Maboroshi's picking motions

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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Sorry for the delay in replying, I keep losing the motion and it takes me a few days to get it working again.

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

I might be misinterpreting this but I didn’t know people had an issue with controlling pickstroke size. Isn’t that (or using more pick) how people generally play louder? Troy mentioned it earlier in the thread:

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.

I definitely gravitate towards a smaller motion, especially as speed increases, but I’ve been messing around with bigger pickstrokes and got it working okay. Motion from the elbow usually starts to creep in as the motion gets bigger, which I can’t do without some uncomfortable tension, but there were also moments of it using just the wrist and feeling pretty good.

I tried to start with a smaller motion and gradually make it larger here:

I’ve also been trying the fully trapped tremolo picking. I can do it a bit but rather than using a neutral pickslant it looks like I’m just doing the DSX motion deeper into the strings so the downstroke can’t escape.

There’s a definite improvement in string switching using the bigger pickstrokes, at first it was pretty rough and when I looked at the video I noticed some of the pickstrokes not escaping properly like someone mentioned earlier in the thread.

I managed to iron that out and got it a bit smoother. I noticed there’s more of the pick exposed in this one too. (My high E is muted by my makeshift Magnet, which is why is sounds like that)

By the time I get to the high E the movement feels pretty shaky, I’m at the extreme range of ulnar deviation at that point so I think I need to reposition the wrist. I haven’t gotten palm muting working either but compared to how completely stuck I was until about a month ago this seems like decent progress.

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Well done! I think this is fantastic progress!

The video “DSX crossing strings better” in particular is the smoothest picking you have demonstrated so far. I’d do more of this motion to try and make it more permanent.

I think the logical next step is to work on some actual DSX licks / riffs / musical ideas. (E.g. some of John Mclaughlin’s vocabulary should work great)

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I’m not sure if this warrants it’s own thread so I’ll post it here:

I keep reading about the idea of just playing fast and letting the motion become sloppy as long as it feels smooth, but I really don’t know how to do that.
The way my motion stops working when I play too fast isn’t by becoming sloppy and inaccurate, it’s by a combination of the pick getting caught on the string and a build up of tension in the the arm causing everything to come to a complete stop. Even with no regard to the actual notes being played I can’t seem to reliably get the pick going through the strings fast and smooth, and when I do it’s only when I can also play relatively clean.

These videos are a repost from earlier in the thread but they show what I mean:

I can’t separate speed and smoothness from playing cleanly, and I think it might be what’s making it so difficult to find a fast, reliable playing motion.

Your fast playing in these clips looks like you are tensing your whole hand and making it tremble, not really doing a wrist motion. Do you feel like you are locking your wrist and tensing up the forearm? These previous DSX clips looked really good, I think you should stick to it and maybe work on some vocabulary near the 150bpm 16ths tempo.

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Quick update: Still no lasting progress, just the usual variation from day to day. I tried to learn some vocab but the motion isn’t getting any more consistent or comfortable so I just awkwardly try to play the phrase while making slight changes to the motion over and over again, but it never actually gets better.

I noticed there’s a constant tension in my arm and shoulder to keep it in the playing position, but I haven’t been able get the hand into a playing position without it. I’m not sure if it’s a necessary tension or a correctable problem.

Sorry to hear you’re not making much progress!

May I suggest that if a motion is not working, especially after working on it for a long time, that making “slight changes” is not going to make a significant difference. It’s been said many times in other threads, you need to make a big enough change that it actually feels different. In your case I would suggest trying a completely different motion, such as forearm/wrist!


Sorry, I should have been a bit more specific. I have tried a lot of drastically different motions like pure elbow, EVH style forearm rotation, various blends of wrist and forearm movements, different blends of deviation and flexion/extension, different mounting points, different pick grips, different pickstroke sizes, different picks, different guitars, etc. I practice a lot and I honestly think I’ve tried just about everything.

When practicing vocab I try to vary the motion as much as I can while maintaining the pick escape to keep it compatible with the lick. I also flip all of the pickstrokes so I can try playing the lick with a motion of the opposite escape.

When I initially did the table tapping test, I could only hit about 180BPM so I thought it was a physical limitation, but I’ve actually gotten better at table tapping and can go well into the 200s now, it’s just not translating to guitar playing though.