Maboroshi's picking motions

I’ve been experimenting with different motions since the ‘Bulletproof Wrist Picking With USX Motion’ video came out five months ago, and the Wrist Motion Checklist a little after that, but I’ve yet to hit on a motion that can cleanly play fast and smooth on a single note, let alone move across strings. This is the fastest motion I’ve been able to do:

Magnet Perspective, 0.12x Speed

Magnet Perspective, Full Speed

Audience Perspective (+bonus Troy reflection)

Down The Strings Perspective

(Apologies for the low volume, the clips are straight from an iPhone.)

My main problem with this movement is that I can’t do it without my fingernails dragging across the strings. Aside from being rather uncomfortable, it also adds a lot of noise when playing with more gain, and I can’t play on the high E string because I’ve run out of strings to rest on. Any attempt to transition into picking without my nails planted on the strings, such as adding more wrist extension and increasing pick exposure as described in the wrist motion checklist, causes the motion to completely fall apart, it’s much slower and the pick catches on the string.

Any ideas on how to fix this? I’ve tried varying this motion to get my fingers away from the strings, as well as completely abandoning it and looking for a motion that doesn’t have that problem to begin with, but in all the hours I’ve spent experimenting with it, I haven’t hit on anything better.

Any help would be much appreciated.

(edit: added 2 more clips now that the limitation has been removed)


A couple of possible ways to avoid the “fingernails making unwanted contact with the strings”:

  1. Consider curling the fingers a little tighter? This has a few possible downsides, including possible increased tension in the picking hand, and potential to replace the uncomfortable “nail rubbing” with uncomfortable “knuckle skin rubbing”. But if you can do it without experiencing either of those downsides, maybe that’s a solution right there.

  2. Figure out an anchoring strategy at the base of your hand or wrist on the guitar bridge. I’m thinking for USX, you’ll have better luck with using an anchor point more toward the ulnar, or “pinky finger side” of the base of the hand (somewhere on the palm near the wrist). While Andy Wood tends to emphasize DSX picking, looking at some of the Andy Wood videos should give you some idea of what I’m talking about re: wrist anchoring.

  3. If the other ideas aren’t working, a common solution used by me and many others is to let the pinky finger and/or ring finger glide along the face of the guitar. Fingers used in this way act as a “spacer” and allow you to regulate the height of your hand above the strings more consistently though the gentle antagonistic action between the arm (pushing the hand toward the guitar body) and the finger(s) (pressing against the guitar body and thus moving the hand away from the guitar body). Gliding the fingers in this manner also gives you more tactile feedback about the position of your hand relative to the guitar body at all times.


Hi, First post here as I really only found at this site recently and I’ve already ( very nearly! ) cracked the code, however I’m always open to new info as we never stop learning right?

You are doing almost the reverse of how I pick in terms of string muting/tracking - I actually rest my picking thumb on all strings above the one I’m picking, so that the ball of my thumb is resting/rubbing on the string directly above the string I’m picking, this has 3 benefits in that 1 it mutes the lower strings and 2 it helps track the strings when you ascend or descend to the next string. This means I can curl my fingers a little more to miss hitting the high strings while not feeling like my hand is floating, and 3 it actually means I’m picking ever so slightly away from the guitar so when ascending to a higher string the pick misses the next string by about millimetre and you are ready for the up- pick.

My fretting hand takes care of the muting for higher string muting.

Your pick angle and the way you hold the pick and the depth of the pick sticking out from your thumb is pretty much the same as me.

Hope this helps

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Thank you for the replies.

You’re dead on with the first one, it’s more tense for me and the point of contact moves from my nails to the knuckle of each finger.

Troy mentioned the ulnar offset in the USX motion video, but I think it was later amended in the checklist to a neutral position (no deviation) rather than the ulnar offset. I’ve used both and found the neutral position much more comfortable, and I wasn’t able to get a decent motion going with the ulnar offset.

I hadn’t tried the third thing before, so I’ve put some hours into experimenting with it. I found having my pinky finger pulled away from the rest of the hand quite uncomfortable though.

I get this motion too by pronating my arm a bit. It’s a DSX motion for me and I can’t palm mute with it due to the ulnar side of the hand being lifted off the bridge. I think low pick exposure might be what’s limiting my options to these two motions, but I’m having a hard time controlling the pick without choking up on it.

Thanks for posting! This all looks pretty good. Short answer, I had the same problem as you, and for years I could never understand how players like DiMeola and Gilbert could play as they do without their fingers hitting the strings. Every time I tried it, my knuckles got scraped up badly and even broke the skin in one instance. There’s a moment in one of the Andy Wood interviews where we talk about that.

Well, it turns out the source of the confusion was pretty simple. Those players don’t play like that! They play like this:

Or some slight variation on this. In other words, they don’t curl all the way under so that their knuckles come near the strings. The fingers are only gently curled. Here’s Andy Wood’s version:

Andy undercurls a little more than this on occasion, and he also undercurls less, with more outstretched fingers. But he never goes under so far that the knuckles are right down there against the strings, to where the last joint of the finger is parallel to the strings. That’s a recipe for scraping. Instead, there’s always a little angle to the last joint of the finger so finger tip is closer to the strings than the knuckles.

When you do this correctly, you won’t feel any conscious strain or lifting of the fingers. It feels roughly similar to resting your hand on a desk and curling your fingers ever so gently. You may need to tool around with this to find that point of minimal effort, but it’s there. I didn’t even use this grip until a couple years ago, but after some experimentation I was like oh, ok, there it is.


Thanks for replying, the form you described is one I can do fairly comfortably and feels like a step in the right direction. Apologies for the delay, I wanted to spend a decent amount of time trying to get this to work before posting again.

Magnet Perspective, 0.12x Speed

Magnet Perspective, Full Speed

This is about as fast as I can get it going, and not for very long at that. I’m not really sure where to go from here, I’ve played around with all the usual variables and this is the best I could do. I think I might be having trouble getting the pick to consistently and efficiently move in a straight line through the string.

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Thanks for taking another look at this. In general this looks fine. One thing you’ll notice is that around 7 seconds or so you switch briefly to DSX. Same arm position, different motion. That’s good! That’s how this is supposed to work. Eventually you will be able to access both motions as needed from this arm position.

So there is flip-flopping here, which is what happens when you’re still learning and can’t yet recognize the difference in feel between the different motions. Over time, as you learn to differentiate, the flip flopping will decrease, and you will be able to activate each individual motion on command. This will improve smoothness and consistency, and endurance will go up a little, because you’re not fighting yourself with little changes you can’t percieve. Speed may go up too since again, no interference from unexpected changes.

Otherwise, now that you have things working, I would move right along into musical playing. This should include phrases that move across the strings so you can make sure that the escape is happening. The motions you are making here look like they are moving along the correct escape paths, but they’re small enough that I can’t tell if they’re going to clear or not. That’s fine — what matters is that they clear when it counts, i.e. during the string change.

One thing you can do to help learn the different feels is to try different power levels. More power will generate a larger motion for the same speed, and this will provide a more easily recognizable motion feel. If you are switching motions unintentionally, it will be easier to feel it. Again, I’m not saying, only hit the strings hard, I’m saying, incorporate a range of dynamics (i.e. power) as much as you incoporate a range of other things — phrases, tempos, and so on.

This puts you into the “long tail” of the learning process, where you work on a large variety of phrases at a large variety of tempos, power, and so on. Single string, multi-string, different fingerings, fast speeds, medium speeds, loud playing, soft playing, and everywhere in between. The more sensations you can give yourself, the more you can learn to differentiate the motions and “smoothify” them over time. As you do this, smoothness, consistency, comfort, and speed should go up. I wouldn’t worry about how fast you’re going unless things feel weird or awkward. The picking speed you’re demonstrating here is already fast to play plenty of awesome stuff, and will only improve as your consistency improves.

Also, keep in mind that you don’t need to only use wrist motion. We just uploaded a whole new set of lessons on wrist/forearm motion, and I recommend trying them. You never know what’s going to work for you, and you want to give yourself as many chances to nail something as soon as you can. Whatever is working best, keep doing it! It’s ok to learn multiple things at once, and it’s ok to try them all and specialize. All of this makes you smarter about what you’re doing.

Keep us posted!


To my eyes it looks like about 90% of the pick stokes don’t escape at all - the tip of the pick is below the plane of the strings on both sides of the string you’re playing. I could be seeing things though.

If the motion is small enougn, it won’t appear to escape, because it’s not going far enough. What matters is that the pick actually follows the correct trajectory. That’s the part people get stuck on, especially the fact of being able to do different paths (USX, DSX, DBX). When it comes to switching strings, the escape needs to happen of course, but that’s more easily observed on phrases that actually change strings.

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Thanks again for the reply. I’ve been working on this for 1 to 3 hours a day since the last update and I haven’t really made any progress. I tried learning some songs but I can’t play simple phrases with any kind of smoothness or consistency.

This is a simple 2nps thing I’ve been trying to smooth out:

I noticed it doesn’t always clear the string, usually on an upstroke.

Here’s an updated version of the single string motion, using rest strokes to keep the motion path consistent:

And here’s a double escape motion. I’m mainly working on USX but I thought it was worth posting. Maybe it can serve as a starting point for other motions:

These were the ‘good’ takes, I can’t consistently play like I do in the above clips, except for the single string one. I’m also playing as fast as I can in all of these clips.
It’s worth mentioning I switched to a trigger style grip because the tip of my index finger kept touching the string with an angle-pad grip. I also played around with a 3 finger grip when looking for a smooth motion.

I feel like there’s something fundamentally wrong with my approach to picking. It feels like I’m fumbling around the strings rather than cleanly moving through them, and picking in general feels unpleasant and tense. I keep getting caught up in the strings, and when I try to go faster it just… doesn’t.

Apologies for the double bump but I thought it was worth updating again since I’ve spent another couple of months banging my head against a wall.

I haven’t made any progress or found any better picking motions than the ones from the last update. What I have noticed is that my hand has started to do this weird thing occasionally, where I go to pick and it just kind of gives up, like the string has suddenly become an immovable object. I don’t have any physical issues or pain, the hand just refuses to move the pick through the string. Also the pick never really feels ‘right’ in my hand, like there’s no comfortable and stable way to hold it.

I’m not really sure what to do at this point, feels like I’m just digging myself a deeper hole. I’ve sunk so many hours into so many different ways of going about learning to play better and haven’t really seen a return on any of them. I don’t think I’ll ever stop playing unless I have to but I’d be lying if I said I put down the guitar every day not feeling worse than I did when I picked it up.

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Perhaps this is over-training? I’ve experienced the same thing
(am in a phase of it now actually).

Would be good to hear from folks that have overcome this issue.
Perhaps take a break?

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I’m not an expert on any of this but this reminds me of this discussion from a while back:

Specifically this:

  • You unconsciously approach the instrument with an
    underlying feeling of anxiety (created by thinking I´m not good enough, I´m not making fast enough progress, fear of making mistakes, forcing your body to perform better…) thereby creating a continuous underlying current of tension and stress in your body
  • You unconsciously push through that tension with willpower, forcing your body to perform while micro-managing movements in an obsessive way
  • This leads to a further increase in tension, which in turn creates more anxiety
  • The two elements form an anxiety-tension loop, with the two elements feeding into each other
  • A constant build-up of more and more tension leads to the
    total break down of physical movements
    At some point, the level of tension will rise above a tolerable threshold and the first syptoms of Focal Dystonia will appear.

    The visible syptoms of the dystonic syndrome (as Fabra calls it) are just a pointer, a signal that your body sends you to tell you that you´ve been treating it badly.

It doesn’t sound like you have Focal Dystonia - also I’m not a doctor - but I’d take any physical symptoms seriously and give it a break. If you don’t want to take a break, at least consider getting back to playing things you feel good about - jam to backing tracks, play songs you enjoy playing etc.- or work on things not related to picking - composing songs, transcribing, learning theory/the fretboard etc. Keeping a positive attitude is important.

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Hey @Maboroshi, sorry to hear about your frustration.

I’ve been going through your thread and I don’t know if this is any help, but the last bunch of videos looked pretty solid - the 2nps and tremolo examples in particular.

The double-escape example looks smooth, but at this moderate tempo it’s difficult to tell if there are any “hidden” inefficiencies that would prevent you to speed up.

RE: your recent problem on getting stuck on the string - does it happen mostly on upstrokes? I’m wondering if it could be a “string grab” issue, where the pickslanting is not correctly matching your picking trajectory. Excellent explanation in one of the recent Gambale lessons:

RE: general frustration, I think it’s important to give yourself an “easy win” in every guitar session - more or less a direct quote from @Prlgmnr who reminded me several times of the importance of this :slight_smile: Does not have to be a fast picking thing - is there anything that comes easy to you on the guitar and sounds pleasing to you?

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PS: one last thing I noticed is that you used the same pick throughout - one option is to try different shapes and thicknesses to give yourself a wider variety of “feels” of the string, which possibly may help you to get out of the rabbit hole! E.g. if your pick feels too “stuck” on the strings, you could try a bendier one.


Thank you for all the replies and advice.

@dcarroll2891 I don’t think I’m over-training, I’ve taken breaks of up to a year in the past and didn’t have any improvement when coming back to it.

@spirogyro I read through the post on dystonia, and some of it definitely resonated with my experience of playing guitar, at least for the right hand. I can’t know what’s going on unconsciously when I’m trying to play but the ‘micro-managing’ definitely describes the conscious aspect. I thought that’s what it meant to actively practice guitar; trying to be aware of:

  • Actually playing the note
  • The feeling of playing the note (physical feedback felt by the picking hand), keeping this the same for every note
  • Muting unplayed strings
  • Keeping the pick where it should be, or at least in the same position (struggling with this a lot)
  • Keeping the hand in a neutral position, especially regarding wrist deviation (I tend to go radial)
  • As a result of the above, keeping the hand free of tension

Despite all that, sometimes it feels like there is no ‘relaxed’ position for the right hand. Usually that’s when I put down the guitar since pushing through it seems like a bad idea. I can’t afford the therapy mentioned in that thread but I’ll try to be more aware of possible causes of dystonia and avoid them before I dig myself a hole so deep I hit molten bedrock.

I do focus on things other than pure technique most of the time but it’s hard to separate technique from other aspects of playing so it usually creeps in before long. Whether I’m practicing songs or mapping the fretboard I tend to hit a wall pretty quickly where I can’t comfortably play what I’m trying to practice. It’s purely picking though, I’ve had no issues with bass playing, as long as I’m only using fingers.

@tommo The single string and 2nps clips are as fast as I can go, I can’t push them any faster without my hand seizing up. The 1nps one can move faster but I end up picking multiple notes at once or ‘mini strumming’ the whole chord. I think I remember Troy mentioning that that’s okay as you’ll get more precise with practice but I haven’t seen much improvement on it.

The recent problem with the string getting stuck happens on the first note of a phrase, which is usually a downstroke for me. I do get caught up mid-phrase often too though. I try to keep a neutral pickslant unless I’m playing 2nps stuff.

There’s not much I enjoy playing at the moment that I can play competently, I’ve been looking into hybrid picking since it seems that, at least for me, the picking motion for that is generated using the thumb and index finger (I’d be interested to know if it’s the same for others, or if you’re supposed to use the wrist like you do when picking normally). It’s different enough from what I’m used to that tension doesn’t creep in so quickly. I mix up my picks when I’m practicing phrases, usually the blue one I’m using above and a couple of different jazz picks. I used the same pick in the clips for consistency, and because black jazz picks make it hard to see what’s going on in the magnet view.

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It’s been over 6 months since my last post and I’ve continued to work on this for at least a couple of hours a day, so I thought it was about time for another update.

I’ve still made no improvement at all. I’m kind of at my wits’ end here.
I think the problem might be something to do with what happens when I try to start with speed. I don’t know how to play ‘fast but sloppy’. I’ve restricted the clips I post to the ‘good takes’ before but maybe it’s more useful to show what happens most of the time when I try to go fast.

Here’s what happens when I just ‘go for it’ and try to play fast without worrying about it being clean.

My arm tenses up, the pick catches on the string and the whole thing stops moving.

The fastest I’ve been able to go is by playing 8th notes at ~160bpm and bursting 16th notes. When I do this, tension gradually creeps in until my arm seizes up like it does in the last clip.

Here’s the same thing, but DSX:

I thought I’d be able to smooth this out and find better motions to play it faster, with longer bursts and less tension, so that’s a lot of what I’ve been working on, but months have passed and I’m no better at it than when I started.


@Maboroshi apologies! I made a mental note to respond to this at the time but then forgot.

How are things going? In a nutshell, I had a look at all the videos and my first impression is that your DSX motion is perhaps more promising. Does it feel any better than USX?

Also, I noticed you do a lot of these short “bursts”. Where are you with continuous picking? You could drop the speed just a little compared to these clips, and see if you can do a fairy long stretch of moderately fast 16th notes (say 140-150, instead of the 160 you are doing here?)

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Hi Tommo, thanks for the reply.

The DSX motion is definitely easier to get into and smoother than the USX one, but I can’t palm mute with it because of how pronated the wrist is. If I try to play with less pronation I lose the motion.

Things have actually improved a bit in the last month or so. Not sure what changed, but I’ve been play up to 170BPM continuous 16ths on a single string with the aforementioned DSX motion. I even had a day where I could do it with the USX motion too and it felt pretty good, and I’ve been trying to do it again ever since.

That’s just for single string stuff though. It feels like there’s a very delicate balance between all of the moving parts when I’m playing at these speeds that gets thrown out of order when I try to move across strings, and I start getting caught on the strings again. I have to ‘reset’ the hand into that optimal balance on each string to play fast on it.

I can post more clips if anyone’s interested, but I think they’ll be about the same as the last set.

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This sounds like good progress to me! I think I mentioned this before - but one detail I keep noticing is that your picktrokes are very small. This may be one of the reasons why changing strings feels so different - making an educated guess I’d say that changing strings may feel more natural if the pickstrokes are roughly as wide as the distance between strings.

Troy and I had some discussions as to whether pickstroke size can be consciously controlled or not - we are not sure.

But I had a little test in mind that you could try - and tell me how it feels:

Try to do fully trapped tremolo picking on a single string, where you have rest strokes both on up and downstrokes. See if you can do that while maintaining a decent speed for a few notes in a row. My hypothesis is that this may be a good learning tool for experimentng the feel of larger (yet fast) pickstrokes.

Let me know if you get a chance to try it for a couple minutes and what you think :slight_smile:

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