Ok after years and years of putting in the attempt to alternate pick I’ve come to the sad reality that for various reasons I’m just never going to get it down. I think I’m pulling off the impossible as well because I’m actually getting worse the more I practice it. I think one of the biggest issues is I’ve developed really bad technique of playing 30 plus years and for the life of me I don’t know how to fix it as you can see in the video. Maybe it’s a simple adjustment with how I position my hand, hold the pick etc,??? I’ll never figure it out on my own until I fly Troy out to Las Vegas and sit him down in person so he can see what I’m doing wrong. Or by miracle You guys can figure it out for me here. If I have to completely relearn how to “walk” again with the RIGHT technique I’ll do it. It’s just incredibly frustrating When you’ve put in the 10 thousand hours and you never succeed because you don’t know what you’re doing wrong. Help!
Thanks for posting. The updates we’re making to the Primer are intended to address exactly the issues you are having. The new wrist motion chapters in particular walk you step by step through the process of getting your pickstroke to move and look like it’s supposed to, so that you will have no more “air balls”, which is my term for when you miss the string like you’re describing.
You can find the new wrist motion tutorials here:
I see in our records that you picked up a copy of the Cascade seminar a while back. We don’t really go into too much detail on the actual motions there — it’s more about applying those motions to EJ-style lines.
As a complement, we’re going to give you a month of online access to the Primer so you can check out the new stuff. We just did that, so you’re good to go until July 10th on that. I recommend watching a little bit of all the new stuff. Specifically:
Check out some of the new “pick design” videos, in particular the 351, Edge Picking, and Jazz III videos. The pointyness of the pick you use, and how it interacts with edge picking, is good to get a handle on. You’re using a high approach angle and it’s giving you north of 45 degrees of edge picking. If you want to keep doing that, you’ll need to use a pointy pick or you’re going to slide right off the string and not get the “positive contact” you’re looking for.
Check out the grip videos. These are all very tutorial-oriented and not super heavy. There’s nothing wrong with your grip, but learning a couple different grips is a great way to help get the feel of different picking motions when you’re still trying to make them work.
And check out the wrist motion stuff, as well as the forearm and elbow motions. The key takeaway here is to understand what a “single escape” picking motion looks like, and how to use rest strokes to make that happen. This will give you the positive contact you are looking for.
Also key here is that you practice these things fast enough, with just a single or note, or a simple phrase, so that you can “get the feel” of when it starts working. If you go super slow it’s not going to click. You have to go for it like a teenager, and see if you can get it to work right away.
Let us know how you make out!
Not trying to contribute anything of value after Troys post but wanted to say that i watched the video twice because your voice gives me serious johnny-cash vibes.
Also, you are not alone in feeling that kind of frustration. Especially when guitar playing becomes about results, not making progress for years can feel like going to the gym 7 times a week and not gaining a pound.
The good news is, while guitar progress doesnt follow the “just”-priciple of effort=progress as much as sports tend to do, the breakthroughs which can take place in just months are more significant, so hang in there
Hey Troy thank you so much for the response. It’s so damn frustrating when you keep doing things wrong, and don’t know how to fix them. How do I access the primer video’s? Just click on that wrist motion link? Yes you are right, I picked up the EJ package a couple of years ago. If it makes it a lot simpler for you that’s really all I want to learn how to do. Just learn the 2 note per string pentatonic Johnson approach. I really don’t care to learn the 3 note Yngwie thing, or any of the other over the top fast stuff. Maybe down the road though. I’ve been working on that sweeping 5 thing forever, and it never seems to sound right. Probably because I’m doing the most basic things wrong with how I’m connecting with the strings. One thing you mentioned is my high approach angle, and I have always wondered if that was screwing me up. For what ever reason I picked up on that and it feels natural. I’ve never really seen anybody do it though. The first pic is me doing that. Should I switch to the second picture where the whole pad of my hand is laying across the strings? Also I am using a pointed pick like the one in the picture. It’s kind of worn down a bit, but it’s basically a JazzIII type but slight bigger. I’ll start practicing what you say, so thanks again for the guidance.
I forgot to mention as well that I’ve always curled my picking hand pinky like I do in the first hand picture. Should I get away from doing that? When I started years ago I was taught thru classical guitar to use the pinky as some sort of crutch for stability. I notice with you there’s none of that so it’s floating which to me feels like riding a bike without training wheels.
Haha! Funny you mention the Johnny Cash thing. I’m a singer (thank God) for a show out here in Las Vegas on the strip at Planet Hollywood called “Vegas Gone Country” that’s based on performing as legendary country artist like Cash, Patsy Klein, Tim McGraw, Garth Brooks (I’m playing Ronnie Dunn from Brooks N Dunn) so think I’m picking up on their voices a bit. I did grow up in Texas though so maybe it’s always been there Using the weight lifting analogy is spot on with me, because I’ve always been a athletic guy. I can do basically anything well when it comes to hand, eye coordination like hitting tennis balls, golf balls, throwing and catching footballs etc, I’m also a quick gainer when it comes to the gym, so that’s one of the many reasons why it’s so damn annoying and frustrating to me that I can’t get the picking thing down, because it really is a athletic thing and hand eye thing! If I was a total klutz that was never good at sports it would make sense to me that physically I just don’t have it, that’s not been the case other than the guitar.
Everything we have is accesible right from the home page at troygrady.com. The big box that says “Primer” on it is what you are looking for. Watch as much or as little as you like but I recommend the sections I highlighted.
In general, I recommend getting the picking motion going on a single string using either a single note or a simple repeating phrase in one spot - the Yngwie “six-note pattern” is a classic, but anything simple will do. Do that first before trying to play patterns that move across the strings.
Re: other questions I really recommend watching the material first since it may answer some of them. The name of the game is trying new things like different grips and picking motions to see how they feel, until you find something that is smooth and produces the results you want. Do this all at medium or fast speeds, because that’s where motions are the most natural and will give you the most physical of feedback of “yes this is working” or “no, something feels off”.
If I understand correctly, you’re trying to move away from the “clock face” metaphor in the refresh of the Primer stuff. Just a heads up that you mention “clock face” in passing at about 9:35 of the video below. For what it’s worth, I call corporate-named sports venues by their old names all the time.
I’m sure we have thoroughly confused everyone by this point!
We’re keeping the clock face stuff. We’re going to edit up a more polished and shorter version of clock face and put it in the “wrist mechanics” section on that page, along with another video on deviation, flextension, blends, Hospital for Special Surgery, and so on.
The “mechanics” section comes first, but it’s really a “for further reading” type of section, and I fully expect some people will naturally skip it and go straight to the tutorials anyway. And that’s fine because we realized while editing the tutorials that I really don’t make much mention of clocks or even pickslanting for that matter. It wasn’t intentional, it’s just mostly visual and hands-on. Which is more direct.
As we add chapters to this section I will make sure and reference where someone can find the clock stuff they’re interested, because I’m sure I’ll reference it at some point. But again, if we can get you doing it first, the clock stuff will be icing on the cake for those who are more technically minded.
I’ll get on watching those videos ASAP! Thanks for the hook up Troy.
curling the pinky is very normal for many players. no big deal
the one thing that sort of stood out to me right away was the angle of the hand when you are picking the high e string. It reminds me of what I used to do years ago when I sucked really bad. I mean I REALLY sucked on the high E and B.
Lets say you are comfortably picking on the A string. Now, how do you then move down to pick the high E string?? I guess there are 3 basic ways:
- dont move the arm at all, but bend the wrist sideways (ulnar deviation)
open the elbow joint more WITHOUT moving the arm from the shoulder
open the elbow joint more AND move the arm from the shoulder
So options 1 and 2 are going to change the wrist angle so that the wrist is pointing down more towards the floor, and the wrist and pick etc will move back towards the bridge
option 3 will lessen the amount of changing angles and thus the whole picking setup will be more consistent from string to string.
With option 1 and 2 its more like each string will be a totally different instrument due to your wrist etc being in 6 different angles. Does that sound like something that will be easy to build upon, or like something that makes it 6 times as difficult?
Why do I say all that? Because to me that position you are trying to pick from is just a very difficult looking position. IMO the wrist is pointing way too much to the floor. If you freeze the vid after your downstroke, the pick is almost vertical. Meanwhile the string is horizontal.
Yeah, of course there is “edge picking” where the pick will be angled slightly at an angle to the string instead of being exactly horizontal, but to me you have WAY too vertical of a pick.
I used to do the exact thing on the high E and B and id often simply miss the string. I could pick the B and miss the E altogether
Id rather see you maybe take the wrist position on the low E or A and then, withOUT radically changing the angles etc, move the whole forearm and hand down more as a unit and more in a straight line down (without the hand swinging back as much towards the bridge). To do that youll probably have to move the upper arm from the shoulder while also opening the forearm angle too as I described in option 3 above.
You dont have to have the pick exactly horizontal with the string but IMO youd be WAY better off with the pick a lot closer to horizontal than you have it now.
Im a pretty good picker but there’s no way I could pick from that wrist and pick setup in your vid. (I tried for close to 30 years and still sucked. Sound familiar??)
I wouldnt even worry so much about crossing strings yet until you have a nice smooth and fairly fast and effortless motion on the open strings.
now, on missing the B string…going by what you are showing in the vid
to oversimplify a bit, it looks to me like you are setup as a “downward pickslanter”…or stating it the other way, you are an “upward escaper”. So whats all that mean? Well essentially you favor having the butt end of the pick closer to the ground and the tip end a little higher. So the butt end is pointing “down”. Nothing wrong with that btw…same as Yngwie and many others.
Okay, also you seem to be moving the pick more or less correctly for that downward slant orientation. In other words when u do a downstroke the pick sort of buries itself more towards the body of the guitar, and when you do an upstroke the pick “escapes”. After an upstroke your pick is free up in the air lol. So your downstrokes go in towards the body and your upstrokes move away from the body. This is really clear at around .49 in your vid
Again, that “in towards the body on downs and out away from the body on ups” is correct for the downward pick angle you have. The problem is, I dont think you understand what it implies and the “rules” that go along with it.
Essentially you are going to have to change strings after an upstroke…or stated the other way around, you need to go to a new string with a downstroke. Same as Yngwie does.
So if you are going to do a pentatonic pattern with 2 notes er string starting on a downstroke, your motion would work. (im ignoring the excessive “vertical pick” edging)
So this should work for you:
Down up, down up, down up, no probs
but what about this basic pattern with only one note on the high E?
with your downward slant and matching pick motion, if you pick the high E with a downstroke, you will have 2 issues:
you’ll be on the wrong side of the high E string
even worse, youll be “buried” down sort of under the high E and to get to the B you gotta “stringhop” back over the E. Thats extremely inefficient and slow and sucky feeling
Well what to do? Well, if u want to keep your current downward setup etc, you have to start that lick with an upstroke on the high E. If you upstroke the high E you are then “escaped” and you are then setup naturally to pick down, up on the B and then setup again to pick down, up on the G.
Remember, with that setup you have to change strings AFTER an upstroke, or stated the other way, go to a new string with a downstroke.
Same for 3 note per string scales. What to do if you want to do this?
Well if u go D-U-D on the high E, you again find yourself buried down on the wrong side of the high E with no good way to the B string.
But if you go U-D-U on the high E then you will be setup to easily go to the B string with a downstroke. of course then you’ll have the same problem on the B lol. If you go D-U-D on the B then you are stuck again lol. good stuff. This is the nature of 3 note per string scales
of course there are several ways around this issue. Yngwie would generally either use 4 notes per string or he’d simply throw in a pulloff where needed.
So for this pattern:
He’d have to go D-U-pulloff then on the B string D-U-pulloff, then the rest would fit his picking style so the G string would be D-U-D-U and the D is just D-U
Anyway, Id like to see you get away from that vertical hand, vertical pick look and move back some towards a more horizontalish pick. Even a 45 degree angle would be better but id try more like a 30 degree angle or thereabout
no clue who the guy in the pic is but this is in the ballpark. He’s moved the whole hand and arm lower without pointing everything straight down to the floor:
or our boy, looks around 45 degrees to me:
less than 45
you get the idea. at least its something to try. When I ‘reached down’ with the pick like you are doing I really sucked badly, especially on the high strings and used to entirely miss the strings quite a bit
I can’t elaborate more than what’s been said already because I’m new here and still in the beginning stages of getting this down myself.
But I can offer a bit of advice that might help. I’ve also been playing for a long time and can’t stress how valuable the lessons Troy offers are.
I struggled for a bit in the beginning making sure I was doing the correct movements in regards to Dwps/uwps/2WPS.
I made a discovery through golf of all things. In golf it’s easy to get caught up in the minute movements of a swing. But I studied a bit and discovered the “feel” of the movement physically was much more important. I found that after a bunch of trial and error I could correct my swing if I could correlate parts of the swing to other movements I make in everyday life. Then I’d exaggerate them while practicing.
For this, Dwps particularly I really found that if I concentrated on picking on a downstroke towards the pickguard and up and out towards an imaginary point a foot in front of my picking hand’s shoulder i could reasonably recreate the correct movement. From there it’s just a matter of putting the jets on. Probably won’t help but good luck!
If we back up and look at the bigger picture:
You CAN improve greatly. It makes no difference how many times you’ve failed or how long you’ve tried. Thats not motivational gobbledygook, its simple fact.
This thing is like 99% mechanical in nature. So you have to sort of learn to think that way. Id say right now you have very little mechanical awareness.
The people who we call “talented” can develop about 90% of their skills in 2-3 years. Somehow they know instinctively when something is right or when its wrong. If its awkward and clunky feeling, its probably wrong. So they quickly move on and find something that feels better
in this day and age we have HUGE advantages above other generations. We have in depth instruction with high speed close up vids etc.
Find what works. Stop grinding away on stuff that doesnt work. If the milk is sour dont put it back in the fridge and try it again tomorrow. Throw it out and dont go back to it.
Look at the best pickers like Yngwie and Paul Gilbert. They dont do anything weird looking…no weird angles. It looks effortless when they play because it IS pretty easy for them. They have learned efficient ways to do things
Also, you probably simply dont know how to practice lol. No shame in that. I played for about 27 years before seeing some of Troys vids. They opened my eyes to the whole world of the mechanics of playing. I became more mechanically aware. Like “oh gee, no wonder I cant do this lick…my pick is way over here totally out of position.” My playing got maybe 20% better. I considered it a small miracle
But then about 4 more years passed and I hadnt gotten any better and I wasnt “great” by any stretch. Why not? I was more mechanically aware so what was the problem now?? Easy. I had no idea how to practice efficiently. Ive made huge gains in that for about the last 6 months and its going quite well now. Just jamming and doing whatever is a good way to never get better. Even worse is just ingraining bad habits deeper and deeper
In any case, you should be happy in a sense. You have some HUGE gains ahead of you. Its just a matter of learning some simple efficient motions and then building on them little by little
The (headless) chap in the first picture above is Martin Goulding, I believe. Excellent teacher and player who used to write some great columns in Guitar Techniques magazine here in the UK.
Ok I filmed myself trying to make the attempt to do your Upstroke escape hand position without planting my pinky on the pick guard, and with and this is the result.
It’s very difficult (for me anyway) to know if what I’m doing is right once I make the attempt to do it myself?? It looks so easy to copy what you’re doing, but looking at my hand and how I hold the pick it just looks awkward.
I have big clumpy hands and to me it never looks like what I see from you, EJ, Yngwie etc, when I plant my palm that’s closer to the thumb down further on the strings my pick starts to turn more sideways. Not sure if if that’s good or bad. All I do know is that when I actually try to apply what you’re doing to alternate picked passages it’s a total train wreck as you can hear.
What are your thoughts? Thanks Troy.
This looks great. It’s fast enough that we know there are no speed or stringhopping problems here. I don’t nitpick whether it’s 170bpm or 200bpm or whatever the internet considers “fast”. The whole “I can’t play fast thing” is vastly over-dramatized. If you had total smoothness at this speed right here, across a wide range of fretboard shapes, that’s enough to be a devastating player in almost any style.
The point is this is a strong start and you’re doing it. Are you always able to play at this speed with this degree of naturalness or is this new? Because if you can always do this then maybe your problems aren’t as problematic as you think.
Did you try out the different grip options while doing this? The most compact option is the trigger style closer to the second knuckle, the first one we demo. The most extended on the index finger is the “angle pad” grip we look at. And the most extended of all, with the most supinated arm, is the middle finger one. Try them out, and try out different degrees of thumb overlap when you do this. Refer to the “pick grip” chapters for more on what that is.
Put your phone into slow motion mode if you have it, move it a little closer to your hand, and see if you can get a look at what path the pick is actually travelling. Typically, when you’re new with a motion, you’ll see randomness. It will appear to have the right path some of the time, then flip flop to something else. In your case, you may see what looks like upstroke escape, then you may see downstroke escape, then you might see some where you can’t tell. You may also see varying amounts of other motions trying to intefere - your forearm or elbow moving sometimes and not other times.
This is all normal. Over time, you will iron this out to where you can trigger upstroke escape when you want it, with only the motion you want (wrist, forearm, whatever), with the smoothness you want, for any length of time. As you can see here, doing the motion correctly at least a couple times is immediate. Doing it smoothly and accurately is the long tail. That’s the one that takes months to work out, a little bit better every week.
Film it up close and see if you’re doing what you think your’e doing.
Thank you! Is my hand position at the beginning of the video when I’m tremolo picking on one string ok? That’s what I’m not sure about if it was right. The EJ position looks good to me.
To answer your questions for the most part I’ve been able to tremolo pick like that on one string for a while. To me if I could play at the speeds that Eric does on the Austin City Limits show I’d be golden. So around. 170-200 maybe occasionally faster like Paul Gilbert but to my ears when it’s too fast it stops becoming musical.
The issue is when I get into “alternate picking mode” things in my hand/muscle start to change. My thumb and index finger start to wiggle around, I start to go linear across the strings instead of up and down almost like I’m dancing, tiptoeing around them instead of going thru them.
I tried different pick grips. The first pic is what I normally do, and the second one is what I tried. I notice you do that along with a bunch of other great players. I don’t see that being a problem learning. I’ll shoot another video in slo mo to see if I can pick up on what you’re talking about.
This is normal when you are learning something new. You haven’t figured out what it feels like yet enough to turn it on deliberately. All the speeds feel different so the feeling of familiarity isn’t there yet. It’s not that you can’t “play fast”, it’s that you can’t recognize when it’s right, even though you are occasionally doing it. It’s like trying to raise one eyebrow. At first you can only do it by accident. Over time, you can do it on command. This is what I was referring to about other motions interfering. The goal of learning a new motion is to try to become so familiar with what it feels like when you’re doing it right that six moths from now when you play you don’t see any of that inteference any more, and all the speeds feel familiar to you.
Dabbling in a wide variety of phrases is good. But don’t get so hung up on “EJ”-style lines that you only do that. Instead, work on everything and spend the most time on whatever seems to be producing results right now. Everything you get helps you get the next thing. Constant dabbling and testing will tell you what is working and what is not. Right now, a simple repeating phrase on a single string with strong hand synchronization is an important phrase to be dabbling with, among everything else.
Yeah you’re probably right. I’ve gotten so caught up in doing the EJ Cliffs of Dover type licks mainly because it’s driving me nuts that I can’t do it. Haha I’ll start trying the 4-6 notes on one string approach like what Yngwie or Paul Gilbert does. Thanks for the help as always Troy.
I fully ‘duplicate’ your frustration. I’m downright exasperated . I’ve almost reached Giveups’ville.
The real precise individual area of difficulty that we struggle with may differ, but your description of the how it makes you feel is very meaningful and very much spot on and really makes me feel sorry for us. (Self Pity)
But here’s something you can take to heart and remember you may be far better off than others out there. Consider yourself very fortunate, I endure the same difficulties as you but I live in South Africa!