Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Alternate Picking

Hello Banjo Ben! With regard to alternate picking and hammer-ons, I have a difficult time including the hammer-on as an alternate pick stroke. I’ll do a down stroke, hammer-on, and then follow that with an upstroke (instead of a down stroke). Is this a bad habit, or does it impact the sound/feel of the song?

Thanks! Love your website and instructions!

Rock on!
Steve Wilson


Hi Steve, and welcome to the forum!

I’m not Ben, but the answer you’ll most likely get is “yes, it’s a bad habit”. When you come back to picking you’ll be doing down-strokes on the “up” beat. This can/will effect what comes out of the instrument, in a number of ways, and may leave you hanging in the middle of a tune trying to figure out where to switch back.

To remedy the problem, you can try isolating just those few notes, or that measure. Slowing WAY down, concentrate on continuing your alternating pick-stroke while playing the hammer-on…in other words pick through it…then once you have that down, work at continuing that same hand motion while not actually picking the note of the hammer-on. Do this all slowly until it feels comfortable.

Hope this helps and is understandable,



Welcome Stephen!

Yes, this is a habit that can be detrimental. I used to have the same problem; it’s most likely caused by thinking about pickstrokes rather than beats– i.e. “downstroke followed by upstroke” rather than “downstroke on downbeat, upstroke on upbeat”.

I found that the issue went away by listening more; not just to guitar, but to any type of straightforward music (that could be bluegrass, country, congregational hymns, etc.). I subconsciously learned the feeling of downbeats and upbeats, and my picking followed suit; sometimes with a conscious change, but mostly unconsciously.

The reason it’s highly recommended to always have downstrokes on the downbeats and upstrokes on the upbeats is because it establishes the most stable foundation. Advanced players will sometimes break the rules, but it’s because they learned the rules so well in the first place that they are able to break them so well now.


:arrow_up: :+1:

Agreeing with what was said above. When one is going slow enough to do it either way, then it really doesn’t matter. When you start getting fast, not having a dependable stroke becomes a big blocker.


Lots of great advice here, @sswilson10! If you work on getting them correctly alternating, it won’t take long for it to be second nature.


Thank you all (y’all!) for your responses! What you have said regarding picking the upbeats and downbeats correctly to keep the clarity and movement makes a whole lot of sense. I will slow things down and really focus on this. The journey continues! Thank you again!


I still have to work on this very issue. All the advice mentioned is worth while to get it under control as soon as possible. It’s all a work in progress on your musical journey.