Increasing the speed of tremolo picking - please send help

Hi, it is my first post here. So I’ve been trying to learn some black metal. Band is called Batushka, song Yekteniya IV.

So this piece is in 180, and I thought I could manage this tempo. Oh boy, was I wrong. It is all fine-ish as long as I stick to violin strings (top 3). As soon as I hit bass strings, the pick starts getting stuck, strokes are uneven or missing.

Here is a video showcasing the issue:

I started to practice it slower and noticed that my technique is completely different at slower tempos, more relaxed, more of a precise wrist motion than all tense and fighting the strings. I cannot explain it.

So after two or three days of practice I gained about 20BPS. Now, at 120 it is all fine. At 130 it requires focus, at 140 it becomes challenging and some errors occur like unwanted noises, all while trying to maintain proper picking motion. At 180 it is all a mess.

Also, at 180 the metronome clicks kind of blend together, I am unable to start at this tempo. And I can’t help but notice that even with backing track it is easier, yet even though I can maintain the speed, I am not quite in the beat, I am always slightly rushing or slightly behind.

What can I do exactly to improve my picking?


Welcome aboard!

I’ll throw out a few ideas (no magic answers)

  1. Be aware of the various angles etc when u change strings. In other words lets say you pick good on the G string and it feels really comfortable…but the low E feels like crap. Well how did u get down to the E string? Did you move your arm at the shoulder? Did you just bend your elbow more? Did you just try to cock the wrist back? Did you supinate the hand more? (turn the palm upwards etc)

The idea being, if u feel good on the G string then try to mimic that same picking position as much as possible on the low E. Sometimes we move to the low strings in some weird way and we simply feel cramped and not as free.

  1. how much do you practice on the low E??

  2. Even keeping in mind what I said in #1…yet and still each string WILL be somewhat different and will thus need its own individual practice time.

  3. the advice I give myself and others quite often: simplify the challenge. In other words you are trying to do a riff that switches strings and plays on several different strings at 180bpm. But as of yet you cant even pick on ONE string at 180, correct?

So for me, id work on ONE string until I have my tremolo picking in that ballpark.

Playing fast on one string is sort of a key building block

by trying to work on a mega complicated thing, you actually impede your progress because its just simply spreads out your efforts too much. The brain and central nervous system can only adapt to so many different stimuli. Imagine if u practiced a little bit of tennis, golf, bowling, drawing, and running EVERY day. Like 10 minutes of each. Obviously youd never amount to anything at any of them lol

focus in on one string at a time until you get a nice smooth and fast motion going. Dont force it…its very important to try and stay relaxed as u build your speed. Its going to be harder for your body to adapt if its a tense all out effort

Peace, JJ


I know what you mean. When practicing slower my whole hand moves up and down to change the string. At this speed, it barely moves, instead angle of the pick changes to reach further.

Quite a lot I would say, when I first started playing I was more of a death metal/thrash metal guy.
However there is something about the thickness of E which makes it harder to play fast tremolo on that the other strings.

Correct, to an extent. I can “play” (move my hand) as fast, but without any control and it sounds terrible, I can’t fit the beat perfectly and my whole body gets tense.

As I am able to play downpicking 8th notes at 200 BPM I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be able to play 16th notes at 180 with alternate/tremolo picking.

Now, I would not bother so much, I would just power through it, but I always double track guitars when recording covers/songs.
As there are two guitars in the song that makes four tracks, so this must be played exactly to the beat.

It’s a slightly different movement (as you won’t be avoiding the string on the way up), but yeah you should be able to do it.

Going with what you say, I’d guess your upstrokes may be the issue? Could it be that you are letting the pick “grab” the string too much on the upstroke?

You could be right actually. I am not entirely sure, I tend to change the pick and it’s angle every time I get too frustrated playing the same thing over and over making the same mistakes.
But now I switched to Jim Dunlop’s Stubby, 2.0mm thick. It is rather small, too small to hold it properly for me - I have rather large hands and my index finger keeps rubbing against the top strings, eg. if I’m playing on A string, I constantly hit D string with a knuckle or a fingernail.
Now, I was looking for proper angle and technique, ie which joint should move in which direction, keeping it relaxed and actually was able to play at that speed fairly easily. I don’t know why I struggle with metronome but with backing track it a different thing entirely, it felt as if I was playing @ 120.
And I actually checked in DAW if I was playing triplets instead of regular 16th notes, and no, it was exactly 4 notes per click, so I am confused without any answer in this regard. However the playing is still rough on the edges, I need to be exactly in time, no rushing and no staying behind, but that is completely different topic in itself.

So I guess I should continue just playing entire thing slower, trying to find the proper technique, espacially that there still is a string skipping riff in the later part of the song that I am unable to play at this speed.

I might post another video for review, but this time I’ll try to record it better - my phone camera does not keep FPS too stable unfortunately.

I play in this style and your post brings me back because it is a problem I used to have when I first started. First, mandatory reading, read every single post in this thread because it deals in a large part with the problems you’re facing:

On that note, none of your problems are mechanical. The video you posted is objectively great stock extreme metal tremolo picking. Nice relaxed rotational technique. Don’t change a thing.

EDIT: After watching your video several times I want to edit my post. I think the problem you’re having can be summed up based on the thread I linked above. Your problem is thinking that the players are playing perfect 16th notes to the beat at 180 BPM. It’s assuredly not the case. A lot of times in black metal tremolo picking can be “unmetered” - or basically as fast as possible with zero regard for subdivisions. The sonic effect is all you need. I would stop trying to think so metronomically and try to match the cadence of the players in that song.

Keep practicing with the song, and stop making an exercise out of the riff. I remember reading a a study that concluded motion mechanics at certain tempos don’t have much carryover; there was one done a few years back for the piano which I cannot find now that observed practicing > +/- 5 BPM above or below concert tempo was reinforcing useless mechanics that had no carryover.

Your problems with picking on the lower strings are likely psychological. Follow what @JonJon said and stick to that string if it’s really bothering you, but ultimately you should be fine if you just keep practicing to the song. For what it’s worth, looking at your playing you’re like 95% of the way there. It’s mostly in your head man.

I did.
Unfortunately I must play exactly to the metronome, as I intend to double track all guitars.

What is strange is that yesterday I was able to play it nearly perfectly, and it felt much slower, I thought maybe I was playing triplets, but looking in DAW it was all nice and even straight 16ths.
Today however I could not do it at all.
It is confusing, but will try again tomorrow - I’ve had enough for today, too frustrated to play.

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If it’s any consolation, playing sustained tremolo picking at 180 BPM 16th notes for 30 seconds+ at a time is approaching the upper limit for the vast majority of players in this style. It might help to take a break and come back to it in a week. Something might click.

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Ah that is nice to know! So are tunes typically written in a way that avoids long tremolo sections?

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It depends on the band but it’s not uncommon for songs to be littered with tremolo picking over the course of 6-8 minutes straight. It’s more or less the bedrock technique for the genre, and if you don’t have virtuoso level tremolo picking you’ll be shut out of a good 90% of the technical bands like Emperor or Immortal.

FWIW, I’ve tap-tempoed many songs in the genre and some start at 200 BPM 16th notes and drop down to 170-180, and eventually 150-160. It’s impossible to sustain elite level speeds (180-240 16th notes) for long periods of time.

Yeah, as a forearm rotation guy, I raised an eyebrow when I read @guitarenthusiast’s comment.

For what it’s worth, the clip below of one of the dudes from Emperor shows that he’s using an elbow mechanic (at least he’s predominantly using elbow flexion and extension for the tremolo style stuff; there is some wrist movement at times, but you can see a ton of movement coming from his elbow). While Andy Wood (and others) show that it’s possible to do some really amazing stuff with a wrist mechanic, I suspect that for the kind of “tremolo endurance” this particular style of music calls for, it’s probably an easier row to hoe if you using either an elbow mechanic or a forearm-rotation mechanic.

Edit: Also found a clip of Abbath from Immortal, and he appears to mainly be a forearm rotation guy (it’s the stealthy variety, partly because he doesn’t have a very flexed wrist posture). There’s some wrist movement too, but I think it’s clear that forearm rotation is the driving force in the tremolo stuff.

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I don’t follow what this means? What comment?

This part:
“playing sustained tremolo picking at 180 BPM 16th notes for 30 seconds+ at a time is approaching the upper limit for the vast majority of players in this style.”

I don’t think that’s true.

I’m sure there are exceptions, it’s not a rule I’m declaring. But I can’t think of a song I’ve ever listened to where they were hammering away 16th notes at 200 BPM in sustained tremolo picking passages. Do you have any examples that make you think that?

Also while we’re both here. What is rotational in CTC? I see it used a lot and I’ve always taken it as the Yngwie technique where there is some elbow, but the rotational aspect of the forearm can obfuscate it a bit.

FWIW I can play that song Ihsahn is playing, and I can force an elbow mechanic but moving my pick closer to the bridge. If I keep my palm on the bridge it looks more rotational, but without the palm there the elbow dominates. His technique has a plenty of that rotational stuff. I don’t want to split hairs here, but when I use the term elbow I mean “tensing” up and forcing a speed, making the arm rigid on purpose and obfuscating the rotational aspect.

I’m not saying I think it’s common to be able to play 16th notes at 200bpm indefinitely, but you suggested 16ths at 180bpm for any more than 30 seconds was extreme. My issue isn’t with the speed figure of 180, but the endurance figure at 180. I think there are hordes of people who could play 16th notes at 180bpm all day if you asked them to.

You could be right, I’m not sure. I’m just going by what I’ve seen recording these bands, playing with others, doing covers, and being a fan of the music. My point to OP was one of encouragement. He has achieved a lot and that is all I was going for.

I’ll defer to a video @Troy made on categories of motion mechanics (no idea if this is being superceded as part of the revisions to the pickslanting primer). I think the latest from CTC is acknowledging that the categories of motions are often blended together in different ways.

To me personally, what I think of as an “elbow mechanic” is a movement dominated by flexion and extension at the elbow joint, typically with little or no “forearm rotation” component. It’s in the vein of something like Vinnie Moore or Rusty Cooley’s tremolo-style picking where the forearm and wrist are very rigid and everything below the elbow is oscillating back and forth in line with the flexion and extension of the elbow joint.

When I think “forearm rotation”, I’m talking about any movement where the main driver is rotational motion around an axis that runs parallel to the long bones in the forearm. There may be examples of this where some movement at the elbow is visible, but it’s more a side effect of the rotational movement, or stabilizing/antagonizing the rotational movement.

But for the sake of the “tremolo endurance” discussion, the key to me is not the contrast between an elbow mechanic and a forearm rotation mechanic, but the contrast between either of them and a wrist mechanic. (and yes, there is a small wrist component that’s an ingredient to “forearm rotation”, but it’s secondary to the main driver of the motion, which is rotation of the forearm).

I’d say there can also be times where someone like Ihsahn is doing a mostly “elbow mechanic” but has a minor “forearm rotation” component added in.

Edit: I think there have been a few times in the past where I’ve engaged @Troy in gazing into the abyss over the categorization of movements that blend forearm rotation with wrist flexion/extension. In particular, I think I have a tendency to give more weight to the role of forearm rotation, even when the amount of visible rotation is quite small. There’s probably also some fuzziness around the role of movement around the carpometacarpal joint of the thumb in that blend, especially when the forearm-rotation component is through a fairly small range of motion. Overall, I think being aware of the various potential ingredients is more important than setting hard lines about how to categorize examples that are blends.

Link to @Troy’s “4 categories” video:

Edit: I originally linked the wrong video, here’s the right one:

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Thanks for the clarification. If there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that I know zero about mechanics. I remember watching your like 30-40 minute potato video on the EVH technique, it did help a few years back when I was attempting (and failing) at picking. The information was great, you should re-release it (just minus the 1996 snuff-film quality).

Anyways, apologies to OP for thread derailment. Trying to get better at not contributing to this. FWIW 180 16th notes is still amazing so you should be confident that sooner or later it will gel for you and you’ll get the double tracking consistency. I still stand by 180 BPM 16th notes for extended periods being the upper limit of what is expected in black metal as a genre, so you can be confident once you nail this song you should be good for the vast majority of everything else. There are bands that go above and beyond to be even more technical but a lot of that is studio trickery so just something else to watch out for.

I’m dying here. :rofl:

Edit: I mean, not literally.

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