Could there exist a picking tech with alternating muscular motions?

First, to establish some context for this question: I’m wondering about single-string tremolo playing, which is generally, and rationally, regarded as the ideal environment for maximum alternate-picked note speed. Second: among the different muscle groups responsible for picking motions, as documented here on CTC, it seems that pure elbow motion is the fastest single muscular axis for generating that tremolo speed. That is, maximum attainable speed seems to consist of a cycling pattern of elbow downstroke, elbow upstroke, repeat.

Here’s the premise that I can’t get out of my head: would it be possible to surpass that single-joint elbow speed with a combination of muscle group movements, in sequence? That is to say, to blend two motions together: for example, elbow downstroke, elbow upstroke, then wrist downstroke, wrist upstroke. Coordination issues aside, it seems plausible; anecdotally, it seems that the maximum speed between just two notes on the same string–downstroke upstroke–is about the same regardless of which picking motion you use.

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This is something I’ve thought about and I believe the answer is a definitive “No.”

Supposing we have 4 basic component movements, being wrist down (WD), wrist up (WU), elbow down (ED) and elbow up (EU). Let WD and WU be a complementary pair and let ED and EU be a complementary pair.

There are two distinct possibilities. The first is that the cycle involve only strokes followed by their natural complements. For example, we could have the sequence


Then, this larger cycle contains the transitions WD to WU and ED to EU. The potential speed of the cycle is now limited by the potential speed of these transitions. In fact, limited by whichever transition is slowest. Meaning if pure elbow is faster than pure wrist, the larger cycle is at least slower than pure wrist.

Now, suppose instead we follow a stroke by the stroke in the opposite direction which is not complementary. For example, after WD we use EU.

We attempt to complete a sequence in this fashion, and we have


Well, what comes next? It can’t be ED, or we have the previous problem of naturally complementary pairs. It can’t be WU, as that gives two sequential upstrokes which is not possible on the same string. It can’t be WD, the wrist has just completed a downstroke and has not returned through its neutral position. So there is no suitable option, and the cycle fails.

Given some very natural assumptions, this becomes a completely rigorous mathematical proof for the case of two antagonistic pairs.


Your antagonistic pairs analysis is spot-on, and this was a problem I encountered as soon as I experimented with it. That eliminates any two-motion combination that doesn’t use paired motions categorically (although, interestingly, it doesn’t necessarily rule out a three-motion combination: wrist down, elbow up, forearm down, wrist up, elbow down, forearm up).

As far as paired motions, the question becomes: what, actually, is the limiting factor in a single motion’s speed? Is it the individual gap between down and up, or is it the repetition/fatigue? If WD-WU is just necessarily mechanically slower than ED-EU, on a per-note basis, that closes the book on that option as well. But if it’s a question of fatigue, or any speed limit that only kicks in above a two-note distance, it’s not necessarily sorted.

Three motions requires that you can achieve completely independent strokes with the wrist and forearm, which I don’t believe is possible in practice. The only other alternative is to include a finger based movement, which I don’t believe is possible in practice either.

If it’s of any interest to you, I believe that the primary reason that elbow movements can be faster than wrist movements is that the elbow joint moves a longer lever, so that a smaller degree of elbow movement can result in a movement of the pick that is large enough to be effective.

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super interesting stuff!

I hate that built in speed limit - for me it’s 15 notes per second - wrist deviation or forearm rotation. Havn’t tried elbow - seems clumsy.

But we have these mechanics to play with in speed order (which I think is limited to tendon/muscle size?)

Torso rotation

Maybe some wacky combination could bust thru that raw limit?

Simply saying - with alternate picking you need to return your pick to the starting point somehow. Which means that you’d have to do reverse motion. These motions may have different purpose but they still will be antagonistic. For example you can make a downstroke using your forearm, then use wrist rotation to make an upstroke, but you still need to move your forearm back. So despite the fact that you use these forearm motions for a different purpose (downstroke/returning) you still have to do them.

Also it depends on a motion size. For guitar picking elbow is an unmatched speedster. There were thread on “hyperpicking” where a guy picked like about 300+ bpm. Even a slowhand like me can do tremolo picking at 240-260bpm using elbow, but motions must be pretty small.
As for fingers - they can be fast but in a limited motion range. I found that the best way for me to use them is to blend them with wrist motion, which I called “perpendicular picking” )
Wrist motion goes up+to neck/down+to bridge, while fingers motion (“sarod picking”) goes up+to bridge/down+to neck. When combined they make a trajectory which is almost perpendicular to strings… though it depends on phase between them. If these two kinds of motions are shifted you get “circular picking”.

Actually when I experimented wit perpendicular picking I tried to use flexion/extension instead of fingers to get “sarod picking” component, which made me to raise my hand above the strings, plant my fingers… and I ended up with Batio position ) While this stuff is fast I don’t like it much because of my palmmuting habits.

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I feel like you owe it to the world to take this as far as it can go, now you’ve come up with it as a possibility.

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Lmao - I actually chuckled when I typed that in lol
But it is a mechanic that’s usable - although I suspect the world would end up whirling dervish guitarists menacing the planet :stuck_out_tongue:

Have you tried fret hand index finger muting? I use that for muting when I’m using full blown rotation - frees up tons of movements that palm muting strangles

I tried it, got one note out… and died.

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Where did you hold your pick?

I could tell you… but I might stutter!

I use it in that common way - for muting higher string. Though not always succesful ) I mean I started with an acoustic guitar, and I’d been learning for a long time how to press frets so that every string could sound at the moment. So now I’m learning how to play in the way so every string is muted except one I’m currently playing. Contradictory things upset me )

Yeah I use it when I’m full on forearm rotation only - it’s a godsend - totally frees up a lot of movements. I also use it to fake chugging - which is pretty cool - tho a little bit tricky to get right.

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