Is forearm rotation required?


Some background
I’ve played guitar for about 17 years, mixed genres. I rarely play anything faster than 16ths at ~130 BPM but I’m currently looking to improve my speed, spending a lot of time with the metronome.

I’ve started looking at my technique and have managed to transition my “default slant” from upward pickslanting to downward pickslanting which has helped me since some of the licks I’d like to play seem to contain a lot of USX.

My current picking technique has my thumb pad resting on the lower strings not being played, and I use primarily wrist motion. Forearm rotation feels weird not because of the motion but due to the change in hand placement on the bridge, something that would require me to relearn something that feels natural to me by now. Is there a case for sticking with my current technique or should I definitely practice getting the forearm rotation in there? Do you think there are obvious limitations in not involving the rotation?

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I just realized I do supinate my forearm and use rotation whenever I’m chugging away on rhythm sections, perhaps that’s a vote for actually trying to get comfortable with a more supinated right hand setup for leads as well, for consistency.

You’re in good company as I’ve been in the same boat. Forearm rotation isn’t required, but does indeed work really naturally with USX. If you’re more comfortable with wrist motion/deviation that can work too. I was digging through the forum to see what mechanic EJ uses, as I don’t recall it specified in the seminar. Looks like it’s a bit of a mystery, but this thread seems to indicate wrist deviation could be the source, though it’s blended: Eric Johnson - rotational picking?

So I’d say, based on feedback I’ve heard over and over again from the experts on here, what you need to do is find a movement that feels fast and smooth to you, and run with it.

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In theory there is a way to do a USX motion from a pronated arm position using a “dart thrower” type wrist motion but no player we have filmed appears to do this. All the players that I can think of who do Gypsy type lines do it with some kind of supinated arm position, even if it’s only minimallly so, like Eric Johnson for example.

That being said, I wouldn’t worry too much about “re-learning” or “unlearning” things. People say this all the time as though their brain is full and they can never learn a new thing. Eddie Van Halen has at least three picking tecniques he uses on a regular basis, so there’s really no reason you can’t easily add to the pile of awesome things you know.

USX in particular is like its own language. No matter which form or joint motion you use for it, when you click into it, you will mainly play lines from that vocabulary and not from others. So for example no more three note per string scales with alternate picking. If you want to learn that language, awesome. Think of it as a fun new thing you can do. But it’s not mandatory by any means, nor is it really a “re-learning” in the sense of replacing your current techniques, since you can still keep whatever techniques you already know.


Thanks a lot Troy! I like that perspective, it’s not relearning, it’s just another tool in the toolbox. I’ll have it as part of my practice routine.

And thanks to you too Joe, much appreciated!

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I just wanted to post a little update here.

I’ve managed to get forearm rotation into my picking technique now and I really like what it gives me. It’s a great utility for string switching and I feel it’s also quite useful for accents.

What helped me “get it” was to stop considering it like an on and off switch, it’s much more like volume knob. Instead of trying to change my technique completely I’ve kept on playing and practicing as usual but kept reminding myself every now and then to try and bring in some of that motion. Supernation of the forearm was the same thing, volume knob, not on and off, just gradually easing into the setup. My feeling is not that I have changed my technique but rather increased my range if that makes sense, and it just so happens that the way I prefer to pick now is somewhere in the “new territory” so I’m pretty happy I tried.


Rotation is awesome for fast 3 note per string runs and tons of other stuff.

But I had huge problems being able to switch between rotation and deviation for a while - kept on reverting back to whatever my last big picking style was. But I found a super simple way to do it easily:

For wrist deviation I keep my fingers extend and straight and flat across the strings (on picking hand), this make it impossible to do full blown rotation and forces deviation. For rotation I curl up my fingers - and that puts picking hand into rot mode :slight_smile:
I can switch between both really quickly now (even super fast runs) - super handy!

For me the rotational movement always felt natural. I had many times that tried different other movements that always felt unnatural to me. I also reached my speed limits quite early. With the rotational movement I can play up to one hundred eighty beats per minute with sixteenth notes. The movement then automatically transitions to elbow picking which I can use to go up to two hundred thirty bpm. I would say use that movement that feels natural to you and that allows you to play whatever you like to play and how fast you wanna play.

That’s really interesting - I can’t transition to elbow movement from rotation at all - but I can with wrist deviation. How does that work?

With both wrist and rotation I can hit 15 notes per second (16ths @ 230bpm or 16th triplets @ 150bpm), rotation feels the more controlled method.

I now use both whenever I feel like its applicable.

Wrist deviation for me has a more consistent tone (pick hits at the same angle), rotation has more controlled “depth” power.

I uploaded a video today where I demonstrate my way of speed picking. It has a part in it where I shortly demonstrate and explain that transition. I never needed to practice this transition. It happened automatically. I needed to practice Gypsy Picking a lot though (-:


Yep, I do the same with the gypsy setup - it’s probably the same weird elbow/rotator cuff USX motion that Troy does as well.

Hey @Bent welcome to the forum, and great playing!

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Hi Joe, thank you! Even though I just posted for the first time I’m here for at least 6 month, enjoying the forum!


Ha, silly me for following the instructions:

Good to have you around and posting just the same. You seem to have a good handle on the mechanics you are demonstrating. I’m in the middle of unlearning years of not thoughtful technique :slight_smile:

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My main style is gypsy jazz. I started with this guitar technique about 12 years ago and it took me about 5 years to really learn the technique. the rotational forearm motion always felt natural to me and I’m able to play almost any Django solo (in theory). My problem are all the other picking techniques. Neither am I able to properly cross pick nor am I able to play all the two way pickslanting stuff. These techniques really got me frustrated…

Very cool. My challenge to that would be…do you need the other picking techniques ? Are there things you’d like to play that you cannot that would require cross picking or double escape? You’ve got an awesome single escape technique. That’s good enough for Joe Pass, Tal Farlow, Eric Johnson, Yngwie etc. Sometimes it’s fun to learn new techniques just to learn them, of course :slight_smile: