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Been playing on and off for about 9yrs. I’ve made some progress in the last few years, with regards to alternate picking, but I fear I’ve hit a wall. I can’t seem to play much faster than 16ths at 160bpm (as I’m playing here) and only few a bar or 2, at most (if I’m thoroughly warmed up and in a good mood).

By accident, I figured that tilting the pick up, and slightly at an angle (with the point, pointing towards my left shoulder instead of straight up.

For a while, I relied quite a bit on this kind of thumb and forefinger flex motion for alternate picking. I’ve worked on using my wrist more and I think it’s about 75% wrist and 25% forefinger and thumb.

My greatest issue, by far, is tension. I find myself tightening my grip on the pick as I pick up speed and feeling tension in the hand, in general. When trying to relax my grip, I just can’t pick as fast.

Strangely, I also find it harder to pick fast on one string than across 2. I naturally want to use my arm to pick fast on one string, but resist the urge as the speed comes with a lack of control.

Appreciate the input, thanks.


Welcome aboard!

you probably have that vid set to “private” since we cant see it

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Thanks, fixed it. Should be viewable.

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im a little confused since u r showing the 2 different picking motions lol

I think there is almost universal agreement (on this board lol) that a great place to start is to get a good (fast and smooth) picking motion on one string. Most of us will recommend to start with the Yngwie 6 note pattern. It helped me tons even though I had already been playing for like 30 years lol

The Yngwie pattern lays the great foundation of the 2 hands being coordinated. Many doors open after u have that together.

Playing fast(er) while staying relaxed is simply a fundamental skill we all have to grow into. Broken record, but the Yngwie type single string stuff is great for it because the overall challenge is simplified. If u cant play fast and relaxed on one string…what hope for 2 or 3?

I like this guys advice for gaining speed etc. Combining slow, controlled playing with bursts etc:

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Thanks, just to clear things up, To my knowledge, I’m picking exactly the same throughout the video, I just turned the other way to show my picking motion from the front and played 3 different licks. I rotated as I can’t be sure whether I’m relying on thumb and forefinger flexion or wrist movement as my main means of picking and I’d like the opinion of others.

I can’t explain it, I’ve always been able to pick faster over 2 or more strings than simply picking one string. The exception being when I use my arm to pick on one string, when using my arm I can pick much faster, but I’ve got extremely limited control and can’t synch my picking to my fingers, so I don’t use arm picking.

I also hold my pick at 2 contact points:

1 - the padding of my thumb
2 - before the first joint of my forefinger, more or less right above the fingernail.

The belief that I’ve had for years is that tension is generally felt when one plays at or approaches the limit of their picking speed and that nothing other than persistent practice is going to push that limit higher. Even Gilbert or Malmsteen are going to feel tension when approaching their picking limit… at least this is my belief and I just want to make sure that nothing else is bringing about tension in my hand.

Thanks again for the input, I haven’t finished watching the primers yet so I’m still new to things here.

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well its sort of like saying “when I try my max bench press of 225 it feels real heavy.” Yes, but when u train yourself to bench 365, how heavy will that 225 feel?

Also, lets say a lifter can bench 405. He can work up to 90% of that, which would be 365lbs, and it will look quite easy. Something like this is in effect with musicians too. 99.9% of the time, we arent going to see Gilbert or Malmsteen pushing their absolute limits.

I think u actually picked like 2 of the worst guys to make that point lol. The 2 of them, especially Malmsteen, are about as relaxed as it gets. others such as Rusty Cooley and Mike Orlando are way more physical type of players

In any case its a skill like tying your shoes or driving a stick shift on a hill in traffic. The first key is awareness of your tension levels. When u feel it creeping up, dont just keep pushing into it

The advice in the Kiko video comes to mind again, the combination of slow and fast practice is nice. In the end its all about grooving your central nervous system to be more and more efficient.

We can all look at your vid but only you can feel what you are feeling

Watched the video and it makes sense, about 2yrs ago, I practiced consistently for about 5 months and that’s when I managed to get my top speed from 140bpm (where it sat for years) to 160bpm.

The way I practiced was as I’m playing in the vid, I’d play the lick in question at 8ths for 2 bars and then 16ths for a bar. The problem being that practice become exhausting after a short time, as I’d be constantly playing near my limit.

I think I’ll try splitting my routine similar to the way he described:

10min - Endurance, playing the lick at a speed I can sustain for 2 X 5min rounds
10min - Developing ‘muscle memory’ by playing at a reasonable speed (around 70-80%)
10min - Pushing the envelope by playing faster, in relatively shorter bursts.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to play for 30min without getting exhausted. (FYI, I’m trying to nail the first fast picking part from ‘Wonderful Slippery Thing’).

Finally, now that I think about it, I’ve never actually played a lot of single string stuff, at least at high speeds.

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maybe better to sprinkle the bursts in strategically. 1o mins straight of it will probably just devolve into a mess of slop/tension

never finish a session with tension or slop or mistakes. always finish with your best smooth relaxed form

I agree, 10min would be the total time, which includes rests, quarter and 8th notes and perhaps a break in the middle. Of the 10min, only 1-2 minutes would be made up of actual max speed picking.

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The same as it always did, just now you’ll also be able to do something that feels a lot harder.

yeah, I just played for about 1hr 15 minutes while listening to a podcast (and watching cars doing fast laps at Nurburgring with the sound off lol). I quit because I finally got bored and have to do some laundry etc.

I didnt get tired.

Now, if I played a new lick over and over, especially perhaps some weird left hand stretch, I might get some quick fatigue or whatever

Id say u need to put some thought into why u r tiring so quickly. Just glancing back at your vid I see a LOT of left hand tension. That little quick nervous vibrato is sort of a dead giveaway. (yes, we all tense up a bit when recording ourselves)

My hands might not be as big as yours, so I dont do much of the “thumb over the neck” while trying to do scales. Thumb over works for some guys but might not be the best for scale playing.

on occasion I like to really minimize tension by playing without my thumb touching at all. Granted, I usually practice while semi reclining in bed…so i do have gravity slightly helping me, but u get the idea. All we have to do is press a tiny string a tiny amount so it touches the fret wire. We dont have to try to indent the fretboard

I think if I were you id find some short loopable patterns and just work on getting things smooth and less tense. Its a process. I think for the moment id ditch the exercise youve been doing or at least use it only 10-20% of the time. The whole “8th notes done twice, then 16th notes” has it uses for pushing top speed etc but it can also lead to extra tension. Maybe leave it for a while and only come back to it after youve smoothed out your overall technique.

you said it yourself, you can play 16ths at 160 but only for a bar or 2. Is that any kind of workable situation?

Maybe the best thing for you would be to forget about too much intricate planning of this routine or that, and just try to start playing for 20 (or whatever) minutes straight without getting tired?

Peace, JJ

Thanks for posting and welcome to the forum!

There are quite a few things I come to think about when I watch your video… First off, there is clearly a very different motion when you play slow compared to your fast picking. In the slow version you are doing what we call string hopping (or maybe a very exaggerated double escape) using wrist motions. In the other, I’m not really sure, but your motion is very small and seems to be coming more from the thumb.

Secondly, could you please post a video of you max relaxed speed on an open string? In other words; no left hand involved. This could give us more information on how your basic fast picking mechanic works. The string switching might actually be more of a problem than you think.

Reason for wanting to see this is that all your licks are what we call “two way pick slanting”-licks. This means that they are quite tricky right hand picking paths. And for most of us these kind of licks are the reason why we got frustrated, at least this goes for me. So what you are actually doing is in fact very complex picking parts. Are sure are easier parts if you want less speed bumps in your path to picking speed.

So finally I want to ask you; how well are you aware of Troys discoveries of pick slanting?


Sure, here’s the 2nd video. I’m using the webcam of my Mac so this is as close as I can get I’m afraid.

I should note, in this video and the last, I had a metronome going at 160bpm (it’s playing through a different channel to the recording and can’t be heard). When I did that weak little vibrato at the end of the first video, I was trying to land on the first beat of the metronome.

My 8th note picking is much more exaggerated than my 16th note picking. Part of this is simply that I’m trying to show what I’m doing by exaggerating the motion, subconsciously, I could also be relying on the momentum of a large motion to set me up for the 16th notes. I also like the tone of aggressively hitting the strings, when not doing a fast run.
I’m not sure if it’s really an issue that my picking differs when I’m playing slow and fast. I believe picking is like walking, running and sprinting, with sprinting not being walking or running simply sped up, the technique and motions for the 3 are different.

While I didn’t really do it in this video, whenever picking on a single string for a while, and at high speeds, my arm tends to come into play a bit.

Regarding downward slant picking, I’ve only just discovered it’s a “thing”, I think I’ve actually been doing it for a while. Probably like most players, I change my picking technique, the angle the pick is slanted and pointing etc. based on what I’m playing and I discovered that angling the tip of the pick to point up and slightly towards my left shoulder creates less resistance when going through the strings.

I must confess, it’s also been years since I’ve actually learned a song and most of the few songs I did know I forgot. I spent a lot of time doing exercises on guitar. One of my biggest challenges is memorizing new songs, I really hate it. So, I’ve been playing a lot of short licks, improvising on guitar, studying theory (to make the memorization process less painful) and spending more time playing piano.
Perhaps this is why endurance is an issue for me, I haven’t played or learnt a 3-4 min song on years.

I’m planning to get ‘Wonderful Slippery Thing’ down as my first piece in a while, I’m learning the solos (most difficult parts) first then tackling the rest.

I’m very curious is to where my picking (at speed) is coming from (wrist or thumb). I started out as a thumb and forefinger picker and tried to break the habit by focusing on the wrist.

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Ok I’m just gonna focus on the actual picking now… As far as I can see there is no speed difference between the single string tremolo and the two string licks you’ve been practising and showing. This tells me that your currant motion mechanic is probably reaching is max potential soon. I could of course be wrong about this, but as Troys research has shown, most fast pickers didn’t work up the speed, they found a way that worked right away and more or less cleaned it up trough practise.

So now you need to ask yourself, are you content with your current max picking speed?

If YES, then good! You are already close to your goal! Then the problem is relaxation. Are you more relaxed when playing on one string than the two string licks? If yes, you need to learn more about pick slanting and the point of it. It’s NOT about which way the pick points, it’s about the picks motion path. I encourage you go trough Troys material. It’s a lot of fun!

If NO, then I would encourage you to work on a new motion mechanic. It can be difficult to make small changes to a current picking technique. It might actually be easier to try something completely different. I, for one, did this and I’m very happy I did. The old stuff wont go away anyway and you can always go back to that.

Both of these things you’ll find in the pickslanting primer: https://troygrady.com/primer/
There are also videos for free on Troys youtube page.

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Thanks for the feedback, I’m working through the primer, work and family means it’ll take me a bit of time to get through the videos. I’m already finding it very interesting. There are songs I’ve wanted to play for years and they’re DAMN fast (guitarist is is a Japanese guy called Kurikinton Fox), in one of his songs he alternate picks sextuplets at 160bpm! I wont be happy till I can play that fast.

If I’m brutally honest, I simply haven’t been practicing seriously and consistently over the past 5yrs and (at least for the moment), I believe that’s what’s holding me back, not really my technique.

Once I’ve finished watching the videos, I’ll decide what to do:

  • Make adjustments to my current technique
  • Keep my current technique and keep practicing to build speed, if I can play faster than
    160bpm then 160bpm will feel easier and there’ll be less tension.
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My journey’s been a long one, but I’ll try to summarize.

I’ve been playing for about 9yrs (on and off, self-taught) and my weakness has always been consistency; I’d practice hard for a few weeks or months and then take stop for a few weeks or months.

During my first 2yrs, I practice hard and saw the greatest improvements.
I could descend and ascend 120-130bpm 3nps scales once or twice. I was using economy picking until I took a lesson and the teacher switched me to strict alternate picking, which I’ve used since.

From year 2 till about year 5 I practiced very little and probably hit a wall of about 140bpm. I had an issue with relying on the “thumb flexion”, but stopped that and relied as much as I could on the wrist.

About 2-3yrs ago, I devised a routine around stamina (playing comfortable speeds of around 100-110bpm 16ths of licks across 2 strings non-stop for 20, 30, 40 and 60sec rounds) after about 10min I’d switch to the speed rounds, where I’d play at around 150bpm in bursts of about a measure or two. The final speed round, I’d go even quicker with shorter bursts of a 4/4 measure or even a 2/4 measure. I managed to play some clean licks at about 185bpm, but only for a measure, at most. I stopped practicing after a few months.

Now, I’m trying to practice properly until I reach my first goal of being able to tackle 200bpm runs and play comfortably at 180bpm (hopefully I get faster from there).

I’ve analyzed my technique and I seriously can’t find much wrong, my movements are quite economical, I use pickslanting, my arm comes in at about a 10 o’clock angle and I don’t use string hoping. I’m experimenting with my grip, I like holding it between the thumb pad and forefinger nail, but I’m testing moving it back (between the thumb pad and first knuckle) to make the grip a bit more rigid and discourage any thumb flexion.
Right now, I think I just need more practice.

I’ve gone through most of the picking primer and while it has some fascinating information… it’s just too bloated. I have 30min a day to practice and it’ll take me weeks to get through all these videos, time I could actually spend practicing. It doesn’t really suggest how to practice, just shows explains the different techniques. Again, it’s really informative, but want something that’s going to get me practicing straight away.

My biggest issue right now is stamina, I can’t sustain:

150bpm patterns across 2 strings for more than 3-4 measures
160bpm patterns across 2 strings for more than 2 measures
180bpm patterns across 2 strings for more than a measure
all 16th notes
measures are 4/4

Should I be sticking with the stamina and speed routine? My belief is that I’ll gradually begin to feel more relaxed the more I play at these speeds and this I’ll be able to go faster. I’ve been trying Troy’s suggestion of adjusting my technique till I find something that immediately allows me to play above my current speed, but nothing else seems to work particularly as the primer fails to mention how to practice.

This video was taken last year, I was using a metronome at 160bpm wasn’t warmed up properly and it wasn’t a great take, but here it is

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I don’t see any pickslanting as such, if by pickslanting you mean either upstroke or downstroke escape. I see (at least) two motions. The slower one is double escape, probably stringhopping. The fast one looks like it’s driven by the thumb with a bit of forearm thrown in. The pick trajectory is slightly curved, and I don’t see any obvious escape but maybe a tendency towards DSX.

The question is, what are you going for? DSX, USX, DBX? The scales and scale fragments you’re playing in the video require some sort of double or mixed escape motion to be playable, if you want to pick every note that is.

It would be interesting to see a video where you play something on a single string, as fast as you can!

I’d say no. I don’t think you’ll be able to “force” your current motion to become fast and smooth by practicing it. You’ll have to find something that is fast and smooth right away, otherwise you’ll just be hammering away at an inefficient motion.

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Fantastic reply by @Johannes as usual :slight_smile:

Another thing I’d add / ask: you seem very focused on scales & metronome practice, but are you also including some “musical” work in your routine, e.g. working on songs? Or in other words, what are your musical objectives, or who are the guitarists that inspire you / you’d like to imitate?

The question on how to practice is difficult to answer in general, but people may be able to give more targeted suggestions once we know what playing style you are aiming for :slight_smile:

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Actually, I see that @JonJon and @qwertygitarr have already said the exact same thing as I did more than a year ago in a different thread!

And I also see that they requested a video of you playing on a single string, as fast as you can, but I don’t see any footage of that?

I’m going to be blunt – if you want to play faster you’re going to have to find another motion, as well as pay attention to what is playable with that mechanic!

Cheers, @tommo!

There is actually an older technique critique thread by @jdarez786 where most of what is said here has already been dicussed. Pehaps we should continue the discussion there so as to avoid repeating things?