Further Reflections on Power Licks/Power Solos

As I mentioned in the thread about Efficient Digital Cycles (EDCs), I recently re-watched Power Licks and Power Solos in preparation for a thread on the fretting postures and strategies I use in my playing. The thread on EDCs is here for reference:

My discovery of EDCs was by far my biggest takeaway, but as mentioned in that thread, I have other observations and thought’s that I’d like to share here.

First, I reflected more upon Shawn’s pick grip, which I’ve demonstrated here:

I’ve used this grip for years, and I have always felt that this grip allows for my fastest possible picking speeds. I think what really makes this grip so effective is that it simultaneously limits available pick depth while allowing for extreme edge picking angles. The grip acts as a natural depth gauge while picking, minimizing pick depth while still ensuring effective contact with the string. The extreme degree of edge picking allows the string an easy release from the pick during the picking movement.

If I try to pick with this grip using a standard sized pick, it feels like I’m walking around in clown shoes. I struggle to make an effective picking movement and the rounded point just rubs uselessly back and forth along the string I’m trying to pick.

Consider these pictures, and notice the minimal pick depth available

It’s notable that the maximum pick depth available is about 1mm. Shawn picks close to the bridge pickup when playing fast picking licks/patterns. As we fret notes, the fretted string dips beneath the plane described by the other strings. The amount the string moves below the plane is variable and depends on the fretted note. The dip is greatest at the fret and and negligible at the bridge. Picking near the bridge minimizes the unpredictability introduced by this factor. Also, a ringing string is displaced from its neutral position a lesser amount near it’s endpoints, further reducing the unpredictability of picking a vibrating string.

Let’s consider a little geometry now, this should be familiar to most here. You’ve seen calculations like these in CTC material before.

We notice that as the pick depth decreases, the angle required of picking plane (the pickslant) relative to the plane of the strings diminishes, and the radius of an effective crosspicking movement increases. Further, lesser rotations are required to re-orient the picking planes when switching between USX and DSX motions.

The slant angles and crosspicking radii required when pick depth is kept below 1mm are practically invisible. Based on the slow examples in Power Licks where the pickstrokes are clearly visible, I believe that Shawn’s wrist mechanic was always slightly curved.

As has been noted before on this forum, most of Shawn’s picking patterns conform to USX, as is evident based on the changing of strings after upstrokes or with ascending sweeping. There are however, a few patterns where Shawn utilized DSX or two-way escapes.

In particular, the descending sixes pattern and the descending fours and fives pattern both begin on upstrokes, and the picking follows the typical USX strategy. In watching Shawn play these patterns, it appears that the angle of his pickslant remains essentially constant throughout.

The ascending sixes pattern, however, begins on a downstroke, which would conform to DSX. It’s observable that Shawn actually has a small redundant rotation of the picking plane from a DSX plane to a USX plane in each group of six while playing this sequence.

-------------|-------------|
-------------|-------------|
-------------|-------------|
-------------|-------6-7-9-|
-------6-7-9-|-6-7-9-------|
-6-7-9-------|-------------|
 d u d u d u   d u d u d u

While Shawn could pick all six notes of this pattern, he frequently hammed the the 2nd and 3rd notes, reducing the picking difficulty significantly.

-------------|-------------|
-------------|-------------|
-------------|-------------|
-------------|-------6-7-9-|
-------6-7-9-|-6-7-9-------|
-6-7-9-------|-------------|
 d h h u d u   d h h u d u

Perhaps more interesting are the patterns where he plays ascends with descending sixes and ascends with descending. The descending sixes still begin on an upstroke, and the ascending sixes still begin on a downstroke.

Ascending with the descending sixes pattern

-------------|-------------|
-------------|-------------|
-------------|-------------|
-------------|-9-7-6-------|
-9-7-6-------|-------9-7-6-|
-------9-7-6-|-------------|
u d u d u d    u d u d u d

Descending with the ascending sixes pattern

-------6-7-9-|-------------|
-6-7-9-------|-------6-7-9-|
-------------|-6-7-9-------|
-------------|-------------|
-------------|-------------|
-------------|-------------|
 d u d u d u   d u d u d u

Again, Shawn can pick every note of these patterns, but often includes hammers to reduce the picking complexity.

A natural question then, if Shawn’s picking was primarily USX, why play ascending sixes beginning with a downstroke? The ascending sixes pattern, beginning with an upstroke exactly fits the USX methodolgy, but Shawn doesn’t play it that way.

I think there are two reasons for this. The first is that playing ascending sixes with DSX allows him to turn around to descending sixes with USX as described below:

-------6-7-9-7-6-------|
-6-7-9-----------9-7-6-|
-----------------------|
-----------------------|
-----------------------|
-----------------------|     
 d u d u d u d u d u d
 [  DSX  ]r[   USX   ] 

The second reason, is that Shawn had a strong preference for outside string changes. In fact, in the picking sequences Shawn demonstrates, every string change either exactly fits the USX approach, or it’s an outside change. Even within USX, Shawn had a preference for the ascending sweep and allowable outside change than the allowable inside change. Actually, the allowable inside string change appears primarily is his 2 note per string pentatonic playing.

It is my belief that this is strongly indicative of systematic swiping.

The Jorge Strunz footage has shown us that it’s possible to have (almost) imperceptible systematic swiping mechanics. Though Jorge has different mechanic to Shawn, there are distinct similarities between his grip and Shawn’s, both sharing shallow pick depths and a severe degrees of trailing edge picking.

I believe that as Shawn began to play faster, his body tried to further reduce the amount of rotation of his picking plane and to further flatten any curvature of his wrist based picking movements. These movements, though possibly still present at high speed, would be insufficient to clear the strings on string changes, but would further reduce his picking depth, resulting in an imperceptible swipe.

Shawn’s pick attack was usually quite soft due to the shallow pick depth and the severe edge picking. With a further diminished pick depth, I believe that swiped string changes, would be imperceptible, even swipes through two strings.

Systematic swiping explains a further inconsistency. We can deduce that Shawn primarily utilized USX and most of his picking patterns reflect this. However, I have believed for some time that at his fastest speeds, Shawn switched to an elbow driven picking movement. I’ve made a case for that before, in this post:

An elbow driven picking movement should not be compatible with USX patterns; as far as we understand, the elbow simply doesn’t do USX. @Troy has discussed this.

However, if the picking plane is essentially flat, with no slant at all, we can still perform ascending sweeps and swiped outside string changes. That is, systematic swiping allows for USX patterns which do not involve the allowable inside change to be played with an elbow driven movement. While there would now be no diminished pick depth due to incomplete plane rotation or over-flattened crosspicking, a constant, shallow pick depth could be maintained. At the speeds where the elbow mechanic would kick in, I doubt that any increases to swiping noise could be heard at all.

The other thing I really noticed while watching Power Licks and Power Solos again, is a lot of acoustic noise that is not present in the amplified guitar sound. This can’t be pick attack, we’d hear it in the amplified signal and we just don’t. What’s making this noise, as far as I can tdeduce, is the fretting hand fingers causing strings to vibrate between the nut and the fretting finger. Essentially, every note played at high speed was hammered.

Shawn demonstrates licks/patterns utilizing both descending hammers and hammers from nowhere elsewhere in the video. Since the fretting fingers have a definite, hammering action, that hammering action provides a landmark for synchronization between the fretting hand and the picking hand on almost every note played. Further, if the picking hand were to whiff, and miss a string at any point, the hammering action would likely cause the note to ring out anyway.

Lastly, this was the first time I have ever watched Power Licks & Power Solos and felt that everything demonstrated was achievable for me. I can move my fretting hand that fast. Most days, I now have a picking movement (from Shawn’s grip) which I can get to that speed. I can play some of the licks/patterns at full speed or close to it. Some quite well, some not fully clean yet. I understand the construction the fretting sequences in terms of EDCs and I understand the picking sequences.

Some of Shawn’s fans believe that he was somehow physically exceptional, and that the level he achieved was unattainable for the rest of us. I think this is too convenient. I think it’s an excuse. I think that by understanding the mechanics he discovered intuitively, the rest of us can perform those same feats. Moreover, I believe that we can deconstruct his playing, and maybe even use the lessons we learn to take what he did even further.

Tom.

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Another great post/article @Tom_Gilroy, thanks again for sharing your research work :slight_smile:
This time it took me a bit longer to digest all the arguments.

The only thing left unclear for me is: is it really possible to perform a smooth downward sweep with the elbow mechanic? If I try to incorporate that within my elbow-UWPS-DSX technique, I get hopelessly stuck most of the time.

But then again I don’t use Shawn’s grip nor do I pick with little depth.

Another question: did you figure out the exact picking sequence for Shawn’s famous “outside sound” diminished lick(s)? He claims at some point that he can do it picking every note, but I am not sure he does - well at least I hope so because that would be scary :smiley:

For a 2 string sweep I believe it’s absolutely possible. When then suspected elbow movement kicks in in Shawn’s playing, his picking plane seems to be parallel to the plane of the strings, and the plane rotations we see in his wrist based picking seems to disappear entirely. My belief is that he’s double-trapped, and his string changes are ascending sweeps or swiped outside changes. The shallow depth and the lack of an effective DSX pickslant eliminate the garage spikes problem.

On Power Licks, I’m sure that diminished lick is:

down, hammer, hammer, up, down, up  

There’s no visible picking movement on the 2nd and 3rd notes and there’s no audible pick attack either when the audio is slowed down. When he says to pick in such a way that it makes a snap, he performs the coordination a little more slowly, and those strokes don’t seem to be there.

I think he probably could have done it though.

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Oh I see, of course it’s gotta be the same as what you outlined for the scalar ascendeing 6s! That explains why he can perform an almost exxagerated rotation to reach the higher string: he has loads of time to do it while hammering the two notes.

Thanks again!

Cool write up! Basically I sat down to practice my technique this morning and after reading two of your posts about Shawn Lane, I came away with “do less picking and more hammer ons and hammer ons from nowhere!” If SLane is using a lot of hammer ons then I have to get that up to par! Looks like it’s time to add something else to my practice repertoire. Thanks for the insights. Now on to read your Holdworth hammer on from nowhere thread!

@Tom_Gilroy hey how’s it going? I was thinking of this thread and your EDC work when I read this article about Shawn Lane yesterday:

Have you seen this one before? Particularly, this stood out to me:

The footage we have of him obviously speaks for itself, but it’s cool that he was aware of this and that it was quite intentional. Even enough to pass onto others in informal lessons.

Also, on a related note, I wanted to ask you if you’ve come to any conclusions on which fretting hand finger joints are most responsible for the fastest movements? For example, is the motion driven from the knuckle joint (matacarpophangeal) alone? Do the smaller joints in the finger also move in support, or should they remain fairly fixed? How does curvature impact efficiency, etc? Watching Shawn’s playing, it sort of looks to me like each finger moves as a unit. Some have more curvature than others. The pinkie looks flat most of the time. Middle finger curves a little (makes sense, it is longer). Index is essentially a moving capo that’s always ‘ready’ and doesn’t really appear to ‘play’ for most of it…just drags around, other than some isolated spots:

I realize that’s just one example. You’ve looked at his work exhaustively so I was curious if you noticed any patterns or ‘rules’ to his left hand motion mechanics. It’s possible you’ve listed them in other threads and I’ve missed them.

Hi @joebegly.

Yes, I was aware of this article, though I discovered it after studying the anatomy of the hands and studying footage of Shawn’s playing.

I also think it’s very interesting that he was consciously aware of the his preference for (1 2 3) and (1 2 4) combinations, but I think the reason given in that article is off the mark. It really isn’t an issue of strength, and the comparison to Django and Hendrix seems patently ludicrous to me.

The simple fact is that (3 4) combinations are inherently more strenuous than other combinations for anatomical reasons.

Yes, I do.

Almost entirely, for several reasons.

Try grasping something (a broom handle, for example) as fast as you possible can. The hand can close extremely quickly, this is one of the fundamental tasks our hands are adapted for.

A fast grasping action involved a concerted contraction of the flexor digitalis group. When this action is analysed, we see that although every joint of each of the fingers begins to flex, the most notable degree of flexion occurs at the metacarpophalangeal joints. When these joints reach their maximum degree of flexion, the proximal interphalangeal joints begin to flex more quickly, until they too reach maximal flexion. Finally, the distal interphalangeal joints begin to flex more quickly, securing the grip and completing the grasping action.

In this manner, the tips of the fingers describe the widest possible arc as quickly as possible.

Trying to flex the proximal interhalangeal joints without flexing the metacarpophalangeal joint requires the engagement of the extensor group. Trying to quickly flex and extend with the proximal interphalangeal joints only requires the constant activation of the extensor group, which leads to fatigue. The extensor engagement also slows the flexion movement since they oppose the flexors. Finally, the shorter distance from the proximal interphalangeal joint to the finger tip results in a smaller arc, and hence less distance is travelled for the same degree of flexion.

The EDCs I’ve outlined are essentially repeated grasp and release actions, where the grasp and release are skewed so the fingers close from 1st to 4th or from 4th to 1st. They’re not only not hindered by limitations on finger independence, they actually exploit the the fact that the fingers are not independent.

When the finger frets the finger follows it’s natural flexion path as closely as possible. When the fingers lift they follow their natural extension path as closely as possible. This allows for the rapid firing of antagonistic movements.

A straighter finger describes a wider arc, which allows greater distance to be travelled with a smaller degree of flexion/extension at the metacarpophalangeal joint.

That said, it’s important to understand that the amount of curvature is a property of the hand at rest and how it is applied to the guitar. Trying to control curvature without altering posture requires tension.

This is largely true, because his hand at rest was quite open and the metacarpophalangeal joints were almost neutral in his playing posture. Since he didn’t need much flexion to make a large fretting action due to his posture, there’s minimal change at the other joints.

Actually, the “moving capo” idea for the index finger isn’t correct. Fretting constantly with the index finger would require a constant tension in the flexor group which would slow the lifting of the other fingers. Shawn’s index finger is in flux between flexion and relaxation and extension. Granted, not much extension (not much is required, after all).

Another interesting thing to point out is that while Shawn hammered a huge proportion of the notes he played, he used pull-offs with much less. Shawn rarely played “rolling” legato passages like

-5-6-8-6-5-6-8-6- etc
 1h2h4p2p1h2h4p2p

Where the lower fingers fret continually during the action of the higher fingers. While man guitarists can play these rolls at typical “fast” speeds (Satriani, Vai, etc), literally nobody plays them as fast as Shawn could play his patterns. These rolling patterns are simply less efficient than the EDCs, both due to inefficient cycling and the tension required to fret the lower notes during the action of the fretting fingers.

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@Tom_Gilroy I just want to say props for putting so much time into this, and for the level of detail!

I took some lessons from a great teacher and one of the first things he did was tell me about Shawn Lane and teach me this picking style (he used it himself pretty exclusively) and it definitely felt smoother with a rolled off attack. I tried it for a bit (over a decade ago) and didn’t stick with it, but on a whim I tried it last night and sure enough it’s still something I can do. I still prefer the way I pick now for the attack and ease of switching into heavy rhythms, but that’s just me.

Hilariously, I ended up being in a hardcore band where the other guitarist used the same picking style and really made it work for aggressive music.

Thanks for the reply Tom, great insight as always.
Regarding that index finger not remaining static, are you saying it should always lift, emptying its tension, after it plays? Or is this just if a position shift occurs? For example, if I were attempting to play one of those boring Al Di Meola patterns as fast as possible (no legato, all picked), just staying on one string, something like 10 12 14 10 12 14 over and over…should the index finger remain fretted the whole time? I can see how if this were done for a long span that it could contribute to some tension, and may curtail stamina or speed to fade. But then again having that finger down already I would think would allow me to play that note more quickly every time it comes up, since it’s already fretted. But maybe that’s not true, since you’re saying it could make it tougher for my pinkie to release as quickly as it could with that index held down. That’s a question, not a challenge to your theories BTW :slight_smile: I want to make sure I am understanding that. Everything else I follow.

Here’s another interesting thing I’ve noticed about Shawn’s playing and it is also seen in Zakk Wylde’s playing as well. They both use unusual patterns for three note per string scale shapes. Most of us learn 3NPS scale shapes in a very “mathematical” way- by strictly playing major scales in a 3NPS manner you end up with 7 total unique patterns, one for each mode. However, I think Zakk and Shawn (and also Yngwie in some of the CTC Seminar examples) took an approach to 3NPS playing that was ergonomic instead of strictly following the scale. Basically adding a repeated note into the patterns if it facilitated faster and more ergonomic playing. Take a look at these examples from Zakk to see what I mean. I haven’t gotten around to practicing these but basically they greatly simplify the shifting by adding repeated notes.

Thank you.

Thank you.

I wouldn’t say always, as there are specific situational fretting sequences where continuing to fret with a lower finger during the action of the higher finger is appropriate. However, the vast majority of Shawn’s fastest lines are not based upon those situational sequences. They’re based on the EDC principle.

I’m quite comfortable making the general assertion that in the specific context of lines derived from the EDCs, the lower fingers should release during the action of the higher fingers. Thinking of this as a “lift” might be a little misleading, as it might suggest more extension of the lower finger than is required. A “lift” is obvious when fretting a new note on another string or another fret, but the action is very subtle where the same note will be fretted again. Releasing the tension is probably a more helpful conceptualization of the action.

That specific sequence would most likely be a (1 2 4) EDC. The index finger should release during the duration of the note fretted with the middle finger.

Possibly. The flexors are typically much stronger than the extensors, so there may not be any fatigue to the flexors. However, tension in the flexors makes the job of the extensors more difficult, and I can definitely see that leading to extensor fatigue.

In specific situations, this can be the case. I don’t believe this to be the case in the context of lines based upon EDCs.

That is precisely the problem, though Isuspect a continually fretting index finger would have a more pronounced effect in slowing the lifting of the middle finger.

As a general observation, the index finger is by the most independent of the fingers (except of course for the thumb). It seems to me that limiting it’s role to that of a “moving capo” is terribly sub-optimal.

Yes, I thought this was pretty well known. The doubled note and its effects on the note content of Shawn’s digital sequences is notable in his playing.

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Great. Thanks again Tom. I am very interested in this topic. Troy recently helped me tap into my fastest default picking movement. My problem is now is that my left hand can’t keep up or sync totally, so your principles are going to be golden in that quest. How’s the book coming along, by the way?

I have several chapters written and a full comprehensive plan of the content. I’ve decided it is probably for the best to focus on a first volume on fretting principles, leaving other topics to another volume.

I’ve been taking a break from it for the past few weeks. I had been getting a bit tight in my shoulders and forearms from typing, and I wanted to spend a little time letting some ideas solidify and try to apply them to my own playing.

The COVID situation here in Ireland is improving. We’re out of lockdown. My girlfriend had time off from work for the past few weeks, so I’ve been focused on spending time with her before she has to spend some time abroad before the end of the year.

I’ll re-focus on writing again soon enough. I’m just taking some time to enjoy doing things I hadn’t been able to do in months like jiu-jitsu and climbing.

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Is there somewhere to support you financially or otherwise with the book, like Patreon or something? :slightly_smiling_face: I always enjoy reading your thorough posts and looking forward to purchasing your book!

Hi @AndreasNasman.

No, not at this time. While I’m grateful for the offer and I’m very glad you appreciate my writing, I’d rather not take money from anybody without delivering a product or service.

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