Having serious trouble with forearm rotation

Hi guys!

My teacher is an extremely proficient forearm-rotator so I’ve decided to choose that as my principle mechanic, as of about 8 months ago. It wasn’t just the teacher, when miming trem picking in the air, that motion just felt the most natural, relaxed, and mechanically sound to me. I thought I was doing pretty well with it, until I tried to tackle a riff that Mark Holcomb posted on his IG- a palm muted, off and on machine gun type bursts of 16th notes at around 230 bpm. I maxed out at around 210 or so, and I noticed even at around 200 I would feel fatigue after a full measure of straight sixteenths.

Now when I “air” pick, I can easily sustain that for awhile. Even at 230, while I can’t sustain it nearly as long, I should be able to handle the full measure of 16ths that pops up a couple times. But once I bring this to the strings, I tighten up, or tense up, or something. This makes me feel like I’ve been rotating the wrong way this whole time, and that I’m using different muscles when I mime picking, than when I actually pick.

Since this discovery I’ve been trying non stop to bring the relaxed, fluid, and much faster miming motion to the guitar, but I’m just having no luck. It seems like any sort of resistance just shuts the motion down. I’ve tried the following:

Adjusting pick grip from as loose to as tight as possible
Anchoring and de-anchoring the forearm on the guitar
Playing with the guitar flat on my lap
Changing pickslants
planting fingers- no luck at all here, I can’t even mime the motion at all with my fingers planted

The closest i’ve come, is by turning the pick around to the round side, I am able to sometimes replicate the motion with the pick sliding across the strings. But not every time, and having the pick backwards is obviously not ideal.

Any advice is hugely appreciated, whether you’ve dealt with this yourself or have an outside perspective. Thanks!

I’d love to see a video of the part you’r trying to play. Makes it much easier to see what’s going on that possibly could be fixed. Thanks!

Great idea, didn’t know you could upload vids on here. I’ll record one in just a minute. I’ll also include the mimed motion, compared to the motion I’ve been using on the strings

I experienced something very similar. I found that adding a small amount of finger motion, just enough to counteract the string resistance, made it click for me. Maybe it will help, maybe not. Something to experiment with at least.

Well, the best way is to upload to youtube and post the link in your post.

Here’s the vid:

I included at the end what my presumed picking speed should be, and then what happens when I bring it to the strings

Thanks I’ll give this ago! To clarify, are you talking about the first finger against the pick?

The video appears to be set at “private”. Change to “unlisted” for others to see here on the forum.

Oh whoops. Thanks for the heads up, it’s changed

For me it’s a flexing motion of the thumb and index finger similar to trying to pluck an eyelash out by its roots. But it might be different for you, as it will depend on your grip, your setup and probably other factors I can’t think of.

To explore it, I’d suggest that you hold your hand in whatever your neutral picking position over the strings is and your usual pick grip. Then attempt to do a tremolo without any other motion than moving your fingers. Very small motions are fine since the goal isn’t to use this motion to change strings. Larger motions are ok too. Pretty much anything that feels comfortable and fast, and generates a tremolo is fine.

Once you find something that works, try adding it to your forearm mechanic. You can make it just large enough to overcome the string resistance. Or make it larger if that works for you. Once you get a feel for it, change it up however you like until something clicks. As usual, just search for easy. It’s just another avenue to explore.

When I added fingers to my forearm mechanic it gave me a feeling of more control and of making the string resistance almost invisible. Then I found that it does something similar for all of my mechanics, so I pretty much always do it. I can turn it on and off at will, but I find I have more control with it turned on.


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Thanks a bunch for that write up. I’ll try and give this a go. My issue seems to be keeping the base rotational motion at high speeds, so this might be difficult to just “drop in” at 180 bpm but I will try nonetheless.

My teacher mentioned starting to do this as well, so I really think there’s something to it.

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Ok so first off, great playing! You have great time and play with such confidence. Love it!

When I watch you play the fast parts I can see tendencies of actually locking up you wrist with the elbow. If you slow down the video you can sometimes se that the forearm is actually swinging back and forth with the stroke. In other words the elbow is active in the picking motion. For only rotation to happen, the elbow should not be activated at all.

Being a rotational player myself, I can see why your body would do this. The rotational motion can sometimes lack the power, or maybe more importantly the “sense” of power, that hard riffing like this needs. So it’s not uncommon in my experience that one wants to add elbow or wrist motion to get more force to the stroke. And your strokes seem very hard and tight in the video. I for one could not get that power from rotation only alone.

But you can clearly do pure rotation in the air and I really think you should be able to just transfer the “air playing” motion to the strings. At least the top E-string. For me, a soft anchor with middle- or ringfinger swinging along on the guitar body, is crucial for getting any stability for the rotational motion. In the last part of your video where you show going from “air” to strings, you are completely floating. I could never get a good sound that way either.

Here is a video where I try to play something similar to your riff with rotation. Clearly not the same aggression as your playing but maybe passable. Look for the wiggly part of the wrist. It should wiggle all the time when using rotation. I really don’t mean to say that my rotation is better or right or anything, if anything it’s much less tight and rhythmic exact, but I don’t see the same amount of wiggle in your video which makes me think that there is less of a rotational motion going.

In the endI also show how I anchor with my middle finger for support. I also try a version with no support… car crash. One more important thing for it to work is that I’m not conciously thinking about “picking the string/notes”, I just do the motion (which you clearly can do just as well) and let the string come in the way.


Thanks so much! You’re spot on with the forearm wiggle description. That’s what I’m trying to get to happen when I play but just can’t. I’ll try the anchoring thing.

The elbow business is frustrating, because I’m totally conscious of it, but it happens no matter how hard I try to avoid it.

And yeah you can tell when i go back and forth at the end, they are two different motions. Wiggle, no wiggle, wiggle, no wiggle. My brain is telling my arm to do the same thing but it just isnt happening haha

Also, I believe your video is set to private instead of unlisted so I’m not able to see it

Haha sorry. I hadn’t completed the upload.

One thing you didn’t say you had experimented with is different amounts of edge picking. This can really help with friction. But I have the feeling you already have thought about this.

I definitely have but i’ll try it to the extreme. The fact that I’m able to do it with the round side of the pick seems to support that this might be the path

Man i’m super jealous of your rotation haha. That is some clean, great picking

Well thanks, but I’m sure you’ll find a way to get it to work too.

You can clearly do the motion very well in the air. I believe a bit faster than me. When you do the motion in the air, it’s a much bigger motion with high momentum. When you apply it to the guitar i looks like you try to minimize the motion. The reasons can be many but a common one is to “not be sloppy”. I very much try to keep the motion as big as possible to keep the momentum.

Also, are you very conscious of your time when you try out the rotation? When playing the riff, your time is impeccable and looks very controlled. Maybe the controlling of time makes your body incorporate other more controlled parts of your body. For me, the whole thing is and have to be so loose that it can sometimes be hard to control the time of it. If I try to take too much control, some wrist or elbow creeps into my motion as well. I have to keep it just as free as it feels when air playing which can be frustrating in a way. I’m not saying that is the nature of the technique for everybody (and my time has developed considerably with practice) but maybe you have to just let loose and not worry about the time being perfect at this time of exploration. It could be the culprit.

I don’t mean to hijack your thread but I think I have a similar motion as you and I’m also having trouble applying forearm rotation:

Maybe so. I’m trying so hard to loosen up and just let the motion happen no matter what mess it makes on the guitar. What it seems like to me is that the resistance of the strings throws my rhythm off and makes the motion gets out of sync.

It seems like I can do the motion correctly at lower speeds- 140 bpm 16ths maybe. But it’s those higher and much desired speeds that I lose it lol.