Confused about string changes

I’ve watched all the Pickslanting Primer videos and I’m watching/working through the Eric Johnson Seminar but it feels like something isn’t clicking. When I work on single string stuff (sort of Yngwie style) I feel like I’m “getting it” but as soon as I do EJ style string changes or 2 note per string pentatonic type stuff it feels like I’m “string hopping”. How do I fix this? I’m not 100% sure I’ve got all the terminology down. I’m playing mostly downward pickslanting/upwards escape because the upslant/downwards escape feels awkward as heck.

1 Like

Aaagghhhh do I wish I chose your screen name.

It’s always best to post a video of the problem since many people are either not explaining the actual problem, or us readers aren’t getting what’s described.

If you can do a tremolo on one string in the 160 - 180 bpm range and it’s clear that the pick is escaping on upstrokes, then we have to figure out what’s happening when you try to do the same thing when changing strings after just 2 notes. Most likely, from your report, the motion is changing. We’d have to see it to know for sure though.


Yeah, I can tremolo faster than that. I can play patterns/licks on a single string at about 170-180bpm (16th notes) but the string changes feel odd. Maybe it’s a working memory thing, maybe it’s a technique thing. How do people film accurate videos if they don’t have one of those magnets? Are they available for purchase?

1 Like

Hmmm that sounds suspicious to me. I’d experiment with phrases that change strings after a down stroke. Even though you mention you are going for USX (upstrokes escape), the string change portion should feel no different than the tremolo when this is all going correctly. This report would totally jive with an unexpected or misunderstood escape trajectory. And that’s where video would show us all exactly what’s going on.

You can prop a camera phone up on something, get a friend to film, selfie-stick or cheap content creator cellphone tripod. As far as I know the magnets are not available for the general public to purchase them yet, but it’s on Troy’s roadmap.


There is some info here which might help :slight_smile:

I don’t have a magnet, so instead I put my phone on some kind of stand on a table and sit next to the table with the neck of the guitar pointing towards the camera. From there i adjust the angle of the phone to get a good shot of my picking hand, and try to get the lighting in such a way that the pick + my picking hand are not in shadow

I hope this helps :slight_smile:


In order to play EJ lines, there is a minimum requirement: your tremolo motion must be USX. In other words, when you hold down a single note and play it fast, there must be a USX escape path where the upstrokes go up in the air and the downstrokes trap. If it’s not USX, you’ll get stringhopping or any number of other problems.

One thing I’ll mention is that self-taught USX players seem to be pretty rare. Most TCs we see are DSX. So the “failure to Yngwie” / “failure to EJ” problem is actually pretty common.

As usual, the only way to know what’s really going on is to look at your technique. I recommend making a TC, we’re happy to take a look!


Apologies if this has been addressed elsewhere, but is it best to post something at a speed where I’m just starting to lose accuracy or something where my technique is totally breaking down?

This is actually not at all surprising to hear. As someone who regularly teaches young kids (as young as eight years old) When given zero instruction DSX is probably 90% of the time what they wind up doing. I do have some older teenager USX students though, but as far as I know its only after I’ve taught them to anchor in ways that promote USX.

1 Like

Interesting. That makes sense! I do think it’s weird that some of the YouTube crowd, like me and Ben Eller, werel USX people first. To the extent that I had to first discover that DSX even existed, and then figure out how to do it. That, combined with the popularity of the whole “downward pickslanting” thing, probably convinced me that USX would be more common than it actually appears to be.

1 Like

A clear visual on the problem is the best, so yes, let’s see it really not working — whatever that means in your example.

Also, since this is a possible case of motion that isn’t really USX, it would be great if you can include a tremolo filmed from a down-the-strings perspective, i.e. using the instructions in the “Filming Your Technique” page in our help section.

Your motion tests are strong. Is your tremolo at or near the same speed as those tests, or is it a fair amount slower? If it’s slower, then also include footage of one of those, like the Di Meola test.

So three things: the problem, the tremolo, and if picking speed is an issue, the motion test. Thank you!

1 Like

Noted. I’ll get on that tomorrow for sure. My absolute fastest tremolo is a different technique. Probably more DSX, but everything is tense that way and my wrist/hand position is different doing that max speed tremolo than it is with any other playing. I’ll look over all these links again and post a video tomorrow. Thanks so much for all the support. I’m loving the videos so far, and the fact that an Eric Johnson seminar even exists is motivating…even if I only ever get to a fraction of EJ’s awesomeness (which goes beyond technique imho).

This is a common problem — one which the lessons are specifically designed to solve. We want the motion you use for everything you play to also have fatigue-free, tremolo-level performance. This way there is not an awkward zone where you have to switch from the “motion I use for lead playing” to “motion I use only for tremolo”, which may have higher speed but less capability in other areas.

Given this, I suggest filming the EVH tap test since your score on that is more than fast enough to be your all-around picking motion where no adjustment is needed to get to tremolo speeds. If it looks good, we may simply adapt that instead. I’d still like to see the current general-purpose technique and why it’s not working though.

For feedback from us, please use the TC functionality on the platform as opposed to the forum. This makes each TC its own date-stamped entry with notes, multiple attached videos with their own descriptions, comments, alerts, etc. It’s much more organized for us in terms of providing meaningful feedback and tracking performance. Thank you!


Howdy @Troy (and thanks @SomeAverageJoe for starting this thread), your comments about switching technique of are particular interest to me as I think I’ve just gotten to the bottom of the speed boundary (should we call it the ‘sound barrier’?) in my case.

I’ve noticed that my technique (ha ha :sweat_smile:) involves different ‘gaits’, where I use wrist for lower speeds (walking), but there’s some boundary where my brain decides I need to switch to elbow for higher speeds (running).

By way of evidence, I noted what was going on in this picking subdivision exercise (tempo = 80 BPM):

After reading your comment, should I be working on eliminating that boundary or transition zone by trying to unlearn switching to my elbow at higher speeds? To use the gait analogy, rather than moving from walking to running, should my quick picking just be walking, sped up?

To put it another way, as I’m not trying anyone else’s technique (I just want to fix my own at this stage), should I be aiming for one movement (e.g. wrist) to service all tempos?

Please forgive my ramble; I am a chronic overthinker and I like to worry about everything. :1st_place_medal:

Thanking you mate! :metal: :heart:

1 Like

Playing guitar fast is more like sprinting. Just like walking and sprinting are 2 different motions, it’s really hard to use the same exact motion slow that you are using fast. Consider this funny video

That is walking sped up. It looks nothing like sprinting and that’s why no one can actually walk that fast. To get to that speed, you need “Another motion” - sprinting

If elbow is what you can do fastest, that is what’s going to be your recommended motion. At least to start with. Getting “some” fast motion gives you a baseline. You can always try learning other motions and you’ll know right away if you’re doing it right. Because you’ll recall how “easy” it felt to get that fast motion with the pick gliding through the string.

1 Like

Well… Usain Bolt apparently runs at 27.8mph at his peak. Normal people jog at 8mph, and walk at something like 3mph. A guitar pick moves, on average, no faster than 0.76 mph, and that’s actually really slow—four times slower than walking.

(Where does this number come from? Let’s take a 200bpm metronome with 16th notes where each stroke is 1 inch, that’s “200 * 4 * 1 inch / minute in mph” [type that into Google] and 0.76mph comes out. Hopefully I did that right!)

So fast picking isn’t really fast, in many regards. I suspect (no proof, as always!) that the difficulty involves rapidly changing direction; that has to happen 13.3 times a second. I’m still wondering about this problem, that’s the reason that I mention it here, some people might have good ideas to share with me. So I have convinced myself (watch out!) that the best way to improve speed is to look at what is slowing down those changes in direction.

Interesting, but I’m not sure this is a really relevant comparison. 16ths at 220bpm that move a slightly smaller distance, .9 inch, is a marginally slower mph speed than 16ths at 200 moving one inch, yet clearly it is faster. A slightly better comparison might be steps taken per second versus pickstrokes, but this is still apples and oranges. Sprinting is, simplistically, about covering maximum distance in stride with maximum leg alternation, fast picking is generally the minimum needed distance with maximum pick direction reversal.

That said, I do agree picking speed is changing direction, and that would ultimately be some combination of chosen technique and neuromuscular efficiency. I’m not sure how well one can train a given technique to reverse direction quicker beyond the initial phase of learning it.

1 Like

Right, so you have no choice about how many changes of direction you have, the song’s tempo dictates that. However, you do have some choice about your speed, in the sense that if you cover less distance you can even go slower than 0.76 mph.

I’ve convinced myself that it’s all about changing direction quickly; indeed, this is why small motions are not important, they don’t have much impact (per your example of an inch vs. 0.9 inch), and the speed is so slow, anyway. Now, that said, I could be wrong, but for now, I’m trying to think about changing direction faster.

I agree to me it’s missing the point and taking the “speed” definition much too literally (distance divided by time). That’s like saying Usain Bolt on an elliptical machine going as “fast” as he can is going zero mph because he’s not traveling any distance. While accurate, technically, it’s misleading as the effort required for the motions he’s generating tell a different story. Our picking travels a very small distance, yes, but the motions we have to trigger to get the pick to change direction are extremely rapid and much more complicated for the nervous system than simply walking.

I think the point is, even if we take the speed definition literally, it’s really hard to use the same motion to pick .76 mph (16ths at 200 bpm) than it is to pick .38 mph (16ths 100 bpm).

All that said, @kgk that “speed” concept we all talk about…it’s pretty funny that by the textbook definition it’s not so “fast” at all lol! I guess maybe a better analogy is like rpm’s in a vehicle, though that breaks down on the other side of the analogy as I’m pretty sure the motions of the machine are identical regardless of how fast the vehicle moves. I suppose all analogies break down at some place. I still like the sprinting = shredding and slow playing = walking concept though. I think for all intents and purposes it’s the closest apples-to-apples of what’s going on with out “speed” quests.

1 Like

Exactly, “speed” is a BAD analogy.

Yes, this is a WONDERFUL analogy; RPM is in terms of things happening per second, and we all want to reach 13.3 strokes/second. What is technically exact I believe is SPM (strokes per minute).

Shred is basically about reaching 800 SPM.

So what is happening is that people can’t reach 800 SPM, and are stopping sooner.

Now, is this merely an academic detail, or is it actually useful? I suspect it’s important to always ask, “how can I change direction faster and increase my SPM?” No proof, however, merely intuition, for the little that it is worth.

1 Like

Introducing an analogy brings a risk of diverting the discussion into a debate about the validity of said analogy! Thanks everyone; I will think about what you’ve written.

That being said, my hypothesis is that I switch to elbow from wrist as a fear response (oh no, here comes the quick bit!) rather than because I’m choosing to. And as we all know, there’s a big difference between performing an action because you want to, or because you have to!

If I concentrate really hard, I can sometimes switch from elbow back to wrist to play the same fast part. I think this might be a long term goal, because if I have to a certain movement to hit a certain RPM, then that means it’s possible that in one line I have to switch movements for a few notes (e.g., 16ths = wrist, 16th triplets = elbow). Surely it’s better/more efficient to just use the one movement and modulate it, especially if you’re operating on that boundary between two movements?

But focussing on this could be a distraction which is why I’m here asking you big brains; I am very aware of my overthinking tendencies. So thanks all for your input, it’s been really interesting hearing your thoughts. :metal: :heart: