Is tremolo picking to BLAME?

I am another player of Troy’s generation who was unable to figure out all the nuances of alternate picking at shred speeds. I spent years with Troy Stetina’s “Mechanics for Lead Guitar” and Later Petrucci’s “Rock Discipline”, and then even later Gilbert’s “Intense Rock” yet never achieved Yngwie-level shredding ability.

( Hopefully newer players, with access to youtube and CTC will not get hung up on the mysteries of string crossing.)

This led me to ask what went wrong for me? When players (I) start(ed) they are introduced to tremolo picking as the mechanic for alternate picking, which is then (supposedly) cultivated to be able to play all the fast shred licks.

I am wondering if the introduction of tremolo picking as the basis of lead playing mechanics is responsible for all the fail?

The basic warm up exercise of playing chromatic fours with alternate picking MEANS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. It may help synchronize left and right hands, but that kind of right hand technique is a DISEASE, imo.

The reason I say this is by posing a question: What happens when you try to play at tremolo picking speeds and you don’t perfectly nail the pick slant for string changes? Answer: You crash and burn. Clank. Slop. It sounds like garbage. Even if your hands are perfectly synchronized, the pick getting trapped below the string makes it sound like complete fail.

What happens if you fail with economy picking or legato? The lick sounds a little sloppy, maybe the meter floats a little bit, but you get to the other side without a complete fail.

That said, strict alternate picking appears to be a high risk, high reward technique. But I question if the reward really is that high? Perhaps it is just high risk and limits a players development?

Unfortunately, to a beginner, tremolo picking is conceptually simple and easy to do in time. In fact, alternate picking can work well for many canned licks like fast pentatonic runs or single string sequences.

I think this is the basis for all the problems that develop later for a lead player when he tries to develop next level speed.

Many years ago I added sweep arpeggios to my arsenal. At first they seem difficult, but now they are integrated into my playing.

I watched CTC Volcano and Antigravity seminars and endeavored to learn some Malmsteen songs with my new found knowledge, knowing full well that Yngwie is a downslope player, and uses economy and legato mixed into his fast lines.

The truth is that…for someone who has already studied sweep arpeggios, economy picking is dead simple!

I am a big fan of what Troy has done with CTC, but I’m wondering if strict alternate picking ala Antigravity is a “dead end” technique?

I think that any player who comes at speed runs from the perspective of already knowing sweep arpeggios, that economy picking is a natural fit and MORE IMPORTANTLY, its much harder to crash and burn if you don’t execute perfectly.

Starting lead players with tremolo picking is probably the reason so many fail later on when they try to use an ingrained, automatic right hand picking mechanic with lines that would otherwise trap the pick. If players start out learning sweeps, they would naturally adopt an economy picking motion for fast lines.

Your thoughts? Knowing what you know now, is it still worthwhile to develop an Antigravity 2WPS technique, or is this system just to salvage the technique of people who have an intractable AP mechanic baked into their right hand?


Uhm, I’m not sure about that: economy requires the smooth integration of sweeping and alternate picking. I don’t think you have it automatically by just having the other two.

PS: for me it’s much easier to fail with economy due to the difficulty of keeping things in time. Then of course it really depends on what type of licks we are talking about.

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You may be right, but with just an hour of work, I was able to learn to play the 3nps modal scales with economy picking mixed in, and I haven’t yet reached the speed ceiling. Even though I’ve been an alternate picker for 25+ years, it feels like economy picking these runs is a natural fit. The alternative is to try to formalize the 2WPS style (which I have used in an intuitive but sloppy way) technique.

IOW, I’ve been bashing my head against a wall for many years with AP and an incomplete understanding of pickslant mechanics; at this point it feels much easier to convert to economy.

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Indeed I think one can do really cool things with economy, and it can replace AP in a lot of musical scenarios. If I didn’t find timing so hard I would probably make it my primary strategy (it’s definitely faster for me - yet not controlled at high speeds).

In fact, if you have any tips or observations on the timing issue feel free to share with us :slight_smile:


I don’t have any suggestions. I’m curious if you frequently use/practice sweeps?

That is my contention, that people who approach speed picking having already developed sweeping will find economy picking easier.

I’ve noticed that many of the “second/third generation” shredders and fusion guys are using economy picking liberally.

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We are discovering here on the forum that some people do indeed have trouble with simple things like establishing a picking motion on a single string. If someone has habituated a stringhopping (or similar) type of motion and hasn’t ever nailed down what a pickslanting motion feels like, then even playing a single note on a single string can be a chore. We’ve seen actual clips of this here in Technique Critique. So single string practice, plus hand synchronization, using simple repeating patterns, is a good way (the best way?) to learn what an efficient motion feels like. And before we get on our “crosspicking” high horse, even great crosspickers like Chris Thile use a high-gear pickslanting movement at their highest speeds. Everyone needs to have this ability in their toolbox.


I learned economy picking before finding CTC. The result was that I could play some very specific things fairly fast, but it never felt like something that could be my main technique. Even a simple two note per string pentatonic lick was unplayable for me. The problem is that you don’t always get to change strings with a sweep. When you have to alternate pick a string change, you still need a two way pickslanting technique to do it. I didn’t have that, so I could only play lines where I could sweep every string change.

It’s also more difficult to be rhythmically precise with economy picking.

In the end, it seems to me that the alternate picking vs economy picking debate is kind of a red herring, since there is a more fundamental issue - the fact that you need a 2WPS technique for both.


Playing fast pentatonic 2nps patterns doesn’t require a 2wps, just needs one way PS.

Which is my point actually. When players education goes like this:

  1. Tremolo picking (hey I can pick fast!)
  2. 2NPS Pentatonic runs (hey, I can play lead guitar!)
  3. Picking primer like Stetina’s “Speed Mechanics for Lead Guitar”

When you get to #3, he has tabbed out all the string skipping exercises, and tells you to play everything with strict alternate picking (without discussing the actual mechanics). So your left hand progresses much faster than your right hand and your speed limit is based solely upon your right hand.

If you keep at it and are lucky, you may achieve a decent crosspicking technique. If you aren’t so lucky you become a string hopper.

If the education went something like this:

  1. Rakes on simple triads (perhaps later six string sweeps)
  2. Pentatonic riffs with combination of raking and picking.
  3. Speed Mechanics for Lead Guitar

By the time you get to #3 and are confronted with having to switch strings during fast sequences, your right hand might naturally resort to economy picking.

What happened to me was that I kept drilling the exercises and sequences, got to a functional speed for playing melodies (crosspicking), but as soon as trying to play at tremolo picking speed, the motion flattens out and you start getting trapped under strings. (It’s 1991 and I just spent $50 …$150 in todays dollars… on Petrucci’s Rock Discipline…only to find out its just Speed Mechanics for Lead Guitars in disguise, with no mention of slanting mechanics.)

If your primary approach was economy picking, the motion doesn’t change when you need to play really fast. There isn’t this huge invisible knowledge gap. You just need to play with the same motion, just more accurately and with more speed. And today’s economy shredders show this is possible.

I don’t doubt that you have to do some of the 4nps chromatic picking exercises for synchronization, but I do dipute the need to do it to the extent in Rock Discipline.

He had this speeding up, slowing down exercise for synchronization that COMPLETELY misses the fact that AP (tremolo picking), 4nps is completely useless for 95% of the runs you migh play.

What if everyone started off with the “Pop Tart Lick” instead? Not only does it let you generate speed without getting trapped, it shows you that you don’t need to pick every damn note! Go make some music kid, don’t get hung up on strict alternate picking.

It’s not that 4NPS is useless- doing exercises just doesn’t increase vocabulary and it’s uselsss for a musical standpoint. But from a mechanical standpoint it establish hand synchronization and Pickslanting mechanics.

Any even number of notes picking on a string (2, 4, or 6) is a One Way Pickslanting Lick Ascending and then the opposite pickslant descending- which pickslant happens when depends on whether you start on a down or an upstroke.

2 Notes per string is the exact same mechanic as 4 or 6- either Down or Upward Pickslanting. This allows people to play Pentatonics, 2NPS Arpeggios, Chromatic passing tones within scales, and 4NPS Scales (which could be Major, Melodic Minor, Harmonic Minor, Harmonic Major). These are all very useable tools to play over any type of chord changes (simple or complex) and improvise melodies.

Now of course practicing these exercises doesn’t allow one to improvise an amazing solo- you have to work on actually improvising to improve that skill. But it allows one to build a technical base (and the same goes for any technique- whether it’s 2 Way Pickslanting, Crosspicking, Hybrid Picking, Economy, Bending, Vibrato, Legato, etc.). It’s not about “my technique can’t do this”- it’s about how much can I create with this one technique. And if you try something that you can’t do then step back and analyze why it isn’t working and choose the technique that works the best and the easiest- sometimes you have to have backup tools.

I agree with your post. Yes there are many things that can be done with strict alternate picking . However, we need to make the distinction between now, with knowledge of CTC and 25 years ago, without this analysis…

Prior to CTC and without anyone spelling out the difference between UWPS and DWPS (I thought I was perpendicular even though I would switch between them without knowledge based on the lick I was playing)… and I confess, I’m actually quite embarassed that I never figured this out over 25+ years… I was able to play very fast licks with AP. However, there is the caveat that the technique needed to be organized for the picking. For instance, 2nps arpeggios, pentatonics, etc.

I always had the belief that the technique should serve the music and not the other way around. For instance, something I have always spent a ton of time practicing were ascending and descending sequences on a scale (ANY scale form whether 3nps or CAGED). And frankly, 2WPS is just junk for this kind of playing. And when you start improvising and working on variations of forms you have studied, for instance adding an extension to an arpeggio form, AP goes all to hell, regardless of whether you have command of 2WPS or not.

So in my vocabulary, I can play at 70% or less using crosspicking without issues, but if I need to step over that 70% boundary and play at 71%, my entire scale sequence vocabulary disappears because it can’t be played with 2WPS and its beyond the limits of my crosspicking… If these forms are practiced/ingrained with economy picking, when you want to play at 71% or 75% or 90%, the technique is the same and the vocabulary is still available.

This is why I’m asking if tremolo/AP as the basis for lead technique is the wrong way to teach? If someone drills endless “Rock Discipline” (4nps exercises at tremolo picking speeds) then their right hand will instinctively attempt AP on string changes and for the majority of real world phrases it falls apart at anything over 70% speed.

tldr; Build the vocabulary with economy picking. Only use 2wps when absolutely necessary (when playing those canned speed licks).


Everything you do is kind of out of necessity, whether it is for speed, tone … whatever. It just happens that for certain players the ‘necessity’ of using 2wps is much more than others.

Now if it’s not engrained to your playing, it will feel awkward, for sure. It’s like “I don’t swim well and hate it … but if I fall out of the boat I’ll be swimming out of necessity”. That doesn’t mean swimming is not enjoyable for other folks in the first place, but you are perfectly allowed to prefer climbing… whatever floats your boat :wink:

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How would “naturally resorting to economy picking” help you play a lick that resembles Stetina’s exercise 52? It’s one note on one string, 3 notes on the adjacent string, repeat. The only way to get the desired sound is to play it in a way that doesn’t include hammerons or pulloffs. The only approaches I know of that satisfy that are crosspicking and 2wps. (Edit: As @tommo observed below, you could also use swiping.)

If you bring a sweeping mindset to that lick, the most efficient approach is probably to “sweep” the descending string change and hammeron the last note before the ascending string change. But that’s a different sound than alternate picking. And if you try to use a sweep in either direction in that lick without using a hammeron or pulloff somewhere, you’re in for a world of pain. I don’t see any reason to believe that someone is more likely to accidentally discover crosspicking or 2wps that way than they are any other way.

The fundamental problem with 99% of the alternate picking advice that has come before is the lack of acknowledgement that people like Yngwie mostly do fast pickstrokes that are “trapped” at one end of the picking motion, and “free” at the other end of the motion, that many things that sound like strict alternate picking aren’t, and that people using that kind of approach aren’t truly free to “pick anything” at their max speed, but naturally gravitate to playing/writing fast licks that are idiomatic to their picking approach. That lack of clarity gets further compounded when people like Petrucci try to teach licks that go a level beyond and require 2wps, yet he himself is either unaware of or unable to successfully communicate how he is able to make those licks work.

No blame for tremolo picking. Only blame for the historic lack of recognition of the importance of the “trapped vs. escaped” concept in tremolo picking, and its consequences. (And at an even more basic level, recognizing the importance of avoiding a tremolo picking technique where the pick is “trapped” at both ends of the movement).


Mild off topic here, but I am very curious to understand better how JP’s high speed picking works. When he goes bananas I would guess that he uses DWPS + swiping rather than 2WPS, but I didn’t accumulate sufficient evidence on this.

Back on-topic: another big myth is related to swiping. So many fast players use it but would never admit it, hence setting up unreasonable expectations for their followers.

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Both good points, and to correct part of my post, you can make Stetina’s ex. 52 work without 2wps, crosspicking, hammerons or pulloffs if you “swipe” one of the changes.

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I haven’t gone back and looked closely. I think the consensus here has been that he was cleaner in the Rock Discipline era than he is now, I don’t know if that means he was ever pulling off clean 2wps or not.


We live in a tremolo picking world.

What if Yngwie, when he fist released his instructional video, was very forthcoming and explained exactly what he was doing? What if he told everyone that he used downstrokes mixed with some economy and legato, and the specific reasons he did this? Would the rock guitar community have come to different conclusions?

Given that Yngwie was pinnacle of rock guitar technique/artistry in the 80s, I don’t know how everyone else embraced strict alternate picking? It seems like the majority of methods Stetina, Gilbert, Petrucci were advocating AP.

While Gilbert was likable and a great teacher, to my ears his playing was more mechanical and not as artful as Yngwie’s… and I assume that many people also had this opinion… yet AP became the norm for some reason. (?) My opinion of Gilbert is that his music was organized around the dexterity, and Yngwie’s music was organized around the music.

If Yngwie had all the charisma and teaching ability of Gilbert, todays lexicon of guitar phrases could look quite a bit different. When you live in an AP world, “trapped vs escaped” is a crucial concept, but if so many players did not push the false AP narrative, I wonder if we would even be having this conversation. Its like CTC is an attempt to “salvage” all the AP playing we have invested into. (Don’t get me wrong, AP is baked into my playing, just wonder if it had to be this way…)

Given that Yngwie truly was at the pinnacle of rock guitar technique/artistry when he made his debut with the Steeler album, that he was ahead of his time, that he remained ahead of his time with the release of his Alcatrazz albums and then his Rising Force album, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect he would explain every little detail of how he did what he did on the guitar. If you were to go to a master craftsman whether he makes wooden furniture or leather shoes and were to ask him for all the little tricks of his trade - to ask him to explain in detail all the things he did to make his products better than those of his competitors, he’d either just laugh or with a very serious tone ask “What price have you paid? What do you think entitles you to just be handed on a silver platter the things that I’ve had to bleed, sweat and pay the price for”? He’d basically be saying you don’t deserve to know! You haven’t paid the price he had to pay to acquire that knowledge.

I’ve never seen the video in question so I don’t know exactly how much he described in his first instructional video but if it’s anything like some of the instructional clips I’ve seen on YouTube where Yngwie teaches some of the things he does, I’d bet that he probably taught enough to give the buyer of the video his money’s worth but I’d also bet he stopped well short of handing the buyers of the video the equivalent of the keys to the kingdom.

I’ve seen some Paul Gilbert instructional videos and his problem is he tries to be a comedian. He thinks he’s funny and he’s not. I saw a video where he hired some girls that looked like high school cheerleaders to chant compliments to him. It wasn’t funny; it was embarrassing. Aside from that he seemed to be a fairly good teacher but he fell far, far short of explaining things in the kind of detail Troy does.

Well, to be fair one has to say, that “funny” is

a. in the eye of the beholder
b. related to the Era. It was the early 90s - Things considered funny back then very often are “funny in a bad way” nowadays. Think about “married, with children” perhaps. I laughed my ass off back then. gives me a grin today. But not about the jokes, but the “overall product” (and a bit about myself, because I laughed my ass off over that back then ;).

And the reason Paul did not explain as detailed as Troy does is easy. Ha can’t because he doesn’t/didn’t know. Unless you don’t observe your own picking in SloMo form the right angle, you usually don’t know or have a misconception about what you are doing.


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If that were the case, he would have also explained the whole “trapped/escaped” thing, because it’s a central part of what allows his technique to work.

Even if you object to including Yngwie in the pantheon of “alternate pickers” on the grounds that his technique is “more than just strict alternate picking”, the fact remains that lots of Yngwie’s body of work includes consecutive notes that are picked with successive upstrokes and downstrokes, both for notes on the same string, and for descending string changes. That dimension of his technique doesn’t disappear just because his technique also includes other things. That is, the ability to play fast notes with alternating downstrokes and upstrokes is a necessary part of Yngwie’s technique, even though by itself it isn’t sufficient to play Yngwie’s stuff.

Frankly, when I was learning, I never made a connection between “tremolo picking” and “fast alternate picking”. “Tremolo picking” was something that was relegated to simple sequences where individual notes were repeated many times, and was easy to do at high speeds. My mindset for years was that trying to do “fast alternate picking” was a completely separate notion from “tremolo picking”, because as far as I was concerned, “tremolo picking” wasn’t conducive to the kind of complex passages being played by guys like Yngwie and Paul Gilbert. To me, the idea of “yeah, take your tremolo picking and add these couple of wrinkles to how you do it and suddenly you’ve opened up the potential to play a bunch of cool stuff that you couldn’t play before” was a huge deal, and feels less restrictive than forcing lines to fit into Gambale-style fretboard patterns.

The advice I find most harmful in retrospect is the “play it slow, and gradually increase the metronome until faces were melting”. No, pretty much everyone probably has the capacity to “tremolo pick” , and then with a few key insights, you can suddenly harness that speed in a way you couldn’t previously. @Troy has used a “bicycle” analogy many times, and I agree with it 100%. You don’t learn to ride a bike by pedaling as slowly as possible to a metronome, and gradually learning to pedal at faster and faster rates. You need to develop a feel for what it’s like to be on the bike and pedaling at a rate that’s conducive to keeping your balance. Once you have the feel for that, you can start adding new wrinkles, like turning, popping wheelies, riding with one hand, etc.

To me, this idea of fantasizing about a world where nobody learned to tremolo pick is like fantasizing about a world where people shuffle along on their bikes with both feet touching the ground, or only go fast on their bikes when they coast downhill. Those thing have their place, plus there’s probably all kinds of cool half-pipe bicycle trick craziness that’s more or less disconnected from the world of pedaling, but the existence and broad usefulness of pedaling isn’t diminished by those things.

It’s a little like saying “think of how much better everybody would be at fingerstyle playing if the plectrum had never been invented”. That may be true on its face, but I’m glad we live in a world where fingerstyle isn’t the only thing people do on guitar.

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