Learning Carl Miner's Technique

I have only been playing steel string a few weeks, I bought my first steel string guitar, then I found this site, then I started watching the videos, especially Carl Miner, and I am spending hours just trying to mimic his movements. My hope is to learn it right from the get go. So far his movement feels very natural to me because it is the only movement I have ever used. His escape is more exaggerated when he plays slow, and much more compact when he speeds up, his wrist is loose and relaxed and his forearm is active as he seems to have a slight wrist rotation and forearm rotation on the upstroke, and a slight downward forearm movement combined with a tiny amount of wrist flexion on the downstroke, and his pick is almost perfectly vertical to the strings with a slight leading edge, and only the very tip of the pick seems to ever touch the strings. I am hoping if I can make this my natural picking action I won’t begin to string hop and have to try to undo it. I can’t thank you enough for having this information here, for a beginner like me it provides hope that I might avoid having to unlearn bad habits in the future. Fingers crossed and thanks Troy!

Hi Chris! Thanks for finding your way to us. I moved this from the srtinghopping thread into a new thread because it’s really more about Carl’s technique than stringhopping. Feel free to edit the title something more relevant if you want.

Your description of what Carl is doing sounds right on target — you clearly got an eye for this stuff. However, that also makes me a little nervous because I would caution that every time I’ve ever had success learning a new technique, it wasn’t by knowing motion details and trying to replicate them down to the level of individual joints. Instead it was actually always by turning off my thinking brain, and trying to play fast and sloppy and just “winging it”. What happens is you’ll suddenly do something that feels smooth and fast but sloppy. And then you go hey, what was that? And then you try to see if you can do it again.

Also, when I do this first step, it’s not as a result of spending hours trying to perform a particular motion. It’s usually a thing that happens in minutes, and more or less by accident, while doing something else. It’s definitely not the kind of slow laborious repetition you typically hear about.

And again, I’m just talking about the first step here. I don’t mean to imply that you won’t eventually spend a lot of time playing music with these techniques and trying to clean them up. You just won’t be spending a lot of time on the very first step. Carl himsefl in the interview says that when he first started with this technique, he tried to make relaxed movements that felt sloppy and felt like they could go fast. That’s exactly what I’m talking about.

Just trying to save you some trouble here. Ironically, technical descriptions of picking motions are like trigger words for me, because I feel like someone might be going down the wrong road. As is any mention of “hours” spent trying to learn a motion.

Again, not that these things don’t take time. They do! It’s more how the time is spent.

Thanks so much Troy, this site is amazing and really helpful. So my question then is this, if I just relax and sort of noodle around I find myself string hopping a little bit, so that was my concern, that I might develop that as my 'go to ’ habit, and from my readings on this site it seems like string hopping is not a good thing, so that made me want to copy a ‘non string hopping’ style, and Carl’s feels pretty confortable in that regard. How do propose the best way for me as a beginner to get it right at the start so I don’t have to unlearn ? Do I vaguely try to move as Carl does so I don’t fall back into a tiny string hop style which seems to be my ‘natural’ way, its not wild string hopping but a bit, so I am wanting to weed that out if you think that is important. Oddly if I just relax and let my hand do what it wants I find my pick sort of slanted forward towards the first string, and my movement is almost side to side across the string in tiny movements, there may be an arc there, I can’t tell, but that feels super natural, it is just that if I am not careful I find my self doing a lot of wrist rotation and such. I did back, and order, one of your magnet’s so looking forward to that, but for now any thoughts you might ad to the above would be super helpful. Thanks!

You haven’t played for long enough for any bad habits to become permanent so I would set that thought aside. It’s not going to happen.

Speed is the test. If it’s not fast, it’s not right. And by fast in bluegrass terms I mean you can play at least, let’s say, 140bpm sixtreenth notes and you don’t feel any arm tension. I’m not saying you’ll have great accuracy at that speed, or the ability to play complicated lines. A single note on a single string is enough for now. And because we’re talking about bluegrass, you want that note to sound good, where if you’re playing continuous fast eight notes, they sound smooth and not choppy or cut off.

The good news is that until you can do this you shoudln’t feel pressure to practice in any kind of traditional sense. This is more experimental where you’re just playing for fun and trying to hit that goal one day. Like I said it usually happens immediately. Like, hey, what did I just do there? That’s when you have something. Like fishing.

By all means feel free to experiment and play with relaxation like Carl said he did. But now you can work smarter instead of harder. If you’re not passing the test then you have to actually try to do something different. It doesn’t matter if it’s similar to what Carl does or not. It just matters that the end result meets these requirements.

Thanks so much Troy, that is really helpful to me as a beginner. Will do!

Hi Troy! You said that if you can’t do 140bpm+ sixteens that the motion isn’t necessarily efficient. So with that being the case, is a there a tune you would recommend as a test of crosspicking efficiency other than maybe Tumeni Notes? I thought I was doing pretty good using John Petrucci’s Glasgow Kiss as a litmus test, but the crosspicked portion of that song is shockingly slow compared to your benchmark, haha.

It’s just a type of picking motion, so I wouldn’t interpret it as only being appropriate for “one note per string” phrases. It’s not like Molly Tuttle only plays arpeggios. You can play whatever you want. Blues, scales, doesn’t matter. Play what interests you!