[Hopeless player here] How to develop some picking speed (no hands synchronization here, just the pure picking motion on one note)?

Hi there,

I joined CtC about a month ago and spent quite a bit of time working on the material. I find that DWPS, UWPS and 2WPS make a lot of sense and they all feel pretty natural to do, though for the music I play (bluegrass), I’ll probably keep crosspicking as my main picking technique.
But I haven’t found any “trick” to actually speed up the picking motion in itself.

Short version : What ways did you find to make your picking hand faster ?

Long version :
I came to CtC hoping to find a way to pick faster. Just plain picking, no licks, hand synchronization or string-changing, as these are no problem (at least for now, with my slow right hand).
I can pick relaxed at about 4 notes per beat at 110 bpm.
If I get crazy tensed and all locked up, I can pick with forearm only at 140bpm (style 4 notes per beat), but then I have no control on dynamics, tone, or anything, so this technique is actually pretty useless.

I am dying to find a way to get that picking faster, but have not found the answer in CtC (though the material available seems very usefull when I comes to string changing, which sadly is not my problem at the moment).
Right now the speed of my right hand prevents me to play lead in bluegrass, as most tunes will be played faster than 110bpm, and actually I can’t keep up with strumming either when really fast songs are played.
I am making quite a big deal out of it, as it’s been a few years I’m playing about 4 hours a day, and right now that picking speed issue is the last thing that stands in my way before I can quit my job and go play some bluegrass (seriously)!

When I see the picking speed of people here, some of which are about 4 times faster than mine, I just can’t believe that I just reached my limit. I also have trouble thinking that it’s a matter of fitness only, otherwise I would not be that far away (or maybe I’m wrong here)
I would be immensely happy just to be able to pick 1.5 times faster, and my guess is that my body should be more than able to manage that, but I just haven’t found the way.

At the moment picking at 100 bpm feels super easy and natural, but as soon as I try to break 110bpm I feel like there’s is just no gas in the tank.
All the info I found in CtC feels like it can only be useful once I get this picking hand up to speed, but for now I feel like I am taught how to pilot a car which speed limit is 20km/h an hour!

I am quite hopeless and will welcome any advice, idea, or experience that you guys may have to finally break this slow picking hand curse.


First, tell me how many days a week do you work on trying to make your right hand faster.

Second, how many minutes or hours do you spend on those days working strictly on speed?

Third, when was the last time you noticed a significant improvement in your right hand speed

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Hi Acecrusher and thanks for these questions that make me think about my own practice.

  • I work on speed everyday (with a few exceptions)
  • 4 times 5 minutes, throughout the day : this is just right hand picking on one string, accenting the “1” of groups of four our eight notes. I start at 45 bpm and push it to 55-56 bpm, then back down, then up, but I don’t make it past 56.
  • I never actually noticed a significant improvement since I started paying attention to picking speed (which was when I realized I couldn’t play fiddle tunes in a jam, about two years ago). However, I started my planned pratice (the 5 minutes focusing only in the picking motion) 2 month ago. Maybe I have to stick at it for longer, but 0 improvement seems to tell me something is wrong in my method.

Aside from this speed practice there is of course a lot of playing (working on some bits of a tune, of soloing over chord changes, etc), which probably does not help my picking technique in any way, but hopefully participate in the “fitness” side of things.

This lack of result and analysis of my practice leads me to think there are two options:

  • either my speed picking is practice is not enough (20 minutes is not so much after all, though picking while staring at my hand is extremely boring)
  • or I do it completely wrong

I practice with a click but always seem to hit the same plateau. If I want to break it and pick faster then I have to tense up and the wrist action suddenly becomes pure elbow (and very stiff). I feel that somehow getting used to the stiff elbow motion harms my relaxed motion so I stayed away from the stiff forearm as much as I could, but perhaps I should start working on it and see if this lead to any improvement on the relaxed wrist picking motion?

Based on your questions, I suspect that it is normal for speed to take a long time to develop. However, is 4 notes per beat at 110 bpm (not even 8 notes per second) a normal speed to get stuck at for a while? Or does that mean I’m doing something horribly wrong?

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There is a third option - you could be overtrained. I suspected this to be the case because there is no reason you should not be progressing more. I can pick 4 notes per click at 110 bpm using only downstrokes. The muscles you use when picking your fastest need time to rest after an intense speed session. I suspect you aren’t getting enough time for your hand to recover and grow stronger and faster.

I suggest trying something different. I suggest you try the following for a month. It sounds like your speed hasn’t been increasing recently so I don’t think you have much to lose and you may make some very good progress.

Work on your tremolo picking for 30 minutes but only every other day. You can still play guitar on the days you don’t work on tremolo picking but don’t play anything physically stressful.

Don’t use the metronome. You might be tempted to to clock your speed but wait until you’ve done this for a month and then go back to the metronome if you want.

As part of your tremolo picking practice pick a note on one string as fast as you can until you feel the muscles in your forearm start to burn ( that’s an accumulation of lactic acid). Keep going until you feel the burn so much that you’re actually starting to play significantly slower. Rest 30 seconds or so, no more than 60 seconds and repeat. Keep doing this repeatedly until 30 minutes have gone by. I suggest spending some time on each of the 6 strings so you get used to the feel of the different sized strings.

If at any time you feel a sharp pain, which is very different from the slow burn of lactic acid buildup, stop playing immediately, ice the area that started to hurt for 15 minutes and take the next day completely off. Then on the next day you can resume your practice.

People vary according to how much exercise stress they can endure and how much time they need to recover before they can exercise again. Some can endure a tremendous amount of stress and still make progress. Others need a longer period of time to recover between intense sessions (I think this is you). Think of this just like some people can lay outing the sun a long time before getting a sunburn while others get burned very quickly. If a person who burns easily tries to lay out in the sun a long time, he will burn, his skin will peel off, and he won’t get a tan; he’ll get blisters. This kind of person needs less exposure to the sun to make progress on his suntan.

It’s hard for me to tell if your motion is wrong since I can’t see you play. Can you video record yourself tremolo picking? There may be something wrong with your mechanics that is holding you back. One obvious one I can think is if you are just moving the pick back and forth with any type of a rotating or turning motion, then try adding a turning or rotating motion to your tremolo picking, sort of like if you were stirring a drink quickly, your wrist would orate; it wouldn’t just move back and forth. Another way to look at the motion is turning the key in your car ignition. If you don’t use any rotational movement already I suggest you incorporate it in roughly half of your tremolo picking practice to see if you start progressing more while using that motion.

Let me know how this works for you.

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I wouldn’t rule this out. Have you posted a clip of your playing yet? If not, let’s take a look. If you’re stringhopping it would explain everything you describe here.


Troy, from what he wrote it seems to me he says his tremolo picking is very slow and has not gotten faster in a long time. In tremolo picking, string hopping doesn’t apply; it’s not applicable.

I do think he may be doing his tremolo picking with an inefficient technique, but it’s impossible to know from the info we have.

We have seen many examples right here in Technique Critique on the forum of players unable to play smoothly on a single string due to stringhopping. Some people internalize a repetitive lifting motion of the hand as their core picking motion at some early stage in their playing, and this affects everything they do, even single string phrases. It’s hard for them to unlearn this and we’ve been trying numerous methods including rest stroke, and switching motion mechanics to stop it.

Sometimes players already have other methods of moving which are fine, but they’ve convinced themselves they don’t want to use them, or someone told them they shouldn’t use them. All of which is counterproductive.

So, if we can check out footage of what @Mando is doing, we’ll have a better shot at understanding whether or not this is happening.


Using string hopping when there’s no string to which to hop sounds like a bizarre problem to have, but if you say you’ve seen it, I believe you.

Regarding players being told to not do other motion, my first teacher told me to use only wrist like he said Al Dimeola picked. I heard Vinnie Moore used elbow and then got severely injured because of it. Is there any truth to that? Nevertheless, I use some elbow along with wrist now and play better than ever. Al Dimeola says players who use their elbow “usually sound as bad as they look.” Have you heard him say that? Any thoughts on that saying by DiMeola?

Yes, of course it would help to see video footage of Mando’s playing. I suggested this to him in an earlier post of mine in this thread. He didn’t reply to whether he would or even whether he could do it. My phone for example, does not record video. I hope to get a new phone soon though which does record video. 120 fps is the ideal thing to look for right?

Thanks again for your replies.
You can see videos of my playing here, If needed I can take some again from a closer angle (All the speeds I am playing at are my top speeds, except for the couple of purely crosspicking patterns) :

@Acecrusher: I’ll try your “program” of 30mins instead of the one I’m doing now. As you said, I don’t have anything to lose anyway! I guess I am probably not overtrained (at least not physically) because I don’t feel any pain at all.

  • When using some wrist, I can’t reach a point where I feel my muscles working, which feels very strange and frustrating, as I stare at my hand wanting it to move faster, but it’s like if the message didn’t get across to the wrist/hand.
    -Only if I use purely locked elbow will I feel like I can strain to get faster (and it eventually will burn a bit).

I’ll definitely try to incorporate some wrist rotation in the mix (I gave it a try a couple of weeks ago when discovering CtC but quickly gave up as it felt super awkward and slow, but maybe I should just stick at it for longer), as I seem to be using mostly wrist deviation at the moment.

@Troy: I don’t know fore sure if I’m stringhopping. It would make sense as I understand the muscle responsible for wrist flexion/extension is slower and weaker, and my feeling actually is that I can’t apply any muscle power into picking faster. However, I did not find any increase of speed working on the DWPS material (I am actually a bit slower when using it, although it feels very reliable and natural).

Thanks again guys, I’m really hopping to find a solution to break this wall I’m facing. It would be of so much help in my music playing and make life much easier overall.

Hi Mando,

I watched your picking videos. It’s hard to judge from the videos what the reason is that you can’t increase speed.

My first question is, were you to lay your picking hand on a flat surface, like a table and act as if the table is the guitar, are you then able to move your hand up and down at higher speeds than 100/140 bpm? In other words, playing air guitar while your hand is supported by the table, palm downwards.

This way you don’t have the string resisting your pick and you can concentrate purely on the motion that your hand is making.

Second, I would advise you to take private lessons from a good (bluegrass) player, who has the skills you want. 1-on-1 coaching is always much better than trying to learn stuff from videos.

Good luck!

Hi and welcome!
I’m pretty sure Troy will be able to figure out the problem in the mechanic.
To me it seems your tremolo-speed is pretty close to the average speed when string hopping which’d probably mean that even on tremolo you still have the idea of crossing strings somewhere in your head - probably unconsicious.
To me its a long time ago when i developed my single string playing, but i remember that it helped me a lot to use a fat and round pick, simply to find out how few effort is really needed to make the string ring. this does not mean that you need to use that kind of pick forecver its just handy to get a feeling for the motion to cross a string with that tiny snap to make it ring. from there it was pretty easy - at least for me - to speed that motion up.

I agree, it looks like there’s some string hopping going on. The typical solution would probably be using rest strokes to get rid of it, but I don’t think that would result in a bluegrass friendly technique.

The strange thing is that he wrote that is his max speed for tremolo playing.
I’d say first of all he needs some confidence that he can move the pick up and down with fair speed before dealing how to speed up crosspicking - which is probably the hardest thing to do.

I remember having the same problem with certain one string lines. I wanted to play them faster, but my hand just started doing a string hopping movement, even though there was no reason for it. So it’s definitely possible to have these issues even when playing on one string.

Sure it is, and i don’t even think it’s a bad thing. Probably the reason for it is that your motion tries to protect accuracy and clearity - that’s not a bad thing.
iI just wanted to prevent that he tries to focus on one of the hardest thing at first.
Troy said somewhere that motions should be developed by feel and I totally agree with that, so if there’s automatically added that hop somewhere in your motion, I’d say the first thing needed is some kind of ‘reset’ so you can figure out new options by feel.

OK Mando, I watched your tremolo picking technique and I’m not going to sugarcoat this because that wouldn’t be doing you any favors. While I still hope you use the practice program I designed specifically for you, with the 30 minutes of temple picking every other day, I no see that you are going to also have to change the actual motion you use for tremolo picking.

The motion you use now has no power behind it! Simply put, the muscles you are using in your current tremolo picking technique aren’t strong enough, at least not in that position, to ever tremolo pick fast.

The good news is I believe that using the program I developed for you, you can make tremeendous progress in increasing your tremolo picking speed if you just give my program one, or at the most two months in order to see a significant improvement in the strength and speed of your tremolo picking!

Since you have to work on using a new tremolo picking style in addition to following the practice regimen I laid out for you, I’m going to make one modification it the program. You will still tremolo pick for 30 minutes a day but you will try several different tremolo picking styles in that 30 minutes. For example, you could do something like 10 minutes of one technique, rest 2 or 3 minutes, try 10 minutes of another technique, rest 2 or 3 minutes, and finally 10 minutes of tremolo picking using a third technique.

It appears that your right hand is far too relaxed when tremolo picking. I know most people suggest being relaxed but you have taking being relaxed to an extreme! You have to have some tension in your muscles when you pick fast!

Your motion needs to change too. When tried and proven technique for tremolo picking is picking the string, whatever string you have chosen to sorta with, by making the pick make a motion that starts by going downwards and then bottoming out with a shallow semicircle motion before then moving upwards again. In total, your pick will be making a shape that looks a lot like letter U. The only difference is that the sides of the letter U won’t be as tall and not exactly vertical either. Imagine the letter U motion but witout such long vertical ups and downs at the beginning of the pick stroke and not only would they not be as tall on the sides of the U, mazing it resemble the lower case u better, but also instead of the sides of the u being straight up and down, they’d be more angled so that the motion really looks more like a semicircle. Imagine something circular, like an orange. Imagine taking the orange and cutting it so that the blade of the knife is parallel to the tabletop the orange is sitting on. You cut all the way through it so you have two perfect halves - the top half and the bottom half. Hollow out the insides of the orange. Your pick angle would basically be as if you took the tip of the pick and traced the bottom half of the orange from the top of one side, down and across through the bottom and then arcing gracefully up the opposite side. That will be the picking technique I want you to try.

Finally, in your last 10 minutes of tremolo practice, yu can experiment with the bottom of a semicircle shape for the pick to move along, or a more side to side motion, but this time involve the elbow joint. I want you to use the elbow joint and very importantly, do not tense up the elbow joint! Use at most, light tension in the elbow joint.For the most part the elbow joint can be very relaxed and still add a tremendous amount of speed to your tremolo picking.

Now you have the entire custom made program that I developed just for you! Use it for at last a month and report back to me roughly once a week. I don’t ant you to use a metronome at all during this period of time, OK? The reason being I don’t want the metronome setting up subconscious mental blocks for you. I don’t want you knowing exactly how fast you are picking so if say, you are attempting a speed of 4 notes per beat at 148 beats a minute, I don’t want a little voice in the back of your head telling you “This is too fast! You can’t do it”!

Feel free to record your tremolo picking sessions so that at the end of the moth you can gauge your progress by listening back to a session in the first week, a session 10 days later, and another 10 days later, and then the last session of the month. I feel confident that you will be able to hear yourself progress as you listen back t the month’s practice sessions, especially comparing the first session of the month and the last one of the month!

Mando, It occurred to me that you might want to know my qualifications as a teacher. so here they are:

I have played electric guitar from September of 1984 to the present day which is almost 34 years of guitar playing. I have taught many people along the way, especially through the 80s and 90s. One student I had came to me knowing only how to strum chords and absolutely nothing else. After 2 years of one hour lessons weekly, he applied to Berklee and was accepted!

I am educated in music theory ( college course taken in music theory), I played piano for 2 years before switching to guitar, as early as the last 80s I as already working on figuring out exactly how I played the way I played since I couldn’t teach how to play if I didn’t understand how I do what i do on the guitar. There are many very good guitarists who can’t teach because they don’t know how to explain what it is they do on the guitar.


@nitro1976: I tried laying the hand flat on the table, and while initially my max speed was the same as when picking, it surprisingly gradually increased up to 140bpm (still on the table), and I felt a the muscles burning in my forearm, which is a first ! I’ll definitely keep on doing that as it seems it helps me “wake up” these muscles, and maybe it is part of the solution!
Sadly, private lessons are not an option where I leave (up in the French Alps).

@theGuyFromGermany: my tremolo speed is indeed very close to my crosspicking speed. I used to play with a heavy round pick and did not feel much difference about it, but I can surely try again for a week or two!

@Sorc: from the videos I watched around here, I’m not sure whether I do stringhopping or if it’s just the “bluegrass crosspicking” way to clear off the strings… It does not really feel like I use so much flexion/extension in my picking, though, I think it’s more like a curb.

@Acecrusher : wow, thanks so much for dedicating this time to help! Don’t worry about not sugarcoating: the more things I’m doing wrong, the more it means I can improve!
I do feel like there is no power in my wirst when I pick, indeed, so I will try various motions as you said. Hopefully one of them will feel right and more powerful after some practice. I get the sliced orange idea! If I understand right I probably have to add some wrist rotation to achieve this motion.
The click might be hindering my progress, as there is no doubt my plateau is not only physical but also in my head, so I’ll do that for a while as well.

Again, thanks a million for caring about my picking, which is really a big deal for me. The good thing is I have nothing to lose and I can only get better, so I will follow your advices for sure!

Well, finally I have some ideas to work with! Only time will tell how my picking will evolve, but it’s much more motivating to work with some possible solutions rather than keeping on doing things that just don’t work!

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Don’t get me wrong there. It’s not about the pick itself. A round pick kind or forces your hand/fingers to feel the movement on the string and discover where is resistance. It’s only about getting a feeling for the movement. Thin pciks gets flexed to a point and then snap over the strings and your muscles dont get any information what happens in between. Once you think your muscles know what to do there’s no need to stay on a specific pick - eventthough is still play round ones.
Anyway i’d probably wait until Troy had a closer view on your motion - I can’t even tell you if it’s really stringhopping, all my thoughts are based on the feeling you describe.

Hi Mando!

You are my first student in a while, and the first one I’ve ever spent this kind of time on for free but I like your attitude so consider it a late Christmas present, ho ho ho!

You wrote: “the more things I’m doing wrong, the more it means I can improve!” That’s it! That’s the attitude!

You wrote: "I do feel like there is no power in my wirst when I pick, indeed, so I will try various motions as you said. Hopefully one of them will feel right and more powerful after some practice. " I knew it! I could tell just to look at you. I don’t know exactly how I knew; call it 34 years of acquired wisdom.

“I get the sliced orange idea! If I understand right I probably have to add some wrist rotation to achieve this motion.” That’s great, Mando! I wasn’t sure how to describe t since I’ve never taught anyone without being face to face with them. So glad that I was able to explain it in way that allowed you to picture the correct motion - the correct arc.

“The click might be hindering my progress, as there is no doubt my plateau is not only physical but also in my head, so I’ll do that for a while as well.” - That’s the idea, to trick your mind into surpassing speeds you are lacking the necessary confidence that you can pass them. I’ll tell you where I go this idea back in my early days as a teacher. Before I played guitar I lifted weights. I had a weight lifting book by Franco Columbu - a former Mr.Olympia and also a former competition in The World’s Strongest Man competition. In his book he told a story about a guy who every time he walked into the weightlifting gym, he would do the exact same thing. he would go over to a rack where there was a rack with a 315 pound barbell on it. He would take the bar off the rack, just barely manage to press it over his head using 100% effort, and then he’d go to the locker room where he’d get changed for his workout. Try as he might, he could never press more than the 315 pounds.

One day after pressing the 315 pounds over his head, he started walking towards the locker room when he went back and took a closer look at the barbell. He found that it didn’t have the 315 pounds always had on it. That day it had an extra 20 pound plate on each side! It didn’t weight 315; it weighed 355 pounds! He had had the ability to lift a full 40 pounds extra for who knows how long, masked under the weight of self doubt and a lack of confidence!

You have been comfortable at 110 BPM for a very long time and I’ll bet that just like the guy in the story, you have the capacity to do more, and still comfortably, just as long as you don’t know exactly how many BPMs you are playing at so your lack of self confidence doesn’t have the opportunity to hold you back.

“Again, thanks a million for caring about my picking, which is really a big deal for me. The good thing is I have nothing to lose and I can only get better, so I will follow your advices for sure!”

You are very welcome! And yes, please do follow my advice, as I’ve got good reasons for every detail of your program I custom made for you. If at any time during the next month you running a serious problem, such as suspecting you’re developing tendonitis (which is highly unlikely with a day of rest in between every speed session) make sure you contact me right away!

Good luck Mando! :slight_smile: