Crosspicking vs. Two-way Pickslanting (A Rose By Any Other Name) Redux

Hi,

I’m have a few questions about crosspicking (CP) vs. two-way pickslanting (TWPS) and some related questions about tone. I noticed there was some discussion orbiting this topic in relation to a person who submitted a video of his technique for review. See:

Nonetheless, after watching Troy’s analysis and comments, I remain unclear about whether these in fact are different techniques. My first question is: are two-way pick slanting and cross picking equivalent? Relatedly, upon apply the two-way pickslanting technique is the crosspicking the natural evolution of two-way pickslanting. Another way to ask this question is: is crosspicking just an example of two-way pickslanting or vice versa? Does one subsume the other?

Or, are the techniques apples and oranges? While I recognize, some of this is semantics, I think perhaps clarification regarding precisely what characterizes TWPS and CP and the relative advantages/disadvantages of each would be clarifying. Another way to ask the question is whether there is simply a continuum between the two approaches in which one evolves into the other by continuously varying some parameter in your technique such as a particular motion.

While CP technique may naturally require TWPS as part of carrying out the technique, I am wondering if there is something more. In particular, Troy notes that CP involves a curved pick trajectory (more about this later). Does this define the difference? If so, does vanilla TWPS typically involve a linear picking trajectory in each direction?

I have always associated the CP technique with bluegrass players (while I recognize that many may use it) such as Tony Rice, Doc Watson, David Grier, Molly Tuttle, Carl Miner etc. I also noticed at Andy Wood seems to employ it at times but as based on the interview with Troy, he also utilizes TWPS. I noticed in particular, Molly Tuttle’s and David Grier’s hand/wrist motions appear rather complex at high level.

A related question is how CP vs. TWPS may affect the tone one can achieve with the instrument. My hypothesis which has not been verified is that the trajectory of the pick striking the string will have a demonstrable impact on the resulting excitation motion of the string, which will naturally be coupled to the resonant vibrations of other parts of the guitar such as the body, neck, etc. Whether there is an appreciable difference when using a more linear vs. curved trajectory in the generated waveform is not clear, but it seems plausible. With a curved pick trajectory, the acceleration and force of the pick will be perpendicular to the radius of the trajectory. With a linear trajectory, the acceleration will be along the trajectory.

I do know string vibrations are highly non-linear due to the varying tension and length of the string as it vibrates. Also, the curvature of the trajectory may likely set up different polarization modes of the string (circular, elliptical or linear), which one might naturally expect to affect the harmonic structure of the the final guitar timbre. Amplitude of the pick strike itself can control the natural resonant frequency. So there are a lot of very interesting effects regarding picking trajectory and tone.

Eric Johnson’s noted that he felt better tone was achieved by pulling the guitar string away (perpendicular) to the body, which led to his discussion of the bounce technique. I believe Troy picked up on this in his answer to the original question about CP vs. TWPS in relation to his discussion of string hopping.

In any case, it would be great to illuminate this topic in more detail.

Thank you for a really cool site and exploration!

-Jon

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2WPS works in the context of odd-numbered note groups on a string (3 / 5 / 7 etc.). The pick movement is a linear pick slant (either DPS or UPS), until the last stroke - where it curves to create a pick slant direction change (or escape direction) to prepare for the string change.

This curved stroke is the same as the cross picking motion, but in practice they feel very different IMO. The constantly turning attack in crosspicking is a totally different thing than the directional pickslant attack happening in 2WPS.

So, I agree that in theory these are similar motions - Crosspicking is a constantly changing 2WPS movement. However, they require distinct practice methods to master. Perfect 2WPS technique in 3nps scales doesn’t automatically allow you to cross pick 1nps arpeggios perfectly.

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Thanks. Curious as to why in theory they are the same other than the fact that CP will necessarily incorporate TWPS b/c of the curved radius. Other than the fact that CP naturally incorporates TWPS as a by-product of the technique, what else is similar between TWPS and CP. Based upon your comments it sounds like if they feel different then there is something mechanical going on in the motion that is different. But, again, I am not clear. If TWPS is purely linear in each direction, than I would argue it is quite different from CP, which incorporates a curved trajectory both in terms of the picking mechanics and the potential tonal characteristics you can achieve with in.

I can venture a guess as to why in theory CP would not allow the same speed potential as TWPS b/c effectively you are doing TWPS all the time regardless of whether you need it to cross strings. It would seem this is an unnecessary motion unless in fact CP provides tonal expressiveness, which is not possible with TWPS due to the different pick trajectories.

CP is not an unnecessary motion, it’s the most efficient way to alternate pick arpeggios. The question is if alternate picking is the most useful approach to arpeggio playing, when sweeping, hybrid, fingerstyle and legato are available and much more efficient, where the greatest “speed potential” is the goal.

I suspect that many players like the technique for tonal reasons, or they just have a preference for “pure” alternate picking everything.

Ok. But it’s interesting that they say CP limits your speed vs TWPS. So, it’s interesting to understand why that is.

Maybe I can give a loose metaphor to help you understand.

Have you ever run agility training drills (like this)?

The athlete runs a quick burst in one direction, then has to rotate around a marker and does a quick burst in a different direction.

This is like 2WPS. You get several strokes in a direction before you have to rotate and change to the opposite direction on a string change. Rinse and Repeat.

Now imaging that you’re doing that running drill, but every step you take is a direction change. Now it’s not really possible to sprint in a direction, it’s more of a constant leaping or skipping motion.

This is like Cross Picking. Every stroke is rotating or curving, so there’s no opportunity to create the benefit of a linear pickslant for multiple strokes on 1 string (like we get with 2WPS or 1WPS).

Both techniques have a rotation/direction change, but the frequency of that change creates a kind of speed limit.

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They’re just words at this point! We came up with them to describe what we were seeing. I’m not sure what the future of “two way pickslanting is”, but I can tell you we’ve 100% stopped using the term “crosspicking” to describe mechanical things, because nobody knew what we meant. There are three meanings that confused everybody because we were never clear which one we intended. When we mean “pickstroke that starts and ends in the air”, we now say “double escape pickstroke”. When we mean “picking style based primarily on double escape pickstrokes, for example like Carl Miner”, we pretty much say it exactly like that. And when we mean “arpeggio patterns played by bluegrass players”, we say “crosspicking”. So we’ve returned the term to original sense. Sorry for the confusion! We’re learning as we go.

So for exmple, if you’re trying to describe playing that looks like this:

…or like this:

…I would describe both of these as picking techniques that use double escape pickstrokes at slower speed, and a mix of pickstroke types as needed at higher speeds, performed primarily with wrist motion, without significant forearm involvement. So in other words, wrist technique. Andy Wood’s playing, Albert Lee’s playing, Steve Morse’s playing, and lots of other players look like this, with slight differences in the types of motions they choose for different phrases, but nevertheless mostly executed via the wrist.

What I would try to avoid is think of examples like this as “two way pickslanting” or “not two way pickslanting”, because it’s a term that never had any clear definition, and which we only realized in hindsight never had a clear definition. If we can come up with a clear definition, we’ll start using it again. I know that the term is still used in the Primer, but I am thisclose to removing all those chapters wholesale once we have something more practical to replace them with. Once again, apologies!

In the mean time, a good, practical approach for someone who wants to learn any picking technique is to decide on the physical motions you want to use first and foremost. This might be wrist, wrist-forearm, elbow, and so on. Then you choose a grip and arm setup, and try to get any of the basic motions that the joint is capable of. If it’s elbow, then that’s DSX motion, or USX for wrist-forearm, and so on. And then you throw some phrases at it and see if you can get those phrases smooth.

For a joint like the wrist, which can do all three pickstrokes, the best approach might be even less specific. You might try and find that centralized arm position that we outline in the Primer, and not think too much about which of the three motions you want to make. Instead, you just go the phrases and smoothness route, and let the hand try and sort out the rest. As you can see the Instagram clip, there is not any great alteration in form that happens once the line gets moving, it’s just tiny differences in the way wrist is moving that gets you over the string, and that you can’t always perceive beyond a very general feeling of smoothness or accuracy.

We’re still learning, but if you like wrist motions that’s one way you could try to approach this. @Bigsby007 is seeing good results with that in his thread:

The first attemps were very much “trying to do a thing with your arm that maybe isn’t necessary”. The most recent and much improved clips look a lot more like letting the wrist figure it out, and sound great.

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Thanks for the detailed response. I think you very clearly identify and illustrate one of the fundamental inherent challenges in flatpicking when you are changing strings - namely that the pick can become lodged between strings - and how that can be avoided using pick escape.

My main comment regarding “deciding on a physical motion” is that I would suspect for many that approach may be putting the cart before the horse. It’s hard to know what motion you desire without more information about the relative advantages and disadvantages of each approach. And, in fact any physical motion involves many subcomponents and is otherwise rather an abstract concept. My thoughts are that clearly to achieve speed, pick escape is necessary when changing strings. But, this begs the question, because pick escape is the intended final state of a picking trajectory. And, there are many potential picking trajectories that can lead to pick escape, although some may be suboptimal from a speed perspective, but perhaps more optimal from a tone perspective. I wonder whether the mechanics of how to achieve that trajectory are dependent upon and map to a particular picking mechanic.

Your second suggestion of starting with a centralized arm position and not thinking too much and letting your brain/hand intuitively sort out the rest seems like a reasonable approach especially for beginners. My only concern there from a pedagogical perspective is that this can lead to people developing and ingraining less than optimal habits by accident, which requires them to unlearn them later, which can be very challenging.

I’ve been working on analyzing my picking motion in the context of your tutelage and believe that one fruitful approach might be similar to how a drummer trains, namely by identitying a series of rudiments to be practiced. I think Molly Tuttle suggested something in this direction during your interview with her whereby she noted practicing, for example, between two different strings using a single note per string and other patterns such as arpeggios between three strings. I do believe there is something interesting here that could be developed in building up a focused set of exercises wherein each one focuses on one rudiment.

Anyway I do suspect that there are trade-offs between speed and tone with any approach, which is why I had originally mentioned the tone dimension as an important consideration in choosing a picking mechanic. In my opinion, tone is often neglected for speed and that is a shame as ultimately it’s about he musicality.

I think Eric Johnson made an interesting comment regarding his motivation for consciously choosing what he calls “bounce technique”, which I think you more or less equated with “string hopping”. He noted, if I recall correctly, that in his opinion better tone could be achieved by “picking away” from the body of the guitar. An interesting question is why this might be so. I believe a very fruitful inquiry would be understanding a bit more how pickiing trajectory impacts tone and this can definitely be studied.

Anyway, thanks for a really cool focused study of flatpicking. It’s long overdue and I’m sure there will be many new insights and discoveries ahead.

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I view cross-picking/double-escape as the 1nps technique, because it is ALWAYS escaped.

I view DWPS/UWPS/single-escaped as the 2nps technique, because it escapes every 2nd stroke.

I view 2WPS as the 3nps technique, because it escapes every 3rd note.

So I think that their underlying intent is radically different when viewed in terms of escape.

I love how the CtC team is focusing on escape, that Is arguably the equivalent of the Ancient Greek “atomic theory” of guitar picking.

I’ll confuse things some more and say I really find thinking about the type of pick stroke I want to use helpful, and knowing the difference between them. When you did that Robben Ford analysis for me, I had no way of playing double escaped strokes for brisk lines, but knowing that he did that started me on finding my way of doing that. I also know that if I push the pace a bit I’m moving from a double escaped motion to a single escaped motion.

I’m not totally sure it’s possible to really be conscious of what motions you’re making in all cases. Some of the time, sure, but other times possibly not. Just as an example, even at the medium speeds that you see in that Instagram clip, I have no overt sense of executing a double escape motion. I didn’t know that’s what I was doing until I watched the playback. All I could tell that was that it was smooth, clean, and synchronized. That’s what I’m feeling.

Where the technical knowledge becomes really helpful is that it gives you strong hints as to how to position yourself, and how specifically to move, so that you get close to the correct result as soon as possible. The technical knowledge also helps you evaluate afterward whether you’re doing it right. A thing can feel one way and look another way. The playback helps you sort out which is which. I can look at the playback and go, aha, that one felt smooth and it looks exactly like what it’s supposed to look like. So you learn to associate that feeling of smoothness with the correct attempt and eventually you can stop watching the playback.

It’s a little bit of technical, and a little bit of feel. They help each other.

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I think this is the perfect answer.

For what it’s worth, I think we most strongly associate the idea of “double-escaped” picking with repertoire that demands long sequences of consecutive double-escaped strokes. What CTC has referred to in the past as “two-way pickslanting” I think refers to repertoire that mostly can be played as single-escaped, but has intermittent double-escaped strokes. I guess one question that springs to mind for me is whether something like the “2WPS” licks we see from someone like MAB are also do-able in a “full time double-escaped” mode like what we see from the bluegrass people.

My impression is that “single-escape with intermittent double-escapes” (aka 2WPS) will feel qualitatively different from “full time double-escapes”. It seems to me that all (or nearly all) of the great double-escape picking we see is from people using a wrist-dominant motion mechanic to achieve it, while great single-escaped picking seems achievable with a wider range of motion mechanics. Where I think things get even more interesting is when you look at someone whose go-to single-escape motion is wrist-based (e.g. Andy Wood). In that case, it seems to me the line (if it exists at all) between “double escaped” and “2WPS” would be much more fuzzy.

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I view myself as 2WPS and I never double-escape. If I have 3 notes on one string my pick goes free to trapped, trapped to trapped, and then trapped to free.

I don’t know how many people double-escape to do 2WPS, but I would argue that if they can do that then why not ALWAYS do it, as it is much more flexible than alternatives?

When players like Andy Wood speed up, they still maintain the basic mechanics that they use for double-escaped 1nps picking, but the curve ‘falttens out’ a bit, and the stroke shortens a bit, so that he isn’t quite able to cleanly 2x escape anymore, so he then defaults to 1x escape that utilizes 2wps.

However, I agree with you that if you don’t have to do this, then don’t do it. Since you do lose your flexibility. It just becomes tough to cleanly 2x escape at high speeds; but its not impossible, and definitely worth striving for.

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