Getting rid of wrist picking

Hi everyone,

I have been trying to learn proper alternate picking over and over again for the last decade, which always ended in frustration or forearm tendonitis. The last serious attempt is still documented on this forum somewhere, it basically looked something like this:

My biggest issue wasn’t even the string crossing but the motion mechanic itself. After watching Yngwie, Gilbert and Petrucci instruction videos, it always was crystal clear to me that you have to pick from the wrist. And I still have no idea why, but I just can’t pick faster than 150 bpm in 16notes from the wrist, even on a single string and extended practice sessions always ended in some weird wrist pain on the following day. So after being very frustrated with alternate picking around the beginning of 2019, I just started doing other stuff on guitar, learning some songs and quite a bit of sweep picking too. Now before that, my lower arm was always anchored heavily to the guitar body and most of the string tracking motion came from the wrist as well. But with 5 or 6 string sweep arpeggios, it’s pretty much necessary to have at least some forearm motion in there so I had to adapt the anchoring and get used to larger forearm movements. So few months later, I decided to try some alternate picking stuff again, but this time instead of using the wrist I used my upper arm, which always felt very alien in the few previous attempts with that technique. And yeah, it actually was not super controlled at the beginning but it obviously was faster than wrist picking for me.

Thank’s to Corona, I also had quite a bit of time in the last few months to further explore upper arm based picking and I’d be very curious to hear your opinion on it. It’s obviously a bit of a rigid technique, which still feels a bit awkward for 2 note per string licks but for faster stuff, I feel like it’s by far the easiest technique.

Personally, I am quite happy already, I have definitely never been closer to the Lamborghini before that and no more wrist pain is a very big plus. I probably should have tried different picking techniques early instead of trying to force something that is simply not working for me. And the combination of 1 way pick slanting and upper arm picking just feels incredible, honestly, it nearly feels like playing on one string. Honestly, if string crossing is not absolutely effortless, you’re probably doing something wrong. I always thought that I was using the correct string crossing technique, but in retrospect, I definitely was not. In terms of effort, it’s actually not that different from economy or sweep picking in my opinion.

So here are some videos, dwps felt really off at the beginning but it’s getting a lot better nowadays, mostly from practicing 2 nps pentatonics.

Uwps is a lot more comfortable for me and probably still a bit faster:

2WPS is still … in development

Thank’s for reading and thank you so much Troy, I would never have thought about upper-arm based motion mechanics without that Steve Morse clip.

Definitely! And from what I’ve found so far, it’s very much worth it to test different kinds of joints and motions, even if not aiming to switch over permanently. Going to a new motion gives you a clearer mental image of your previous motion too. The feel and the differences between the two become more obvious.

Correct me if I’m wrong but I think the motion you’re doing in the clips is elbow motion. The forearm is moving in space, but only because the elbow joint is turning. “Forearm motion” as described in the Pickslanting Primer would involve the forearm rotating in some way and at least I can’t see that going on. You mentioned UWPS is more comfortable for you and I would guess that’s because you’re likely using elbow motion, which can only do downstroke escapes.

1 Like

I haven’t watched the pickslanting primer in a while, but yes it’s a strict up and down movement at the elbow joint, everything else is more or less rigid. And I think you can do dwps with elbow motion, it just takes few adjustments, otherwise the strings can get in the way. Normally I keep my hand closed, but then the ring finger tends to touch the strings. But with an open hand I seem to have enough space for dwps. Also the index/thumb position plays a role, you basically can’t compress the depth of your hand to much and have to creae kind of an O with your fingers to increase the reach of the pick. And I think you really don’t need crazy amounts of pick slant to escape.

From my own experience, I can say that I can certainly do the downward-slant, but i can not do the escape on the upstroke, which is more important, if I use too much elbow. So that might be why dwps licks are difficult for you, if you pick from the elbow, most notably on 2nps licks, were you need a real USX motion.
@Troy has some magic way of doing this with elbow, but I think even he isn’t sure how it works exactly.
As far as 2wps for elbow picking goes, the section on vinnie moore is gold. If I recall correctly, vinnie does not really change the slant, he rather throws in a quick forearm rotation to get a single USX where he needs it.
@tommo is really good at this, and this thread is a gold mine:

1 Like

I think “extremely fast” picking based on wrist motion is like learning to raise just one eyebrow. Through a lot of trial and error, you need to figure out how to get only the right muscles to contract. As my “high end” wrist speed has improved, I’ve started to think of it almost like “elbow” picking, but without the telltale brachioradialis action of elbow picking. When I get in the zone with wrist picking, I’m aware of a kind of isolated muscle action in my forearm that’s different from what I feel if I just naively try to move my wrist back and forth in the way that’s intuitive for slower movements. FWIW, this for a slightly supinated wrist motion with a significant flexion/extentsion component, escaping on downstrokes.

Sorry if it’s not an analogy that gives people something specific to work on, but that’s what I keep coming back to when I think of how fast wrist motion feels to me. From a muscle control point of view, extremely fast wrist picking is analogous to the non-intuitive and trickier to access “raising one eyebrow” versus the more intuitive and readily accessed “raising both eyebrows”.

In an old post, there was some discussion of fast movement in the animal kingdom, and the idea that a hummingbird isn’t laboring to make it’s wings move fast by brute force, it’s finessing the speed in an almost “relaxed” way.

In contrast to the elusiveness of fast wrist picking, I think relaxed but extremely fast “forearm rotation blended with wrist” motion is something that has much more in common with intuitive muscle activations that most of us have already trained. And I think it’s something virtually anybody can be taught in a short period of time. Maybe there are individual differences in terms of what seems intuitive to people. And merely “sort of fast” motion with the wrist probably is very intuitive for most people. But I really feel like “Andy Wood” type fast wrist picking is something that’s a tricky nuanced motion that you really have to “feel your way into” through a lot of dedicated trial and error. And I realize that Andy lets the elbow kick in for some of the faster speed. But there’s a really juicy “quiet elbow” fast wrist technique that I think is probably elusive to a lot of people.

That’s not to say you should switch from the “upper arm” motion you’re working with now to “rotational forearm/wrist blend”, just saying that I think both are less elusive than fast “wrist only” picking.

Which is probably a long way of saying, if you’ve been frustrated by attempts to pick fast with the wrist, I wholeheartedly understand, even as someone who has started to have some success with fast wrist picking. And that’s speaking as someone who finds fast forearm-rotation-wrist-blend as easy as breathing.

1 Like

@7th11th is correct, the motion you’re doing here is elbow and it can’t do upstroke escape. Don’t worry about “pickslant”. Think about what joint you are using and which way the pick escapes. In both examples here you are moving the elbow joint, so the motion is the same and the speed is the same. Any difference you perceive is in your mind. If you want upstrokes to go up in the air this motion will not give that to you.

Nothing wrong with elbow motion but as @7th11th also pointed out Vinnie gets upstroke escape with a helper motionJust for one note. Otherwise the elbow just elbows.

1 Like

Right, I just just checked the Pepsi Lick episode again, that escape motion is really tiny. I’ll have to see if I am actually doing something like that. Man, I really have to watch CTC again :smiley: .

That was a very interesting read, the hummingbird analogy seemed very fitting there. I have always wondered if it actually is an neurological or a physical issue but it’s good to here that it’s not a trivial thing for others as well.

It can’t do upstroke escape? But that implies that without some other thing happening, I shouldn’t be able to play any standard DWPS lick?
In which case there probably is something happening here that I am not aware of? I tried to have a better angle, here. At 0.25 speed I really don’t know what is going on…

Make a fist and put your palm on your chest. From that position, move the elbow joint like you’re swinging a hammer. Your hand will move away from your body. it can’t move any other way because the elbow is just a hinge that goes back and forth. That’s downstroke escape. Brendon Small is a textbook example of this:

There’s no way he could make that motion move along the opposite diagonal using just the elbow joint. Doesn’t matter what he does to his fingers or hand to make the “pickslant” look different, the pick just isn’t going to move any other way than that — with elbow alone.

That being said, Tommy Emmanuel does a motion where the elbow moves but he’s an upstroke escape player. I also do something similar. We don’t know what it is, but our hypothesis is that it’s not just elbow. It could be upper arm / rotator cuff rotating the arm in addition to the elbow. But your upper arm shakes in this most recent clip. Are you sure your downstroke escape is really escaping? Maybe you’re just doing the rotator cuff thing and swiping. Or vice versa. Try the two string pattern with no left hand and see if you hear any open strings. Then flip the picking and see if you hear anything.

While these two motions exist, what we haven’t seen is someone who uses these them to get both escapes cleanly, inside of a single phrase, like for playing a scale. The only way we’ve seen that done is with the “helper” motion, like Vinne Moore style.

Try the open strings test, with an amp on if necessary, and see if you can tell which escape you’re really making. That will give you some more clarity.

Also, now that you have a handle on this, you have a reference point for what “fast” feels like. This is a big boost in terms of learning other motions, even other ones you may have written off. Sometimes you just need a hint.

1 Like

Okay, all of that makes total sense from a mechanical point of view.
And it explains why upstroke escape licks felt harder at the beginning.

So I tried to record an open string 4 nps segment, this time also with slow mo at the end of the video:

I think I know how swiping feels and sounds, I use that for the Gilbert pattern and I don’t think this is happening here. I also don’t see or here any additional strings in the clip I attached.
The only thing that I still find very challenging is 2 nps sequences that use more than two different strings, so a 4 note pattern on the e and b string is ok, but a 6 note pattern on e, b and g string is a lot less controlled:

But in the bigger picture is it worth adding the Vinnie escape trick? Or is it fine to continue like this? Is there actually somebody using that to play some of the 2 nps Cascade licks or is that stuff more or less exclusive to wrist picking? Ascending economy picking seems to works really well from the elbow, to the main problem will be the upstroke escape I suppose.

I wouldn’t go about it like that. Your playing sounds really good to me (a bit tough to judge without an amp though). If you can play a lick and make it sound good, why theorize about it?
Just try licks that sound cool, that have the USX and see what your body does.

This one is from PG:



This one I stole from Josh Homme:



I find, that since I am aware of how my technique basically works, I can sort of let go of those minute details, and just try these things and they often work out subconciously. To this day I don’t even know if I rotate or do some wrist thing on the USX in these licks.

1 Like

Yes, I can’t properly judge my playing right now too as I have been at my parent’s house for the last 4 months due to Corona while my PC with the audio interface remained in my flat which is about 4 hours away. So I’m very curious whether it will sound ok or like pure noise :D.

You are a fan of string skipping, aren’t you? :smiley: Those licks are pure evil. I tend to swipe those single string escapes, for me that’s the only way I can play them, but that’s obviously not the solution here. It feels like my body really doesn’t know how to play them right now.

Funnily enough the wrist rotation Vinnie Moore style escape in elbow motion upward pickslanting mode actually feels very familiar when it happens in one direction (here when returning from the e to the b string):

(pure alternate starting with a down)

But in the other direction (6 to 7 note from b to g) its super alien.
(pure alternate starting with a down)

Which actually makes a lot of sense as the first one is exactly the motion is use for 3/4 string sweep arpeggios, but I only really practice the rotation there while being in uwps from a higher to a lower string.

However, the second one is actually made for economy picking anyways, so I’m not sure if I’ll even have to get the rotation in the other direction.

The best alternate picking line ever ( :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: ) in the another day solo actually is great for practicing the combination of both of them. And it’s one of those things that made me scratch my head for years.


I actually have bit of wrist stuff in my economy picking, the motion actually looks very similar to my sweep picking which is mostly wrist on the higher and elbow on the lower strings. Not at Petrucci speed yet though…

1 Like

I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Your playing in this last clip sounds really clean.

It is more like the wider distance doesn’t seem to matter if I can do the escapes. It actually might even help, because you can exaggerate the USX motion, and I find big movements easier to feel.
The reason I recommended trying this is:
After watching CtC, absorbing and trying things out, I thought, okay, so I am a DSX guy and that’s that.
Then I saw that clip of PG doing this arpeggio lick, and I thought I’ll just try it and I could do it right away. So I did have some degree of 2way escapes that I could tap into, and probably always had.
Nice playing, looking forward to the amped up version.