Are all picking motions possible for everyone to learn?

Always been able to tremolo pick very fast from the elbow, but didn’t work on it at all as I’ve read that it’s always been considered a ‘bad’ technique (lack of control).

Recently, I decided to adopt the elbow as my primary motion and my accuracy has made some slight improvements, but not much (to be fair, I haven’t been practicing much). If I’m honest, I’ve never liked the feel and look of picking from the elbow and still don’t. The wrist just seems so much more logical and looks much more graceful.

I’ve tried picking strictly from the wrist for years and it’s only till actually going through the primer and studying it (still on chapter 4) that I’ve figured out what my picking technique is.

It’s somewhat of a DBX/ string-hopping motion using some wrist and a lot of forearm rotation… it’s a complete mess.

My question is, are certain picking motions simply NOT for certain people (one person’s joints and hands simply aren’t suited for using the wrist as the primary motion)? Should I accept my fate as an arm player?

I’d like to start over and learn a new picking technique from scratch, probably EJs wristed USX technique.



I’m wondering that too and I think that not enough research has been done to answer that. For me certain motions are way easier to acheive than others.

I don’t think you can really choose a technique to learn - the technique chooses you. You should give a try of all the stuff that CtC presents and just go for the first thing that feels like it’s working.


If it gives you any hope - I only had elbow for a longtime…only used it to tremolo chords/diads. I fought like hell to get a usable wrist motion, CtC really helped at the right time. I first developed a DSX mainly wrist with a bit of elbow, then later developed wrist based USX (hammering EJ-style pentatonic helped). Wrist based USX feels most like home now, however I make sure I use all motions I have. I believe it’s possible to learn any motion you want…it’s just a very individualized process.

Its a question that I have been pondering - is it a physical forearm difference that will never resolve or is it a matter of training unused muscles? Its funny how some guitarists find it immediately and others find it very hard or impossible.
I feel comfortable doing a DSX tremelo, but the starting on an upstroke feels awkward as hell. I’ve tried every possible combination for a USX motion, but It just feels so wrong I’ve given up with it.

This is something that in my opinion is unfortunately based on your body’s construction. I made a video asking about this kinda thing before.

For my two fave players Evh and Jason Becker, they both have unique hands that are well suited for their techniques. And my attempts at copying them are akward and forced, despite years of practice.
The construction of the arms and hands really does dictate the most efficient technique for you.

I don’t think we have enough evidence to say things like this. Who knows, maybe if I could spend some time with Troy I’d be playing USX with both my hands and legs. The more CtC spreads around the world, the more data we’ll have. I think it’s just the lack of knowledge that hinders progress, I suppose that unless you’ve had some kind of injury there is always a way for you to create an efficent DSX, USX and DBX movement. Knowing how to do it in a way that is acheivable for you is the hard part.

Achievable and efficient are two different things tho. There’s a reason people pick differently and it’s down to what felt right for their hand. And that’s a direct result of the construction of their hand, different hands have different ranges of motion and different levels of possible force production in those ranges.

It’s not that certain picking motions are impossible for some people, more that certain motions will be far more efficient.

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The truth may be somewhere in the middle, maybe some motions are just trickier to find. Wrist only DBX like Andy Wood blows my mind because as soon as you hit the string with an upstroke you stop flexion - and that creates a huge probability of starting to extend again thus doing stringhopping. Even with the tiniest amount of extension on the upstroke your movement will be inefficent. That is super tricky in my opinion. Wrist-forearm doesn’t have that because you keep flexing and rotating and you can’t flex and extend at the same time.

I was into sprinting for quite awhile before and one of the biggest factors even over technique was how much force you could put into the ground vertically in the shortest amount of time. And this was based on the amount of fast twitch muscles you had over slow twitch. Something you can’t really train for and was genetically gifted, certain drugs could help out mind.

I think many of us will have these same genetic differences all throughout the body. So some of us will be able to achieve a fast and small motion in order to get a certain technique working at speed, whereas others will be unable to. And will have to find a different technique that works better at speed for them. That’s my perspective anyway.


I believe they are, the same way that any movement in athletics or dance is attainable with skill and training. Olympic level performance perhaps requires some inherent potential amplified through training, but anyone can be trained in the fundamental movements of a sport.

On the guitar, some movements feel more natural for some players based on their setup, but the fundamental movements of right hand technique are much simpler than left hand technique. That makes them easier to break down into movements that can be trained. There are really only a few factors at play:

  • Pick Direction
  • Pick Angle
  • Trap/Escape
  • Rotation

If you can learn the different combinations of these, then you’ll have the basic patterns that create all the different movements in the Pickslanting Primer for example.

In different combinations the factors create techniques like:

  • DPS / USX Alternate Picking on 1 String
  • UPS / DSX Alternate Picking on 1 String
  • Double Escape [DBX] Alternate Picking on 2 Strings [Rotation]
  • Double Escape [DBX] Alternate Picking on All Strings [Rotation]
  • DPS Sweeping + Economy
  • UPS Sweeping + Economy
  • 2WPS Sweeping + Economy

Is it necessary to master all these to play the guitar? I don’t really believe it. Legendary players like Jimmy Page and Hendrix only had one real motion in lead lines: Downward pick slant alternate picking (and a lot of legato). Even a great virtuoso like Yngwie only uses the same primary motion. Most players gravitate towards what feels natural, and seek to master that technique.

The focus purely on picking also ignores the important art of legato, that I will argue is more important. The pick can only move as fast as the left hand can move. Legato perfects the fret hand coordination, accuracy and speed. If your legato isn’t smooth, the right hand sync is never going to be as tight. Except, I guess, in tremolo picking.

Only a few players like Gambale, Michael Romeo, Marshall Harrison, Tosin Abasi have really mastered all these techniques (and many more).

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This will seem pretty elementary to some, but it’s the kind of thing I’ve got to ask, as I’m still getting my head around some of the concepts here…

I’ll choose a fingerstyle piece or a strummy rhythm song to learn purely based on whether I like it; unless there’s some pretty unusual technique thing going on (which usually there’s not), I’ll be fine. But it sounds to me that when it comes to playing other people’s lead stuff (i.e. “covers,” not your own improv), you’ve got to first decide whether your motion will even allow for it.

Am I right? Is that what guys are doing when it comes to picking a new EVH or SRV (or whoever) song to learn…?

I think you shouldn’t overthink things, you can just try to translate the content to the movements you have, use some pullofs, start on an upstroke instead of down, etc. As a teenager I’ve played lots of Yngwie, Marty Friedman and some EJ while being DSX and not knowing that I’m doing their stuff upside down.

So I am… wrong;) Great - seriously, that’s good to know. What you’re saying makes perfect sense, but I had to hear someone say it to get it. Thx.

Interesting topic, but Troy seems to have quite a collection of picking motions/techniques to his arsenal. That tells me that it’s definitely possible to develop different motions. And yes, I (for one) totally agree that physiology will have an impact on what is going to come more naturally in regards to picking motions. I guess we can A) Do what comes naturally and “works” and take that to extremes - and find a “workaround” to solve the lines that don’t work. or B) get to work and really try and figure out what makes these motions tick - Lots of subtleties in every motion, so I guess it is what it is. Regardless, it’s going to take some effort either way to get the sounds we want to hear.

Quite a coincidence. I’m a sprinter too and been doing it for years (I just train myself these days). The research (particularly from Charlie Francis) that I came across convinced me that the whole fast/slow twitch muscle is a lot more complex and greatly oversimplified to the point that that’s all people think about for speed. Power lifters have insane amounts of FT muscles but are slow as hell.

There are many factors, but one of the hardest to train is something called the rate of impulse or, how much force you can apply within an extremely limited time frame. Still, there are ways to train it. Through proper training, a sprinter can probably beat 95% of people. Genetics comes into play at the elite levels. Just my opinion.

Back to guitar, I’m still going through the Primer (it’s a hell of a lot of material and I’m studying it).

My plan is to spend some time with each technique (arm, wrist, forearm etc.) and experiment with different pick strokes etc. after about a month or two, I’ll stop practicing with one the techniques I feel least comfortable with and continue. Hopefully, I’ll end up with one technique that I can focus on and master.

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Good luck! Just keep in mind that guitar is about coordination, not so much about strength. It’s not like your muscles get bigger and then you start playing faster. If you are an adult dude, you have all the gear required to play fast. It’s the matter of finding the right motion so don’t waste too much time practicing something that doesn’t feel like it’s going to get better. As I said before, give a try to all that CtC offers and stick to the first thing that feels comfortable and effortless.

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It’s not exactly a direct answer to the question, but @Troy and I noticed the following recurring issue in technique critiques (and this is something I also noticed in my own practice):

While learning new motions, people have a hard time trying to play fast and sloppy. As far as we know, this is the most effective way to discover things that work, and it’s the way Troy developed his numerous techniques. A lot of people, however, seem to struggle to go beyond the “slow and fully controlled” phase.

I’m not sure what is the reason behind this difficulty - is it a thing that comes with age (most of us here are well past our teens), where we became more cautious in our movements, and we don’t want to lose the feeling of control? Is it a mostly psychological thing due to years of “old school guitar advice to start slow”? Would be interesting to know.

If I may go for a slightly cheesy but related anecdote, my 2yold daughter recently learned how to jump, and it was interesting to watch. She didn’t start with a very slow and controlled movement (like a slow squat or something). She just tried to jump with one fast movement! At first her coordination between upper and lower body was completely off, so her feet wouldn’t actually leave the floor - was pretty hilarious to watch. But then she slowly started getting it, coordination improved, and now we can probably legally say that she can jump :smiley: But the speed of her movements never really changed.


If you’re into sprinting check out “bearpowered” forum if you’ve not already. Really great info on there for sprinting. Almost like cracking the code for sprinters.
I think there are a lot of parallels that can be applied to fast picking.

My short answer is I have no evidence for this at all. If you couldn’t make the joint motions that are used in most picking motions, you would have trouble in lots of everday activities. As far as I know, people who can’t do certain motions just don’t know how.

The problem i have found especially with USX is not getting the motion, but getting the fast twitchy reflex in that motion. I can get it with DSX, but the others still evade me.