How do you play Master of Puppets? Now that I’m filming myself with the Magnet I’m not playing it “naturally” any longer and I have no idea if I used to play USX or DSX. I appear to just be pushing THROUGH the low E string and then hopping over it to play the A string. Thoughts?
We created the terms USX and DSX to describe two specific kinds of alternate picking motions where the pick moves along a diagonal. If you’re referring to the repeated downstrokes part of Master of Puppets, technically it’s neither of these things — the all downstrokes motion moves in a circle.
That being said, when you do downstrokes very fast, the motion can start to flatten into an oval, which looks somewhat like the diagonal motions of the two alternate picking types.
I think the real answer you want here, is how do you play it. The answer is you have find a motion that goes really fast without fatigue. You can’t “work up to speed” on downstrokes. When you find a motion that works, you will be able to hit the string repeatedly at MOP speeds in a way that feels light and springy. This can happen in an on-again, off-again kind of way, where you think you have it, then you don’t. But what you don’t want is a motion that feels labored and rapidly creates arm fatigue. If you feel that, it means the technique is incorrect and you should give yourself a break, then try something else and see if it works.
Don’t worry too much about the technical terms we created to describe alternate picking. Knowing that stuff is not super relevant to figuring out how to play it.
Troy hit the nail on the head. I can (well, could-- I’m out of practice) play MoP at tempo. The motion I make looks like supinated 1 or 2 o’clock DSX, sort of how Al DiMeola plays, with the caveat that with repeated 8th note downstrokes the pick’s path isn’t linear (that’d cause an upstroke) but ever so slightly oval-shaped, juuuuuuust barely missing the string on its way back up. My mixed escape form looks less supinated and more deviation-y (more accurate IME) but getting the flexion and extension of the wrist more heavily involved by supinating more is where more extreme levels of speed while still digging in for tone comes from.
What Troy said, your typical “most efficient” picking motion may bear no resemblance to the motion you’ll need to play something like Caught In A Mosh or MoP with really punishing downstroke passages relaxed and up to speed.
I never managed to find a fast downstrokes motion that I could do at speed right away. Not sure why. I don’t tend to play a lot of stuff where I need really fast downstrokes… but I’d still like to figure it out at some stage!
Try “knocking” on your strings (literally smacking them with your knuckles) using a door knocking motion really fast (like as fast as possible) from a setup where both the thumb and pinky-side bones of your wrist are resting on the bridge. Next, hold a pick in a “standard” grip (with the pad of your thumb and the side of your index finger) and do that tapping motion perpendicular to the strings again, but barely graze the low E string with the pick. Like, really focus on having zero attack and the wimpiest tone ever. If you can think of really really digging in with the pick, do the opposite of that. Lastly, do the same knocking motion with your wrist while rotating your forearm so that your palm points further and further upward-- really focus on the freedom and ease of the motion in your wrist. You’ll likely have to stick your fingers further out and adjust your pickslant to get the attack you like. When I first started doing thrashy downpicking, I had tension literally all over my upper arm, traps, neck, jaw, all that, but it went away over a couple weeks and now I can feel no excess activation in my right upper body besides the muscles in my forearm that move my wrist around.
Thanks! I’ll give that a try.
now that’s interesting. what is the benefit of practicing downstrokes then? purely a stamina thing? you either have 212 bpm eighths or you don’t?
Yep, you can’t slowly work an inefficient motion up to speed, you have to be making a correct motion in the first place to play at that level.
Stamina shouldn’t really come into it, if your arm is fatiguing then you are probably doing something wrong or it would suggest to me the breakdown of your technique
so what’s the upper limit on down picking speed?
The point of practice is figuring out how to do the technique. Then, subsequently, you figure out how to do it immediately on command, every time, for whatever length of time you need, without getting confused or losing the coordination of it. Like juggling, let’s say. You could call that “stamina” but that makes people thinks it’s about athletic training and beating fatigue. It’s not, it’s coordination and making it automatic.
Here’s a segment of an interview I did where we discuss the downstroke thing specifically. In my case upstrokes were the first “fast” repeated pickstroke I could do because it’s similar to the table tapping tests we do in the Primer:
Why does this downstroke-only technique exist? Some say it sounds different than alternate picking, but do you believe that?
It does sound different. At least to my ear, it’s not even a question.
100%, there’s a very distinctive flavor and feel with all downstrokes, esp when paired with some palm-muting.
very interesting. I guess I don’t really understand how to go about figuring it out… my table taps aren’t anywhere close to 235, for example. what do you make of Hetfield apparently losing his ability to down pick mop live as he’s getting older? makes me think endurance has to play some sort of role. he’s not exactly an old cripple.
40 years since forming Metallica. Not the model of a healthy life for a lot of it.
59 isn’t ‘old’ - but no one’s physical peak is within 20 or so years of that. Stuff wears out.
Not even the most perfect technique can stop the wear and tear of time.
You must be right, but how does the string “know” if it is being hit on the way down, or the way up? Or is it that the all-downstroke approach hits much harder than usual and really smashes the string, creating a different sound?
The string doesn’t know, but your pick does! It’s the difference in timbre between a downstroke and upstroke. The different sides of the pick hitting the string creates an alternating change in timbre. All downs, or ups, mean you get the same timbre, giving that machine gun like sound.
What many get wrong with the spider riff is learning it as straight 8ths and trying to ramp that picking motion up to speed. Sure recipe for failure. The 2 notes on the E and the single note on the A should be learned and played similar to a drum drag/ruff, not straight 8ths. This will work miracles for anyone trying to learn this. You will find it’s a different kind of consolidated motion. Troy’s answer is absolutely correct.
The other thing that has to have an effect is the velocity of the pick.
All downstrokes at a given tempo means it’s traveling at twice the speed of alternate picking as it passes through the string.