There are two main kinds of SQL queries. SELECT/INSERT/UPDATE/DELETE statements are examples of Data Manipulation Language (DML). CREATE/ALTER/DROP statements are examples of Data Definition Language (DDL).
With schema changes – DDL – we have the added complexity of the SCH-M lock. It’s a kind of lock you don’t see with DML statements. DML statements take and hold schema stability locks (SCH-S) on the tables they need. This can cause interesting blocking chains between the two types where new queries can’t start until the schema change succeeds
Click through for suggestions with regard to schema locks, as well as a few tips for modifying large tables.