How did you conceptualize alternate picking before CTC?

As I mentioned in another thread, I had a friend who was taking lessons from a GIT educated player. He gave his students a packet of photocopied information that described picking as the “lock key” system.

The picking motion was described as if you were turning a key in a lock. (!) I played and practiced with this method, adn to this day, my picking motion is a twisting movement

If the wrist is twisting like a key in a lock, if you extend your pick farther away from the plane of rotation, very slight twisting motions in the wrist translate into relatively large pick swipes. If your hand wrist is in line with your forearm, slight twisting motions dont translate into much pick movement. Of course if you look at the (my) hand from the back, it might appear to be moving side to side. I think thats how its presented in CTC, but I still believe the muscle movement is twisting.

I spent alot of time experimenting with moving the hand downward, out of the plane of the forearm, so that slight lock/key twisting movements in the wrist translated into significant pick movement. The angle of the wrist relative to the forearm controls how much pick movement there is. I also experimented in the opposite direction, keeping the hand in the plane of the forearm. Of course, there would need to be more actual twisting

Conceptually, I viewed the arc of the pick like a pendulum. The hand extending (moderately) below the line of the forearm is the pendulum, with the pick at its tip. When the pick strikes the string, it is at its lowest, and when it is to either side, it is higher. If the pendulum is perpendicular to the string, and the pick doesnt pass far through the plane of the string, theoretically when the pendulum is to either side it will be higher than the plane of the string and can pass over.

In my mind, switching strings was the act of letting the pendulum swing farther to either side, clearing the string, then (simultaneously) moving the whole assembly to the next string. In CTC terms, this might be seen externally as upward and/or downward pick slanting, but in my mind I was “reaching over”.

Where I got tripped up was my reasoning of how the string skipping mechanism worked. I spent alot of time trying to make my pendulum shorter so that there was more clearance at both (high) sides. If the tip of the pick is the fulcrum and the hand is twisting behind the pick, then the pendulum is actually quite short and its feasible to clear adjacent strings.

In actuality, the act of downward or upward pickslanting is not coupled to the length of the pendulum, so trying to make my pendulum more compact was not the same thing as overtly rotating the whole assembly around the string.

In practice, I can already do fast decending sixes. I spent a ton of time on asc/dec sequences of fours and can get a moderate/good velocity although it depends on which part of the sequence I am on. And I did spend alot of time developing velocity on a diagonal form asc/dec of major and natural minor scales, but my scale form involves a slide and a swipe. And its not a convenient 3nps organization that can be transposed to different modes, so its not that useful.

I spent thousands of hours and had good intentions, but I never nailed string crossing, probably because my pick motion is based around lock/key and it didn’t occur to me that the lock/key movement is actually the movement your wrist makes when changing its slant to cover an adjacent string. I contend that most peoples picking motion is acutally a mild twist, and that upward/dowward pickslanting is a similar movement, but it deals more with “aim” towards the string. Is the pendulum directly above the string? Or is it aiming at the string from slightly in front or slightly behind?

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If your pick Motion is creating an arc (a curved path as you described it) then I would look at crosspicking technique. There videos I would look at would be

Describes how Wrist crosspicking works-
Combining Deviation + Extension/Flexion

Rotational Crosspicking
Probably of particular interest to you as you said you use a rotational motion.

Martin just has insane chops- I hope a 2nd Interview is done with him.

Pickslanting is a linear motion path for the pick that only allows string changes after certain pickstrokes (Upstrokes for DWPS and Downstrokes for UWPS). This linear path of the pick is angled so that one half of the motion is above the strings, and the other half is buried in between the strings.


Thanks, I’ve been watching this material repeatedly and I understand what pickslanting is.

My observation is that alternate picking motion is not (or does not have to be) a strict up/down motion… say like casting a fishing line… but that the muscles are actually twisting the wrist ever so slightly. However, the path of the pick is more or less side to side.

Yes, I suppose the twisting motion I describe would also be employed in crosspicking.


I understood many of the CTC core concepts explicitly as a teenager, based on geometric and mechanical reasoning. I even had a notebook where I had diagrams and calculations of picking trajectories, and a calculation analogous to the “golf club & flamingos” section in the Steve Morse analysis.

I was very much a strict alternate picker, and I developed a very effective 2WPS and crosspicking combination technique.

Later, when Eric Johnson’s Total Electric Guitar and The Fine Art of Guitar were reissued on DVD, I understood what he was describing in the picking sections of both videos, and I began incorporating a “pure” DWPS system. I also began incorporating hybrid picking into my playing when studying Eric’s playing, and I expanded upon this further when I started studying Brett Garsed’s playing. I was never comfortable with sweeping.

CTC was still a big deal for me. I didn’t fully realize the capabilities of my own mechanics. I had no idea swiping existed. Also, Troy’s interview with Marshall Harrison, coupled with a few of Marshall’s YouTube videos on “swybrid” picking was game changing. I was finally able to develop facility with sweeping and incorporate it into my playing.

I wrote a (very) long post about the several distinct modes of picking I recognize in my playing. I can transition between these modes quickly and as required. That can be read here:


One thing i havent heard discussed, is picking mechanics and if they facilitate other pick techniques like muting and pinch harmonics.

I can get pinches anywhere, but my picking technique, i grasp pick closer to end. I see troys playing and when i grab up higher on the pick like that, i cant get pinch harmonics. Mab’s system, he cant palm mute.

Hi @ChrisX. I discuss all of those aspects of my picking in the thread I linked to. It might be of interest. Specifically, I use several different methods of picking and I compare and contrast their strengths and weaknesses.

Really, I conceptualized alternate picking as something that I couldn’t do, plain and simple. :smile:

On some level I knew that there was likely something I was doing mechanically wrong - it seemed like it should be something I could have done, and the fact that I had so much trouble with fast picked lines let me to believe there was some sort of flaw in my mechanical approach that I couldn’t figure out. I talked with a couple friends who were pretty good alternate pickers and in a couple cases had them play fast picked lines for me while I watched their picking hands up close to see if I could figure out what I was doing wrong (which obviously at tempo wasn’t terriibly helpful) and I took lessons for a while with a monster local player (and really nice guy) to try to figure out what I was doing wrong, but we focused more on drills and exercises and less on mechanics - which is fair, since prior to CtC there really wasn’t much discussiion about the actual mechanics of the pickstrokes. It helped somewhat, but for the most part I still continued to rely on my legato technique to play most of my fast lines. I still do, really - over time my legato got fairly good to compensate for a sloppy picking hand, and it’s kind of become a big part of my musical identiy and my “sound.”

As a side effect, I found once I got into CtC and spent some time woodshedding on picking technique that my trem picking wasn’t particularly even, and that since a fairly loose approach works well for legato that I was tending to have some sync issues between hands, so that’s been a whole other can of worms. :smile:


Legato…talk about the ultimate escape hatch!

Hey, legato done right is a lot more than an “escape hatch.” :smile: I spent a long time working on getting mine smooth, articulate, even, and fluid, and even then I’ve got a lot of room left for improvement. This is by its very nature going to be a picking-focused group, but I find really good legato technique just as impressive as really good picking technique.

I was just about to post exactly this.

It wasn’t just this though, I also would go down, up, down on a string, and be stuck in between two strings (primary down, with rest stroke, as I know now) and think “there is NO WAY that it could possibly be sensible from here to go over the next string and pick UP at it”

But I never went on from here to build a systematic economy picking approach, because laziness I guess. But also a feeling that economy doesn’t feel or sound right at low-moderate speeds.