginners.

7. Allison Hell by Annihilator

This song rocks! Soon as the singer starts to sing, you can hear that kick ass donwstroke riff playing. The tempo of this song is around 102 BPM, but don’t let that fool you. In this case, each downstroke is played four times each quarter note.

That means that the equivalent tempo is 204 BPM. Fairly fast.

8. The Eye Of The Beholder by Metallica

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m fairly sure that this is the fastest downstroke guitar picking ever recorded by Metallica. This song is released on their legendary album …And Justice For All.

It has the tempo of 120 BPM, but again, don’t let that fool you. For each quarter note, there are four downstrokes, so basically it’s 8 downstrokes performed each second.

In this song, James Hetfield showed us what kind of downstroke master he is.

9. 2 Minutes Of Midnight by Iron Maiden

Another song by Iron Maiden that’s played with downstroke picking technique. Its tempo is around 185-190 BPM.

It has an awesome opening riff that repeats itself throughout song. It’s fun to play it, at the same time you’re happy you play it and also you’re improving your downstroke picking technique.

So yes, this is another example for practicing, especially if you like that specific New Wave Of British Heavy Metal sound.

10. Breaking The Law by Judas Priest

Although there’s no downstrokes in the opening riff, you can hear it throughout the chorus.

This is another great example of downstrokes used in that New Wave Of British Heavy Metal era.

At the beginning, until the chorus starts, you can hear the bass playing downstrokes, but soon as the chorus starts (Breaking the law, breaking the law…), there’s a guitar doing it.

Anyway, it’s a great song for practicing downstroke technique, especially for beginners!

Conclusion

Downstroke picking technique sounds both powerful and cool. Also, it’s so much fun to play that way. It gives you that powerful feeling of having your guitar in control.

I hope this article gave you some valuable information about how to improve your downstroke guitar picking technique significantly.

So, let’s repeat most important things you should keep in mind.

  • Reduce your picking depth to save more energy
  • Relax your hand. Don’t grab your pick too hard and remember to use only your forearm muscles.
  • Start slow. There’s no use of rushing to tempos you’re not feeling comfortable with. Start at the speed on which you can easily perform downstroke picking, without any tiredness.
  • Remember the 3 minutes rule. You’ll know you mastered downstroke technique at specific tempo when you can perform it for at least 3 minutes straight without feeling tired.
  • If you feel that your muscles got too tense, stop. You don’t want to get your muscles sore.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you’re interested, check out how to perform guitar tapping technique correctly.

Also, don’t forget to check other interesting articles I wrote on this site!

Cheers, and rock on!

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