Aliendough - Back to working on my picking

I have come back to work on my picking, my improvement seems to be slow.

This is me playing the Tommo sixes pattern as clean as I can. I have been working on this pattern for the last 10 days or so and I’m guessing this is around 90 bpm.

This is me playing the Tommo sixes sloppier, it sounds as though it’s a similar speed to the first video!!

This is my potential picking speed video -

Is there anything I can do to improve? My goal is to get the Tommo pattern to 100bpm at least. I’m just struggling to get my fingers to co-ordinate at the minute.

I seem to be moving my thumb when I pick - how can I stop that and lock it in?

Is there any string hopping going on?

Is there anything that is particularly good that I should focus on and use it to my benefit?

I do have a string dampener on - but it’s not in use in this video, I’m muting with my hands.

I have been practicing various pick grips and have found the Eddie Van Halen grip to be very comfortable for faster playing and I have no idea why!


Hey @aliendough, good to see you back in the picking world!

Also, thanks for the honour of calling this the “Tommo pattern”, but I don’t think I can claim ownership - these sequences have been shamelessly copied from the Vinnie / Yngwie stuff from the 80s :slight_smile:

As a first observation, your PPS video shows that you do have the potential to pick fast! It looks like an elbow motion, so in principle it should work for downstroke-escape lines.

Is that how it feels? If so, practicing lines that only change strings after downstrokes - and using this exact motion - could be the fastest way for you to get some “shred” going.

Although… your “sloppy” video is not that sloppy! This motion looks different from your PPS one though - I’ll have to watch it a few more times to understand it better.

A general trend I noticed is that you keep the pick very close to the string most of the time - I.e. you tend to do small picking motions. Have you tried making the same motions, but bigger? For these kinds of scalar lines I find it convenient to make pickstrokes that are roughly the same size as the distance between strings - just one possible thing to try!

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I’m not 100 % sure because its hard to tell from the video, but it looks to me like you’re using a very flat motion, or even a DSX motion. This would mean, like @tommo mentioned, that you can only play things that switch strings after a downstroke. It seems that you start the sixes on a downstroke, and so switch on an upstroke. Since your motion leaves you trapped between the strings on upstrokes, you need to lift the pick to get to the next string, which is why you’re moving your thumb.

Try starting the pattern on an upstroke and see how that goes!

Also, try using a bit more “pickslant” to get a more pronounced escape and work around that.

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@Tommo thanks for the reply!

You said that my PPS video looks like an elbow motion and yes, it does feel like an elbow motion. My problem is this - how do I practice that elbow motion because it currently feels uncontrollable.

I haven’t tried making bigger motions - maybe I should try that with an elbow type motion?

@Johannes thanks! I will try more pickslant as you are right, it seems I do hold my pick sort of flat against the strings.

When you play are you tensing your wrist? It’s something I’ve recently noticed I’ve been doing for the last 10 years or so, it never hurt or anything but it was just subconscious tension I never noticed was there until I paid attention to it.

Try make sure both your anchor points are fairly strong (on the body and the bridge/strings), and completely relax your wrist. Then try using the wrist/forearm motion.

I found this helped that ‘uncontrollable’ feeling because when your wrist is relaxed, it’s not causing the rest of the arm to move side to side as much on each picking movement. You can try it sat at your desk - just tense your wrist and try move it side to side, notice how the rest of your arm (up to your elbow joint) is also wobbling around? Maybe I’m completely wrong but it’s just something that helped me. Perhaps keeping it relaxed will trick your mind into using less elbow because the wrist is now easier to utilise.

I also noticed with a relaxed wrist and solid anchor points it’s easier to generate the upstroke escape with the wrist/forearm movement.

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Hey @aliendough, changed the title slightly to show it’s you (so it’s more easily found among the others etc.). But if you prefer, feel free to change it back or into something else!

I think the answer depends on what detail exactly you find uncontrollable. Is it timing/ motion size/dynamics /something else?

I can tell you what works for me when I use the elbow - let me know if it leads you anywhere:

  • I make quite big picking motions and make no attempt to control the size.
  • I almost always rest-stroke on the upstroke (except of course on the low E), so at least one side of the motion is limited/controlled by the strings themselves
  • This also means that “ascending outside” string changes are particularly comfy: the pick ends up pretty much where it needs to be after the escaped downstroke. So maybe you can get started by trying some ascending licks that only change strings after downstrokes*
  • I personally find that timing is easier to control with bigger motions, but this may be subjective

Let me know how much of this makes sense / works /doesn’t work :slight_smile:

*=simplest example is to take the “Tommo sixes” you were doing, and modify it by playing only 3 notes on the low E string (e.g. just the first 3 notes of the ascending scale), followed by the normal 6-notes pattern on the higher strings.


@JonnyL I notice a tension in my forearm and my upper arm, not in my wrist :slight_smile:

@tommo The thing I find uncontrollable is the motion. It’s like my arm is just spazzing out and I feel like I have zero control over the motion.

When you mention about the rest-stroke are you literally letting your pick hit against another string? Do you not experience a slight clang noise? Your picking sounds clean and precise.

Hey @aliendough, I’d hope that by making the movements a bit bigger you may start to feel a bit more control. When the movement is kept very small, like a sort of “arm vibration” thing, I also feel that it feels more random.
Another thing that may help is to go fast but a bit below your max speed, looking for a fast but smooth and relatively effortless feel.

Perhaps you can also try to place accents in different places to keep time. E.g. 16th note feel, 6s feel and so on. Focus on the timing of the “1”, not the remaining 3 (or 5) notes. And you can even try to see if you prefer to accent the downstroke or the upstroke.

Also, forgot to mention that @Bill_hall wrote some very nice notes on his elbow picking technique, which is one of the smoothest ever recorded :slight_smile:

Yes, I totally hit and rest on the lower string when I use the elbow. I think that, among other things, the lower string helps me to stop the pick & change the direction of the motion.

I did a quick test yesterday with my electric with a decent amount of gain and I found:

  • yes there is in principle a bit of “clang”, softer or louder depending on pick material & how hard I am picking.
    -I typically use tortex or similar materials, in which case both the “rest stroke clang” and the “chirp” are reduced significantly
  • however, the clang disappears completely in the middle of my normal playing. I think this may be due to the “compression” effect of a saturated amp - I’ll link a relevant discussion below
  • haven’t tried with acoustic, will tell you what happens when I do

Thanks, Tommo! I hadn’t seen Bill Hall’s post, but I have read it and am also watching his Youtube video where he explains his mechanics.

I will have more time over the weekend to experiment with bigger movements. I get what you’re saying about a small movement being an arm vibration, that makes a lot of sense and is something I would have never considered.

I do feel, when I’m playing fast using my elbow motion, that I’m just slicing the pick through the strings without even trying to lift it over the strings to make a clean string change. I will also have to try and self-analyse this over the weekend.

As always, thanks again.

Elbow motion escapes by default. There should not be any feeling of lifting anything. If you think about the way the joint works, it’s just a hinge. It doesn’t rotate like the forearm and it can’t do different angles like the wrist. From “magnet” perspective, the elbow can only move in a straight line, back and forth.

If your arm is not hanging down perfectly at your side, and instead your upper arm is not pointing straight down at your feet but actually a little bit in front of you, well that’s the way the elbow motion points too. This is where the escape comes from. A graphic would make this clearer. Let me know if I’m explaining this well.

But anyway the point is that to do elbow right is to not do anything at all but just move the joint back and forth. That’s the cool part. Because if you “do” elbow and you’re not getting the escape, then you’re either not really doing elbow, or maybe something is wrong with the posture to not give the escape. In other words, rather than putting time into it and “trying” to lift, you just have to figure out how to move the elbow joint and nothing else, with your arm pointing very slightly in front of you.

Edit: Sorry didn’t watch the clips as I was typing this. The PPS video looks like downstroke escape to me. You can flip the YT player into quarter speed and look at the way the pick is moving relative to the strings. It looks like it’s moving diagonally, with downstrokes escaping. A closer up camera view in slow motion would make this clearer.

If it’s escaping, that’s a technique you can use. Maybe some of Bill’s excellent thoughts can help out here in terms of making it feel smooth and easy. But I’d try some DSX type phrases with this to see if the string changes “just work”. You can try repeating patterns that are downstroke-switching, or something you’ve composes, whatever you like.

Nice work!


I think what @Troy said about not lifting the arm to cross strings is right on! I never even thought about escape motions until I saw a video on YouTube one afternoon where Troy was explaining how it works. I remember picking up my guitar and playing some fast lines on a couple strings and noticed that I didn’t move anything other that the elbow joint and the string crossing was happening already…now I understand that the elbow movement already has the escape motion happening. I just move my elbow joint and the way my lines are setup I cross the strings without having to do anything special it just escapes the strings on it’s own. I would guess there is a bit of swiping there also, although I don’t feel it at all when I am playing. I just sort of worked all my faster lines in a certain way to fit the motion from the elbow without realizing why, lol. If I play other type of lines like two note per string licks the motion feels a little different. But it just sort of blends in with the elbow. Medium and slower speed lines I use a bit of a different motion but it is a blend also.

For the faster three note per string lines that all the players I loved in the 80s…like Vinnie Moore and Al play…I just play those with all elbow, there is not anything else going on that I can feel. My wrist actually locks and the elbow joint takes over and it feels great with a lot of control. It doesn’t feel at all like if I make my arm into a spasm and try to play real small movements and super fast. Sitting here with my guitar and playing I can say that my motion is not that spasm motion, that would wear me out, lol. It feels like in order for me to make that motion I have to squeeze my arm to get that spasm motion and that feels way to athletic for me, lol! :slight_smile: When I play fast it just feels like the elbow joint is moving back and forth in a really comfortable way. It might look the same but it sure doesn’t feel the same, lol.

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Hi, @aliendough! Watching the video of doing a fast tremelo and here it seems like your motion is there but you said you are not feeling the control. Maybe try tilting your hand back towards you so the ball of your thumb is touching the string more than the pinky side of your wrist, maybe try that a little bit and see how it feels. You are sliding with your pinky…I do that also to keep the pick the same depth on the string. I noticed you hold the pick with thumb and second finger, I am not sure if that makes any difference. I was just curious how it felt if you try it once with the pinky side of your hand higher than the thumb side. It might not feel any better, but looking at your video I think I can tell what you are feeling and I was curious how it felt with your hand angled back. Thanks! :slight_smile:

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Thanks @Troy, wondering if diagonal movement is bad? Should I be trying to make the pick move straight across the strings?

@Bill_hall I saw your Youtube video on how you pick - very helpful!

I’m wondering if you ever get skin irritation on the palm of your hand because your whole hand is moving across the strings due to elbow motion?

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Hi, @aliendough! I have never had any sort of skin irritation. I just lightly touch the strings, it feels just like al light muting across the lower strings.

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OK I must be pressing too hard!

I will post up a clip later.

Best wishes.

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What do you mean by diagonal movement? Do you mean escape motion? That’s how this whole picking thing works. The pick moves on a diagonal so that when you want to switch strings, you do so when the pick is in the air. I might be misunderstanding the question though!

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@Troy - thanks, just wanted to clarify about the diagonal movement. I was unsure if I should be aiming to keep my pick moving in a straighter line or not :slight_smile:

Well, I have been working on elbow movement and here are videos:

Funnily enough I struggle with picking on the low E string, I find it gets easier as I go up to the higher strings.


I can’t comment on the diagonal portion of your question for Troy, but this is a drastic improvement compared to the first few clips.

Whatever sensation or tactile mental model you have for this style of picking, I’d keep exploring it. It seems to be working well and sounds like a solid base.

edit: I think know why you claim to be struggling with the low E, but it’s due to a very, very subtle fretting hand issue. What are the frets you are trying to play on the low E for the second video?


You can’t! If by “aim” you mean change the path along which the joint is moving, there is no way to do that. The elbow only does downstroke escape. You could change the motion to some other kind of motion, and in some of your earlier clips up the thread it does look like you’re doing a mix of other joint motions. But in these faster clips it looks more elbow to me. We see the shallow downstroke escape path (diagonal motion) and we see the whole arm moving back and forth. For me, that’s enough for a clinical diagnosis of “successful elbow picking”!

Like @guitarenthusiast says these look and sound great. I would just work on trying to find ways to make this feel smooth. In general, once you have a core motion starting to happen, you enter that longer phase of just using it with as a wide a variety of phrases such that things gradually become more accurate over time, and also more relaxed.

One thing I’d point out is that downstroke escape means only downstroke string changes. So whenever you try to change strings via upstroke, you’ll hit the intervening string. The classic example of this is the “Gilbert” style patterns you’re playing here. Each time you come back from that one note on the higher string, you can hear the little blast of noise as the pick hits lower string. That’s what we call swiping. It’s common. You’ll hear this even on Intense Rock, but it went generally unnoticed for years (decades?) because Paul’s playing in general sounds great.

So don’t worry about this too much. If your playing is generally smooth, fluid, and synchronized, it’s going to sound good. I mention this only because it can help to understand how your technique works. For example, hitting an open string via swipe will likely make more noise than a string that is being fretted or partially muted as it often is in the GIlbert type examples. And also, second, if you play phrases that only have downstroke string changes, those are technically going to be your smoothest feeling and sounding lines, because you won’t be hitting other strings.

I wouldn’t shy away from doing stuff that includes of upstroke string changes if you get good sonic results. I’m just trying to give you clarity so you can more accurately predict / evaluate the results you’re getting.

Nice work here.


Thanks everyone for the help.

Finally, after a long time, I have a positive goal to work towards now I know what is working for me.