Mastering Wrist Motion!

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Another update to the Pickslanting Primer is up! Wrist motion:

This is update has two parts. The biggest is seven hands-on tutorial chapters with painstakingly detailed, step-by-step instructions for getting the two most common wrist motions happening. You would know those as “downward pickslanting” and “upward pickslanting”, but their new names are “upstroke escape” and “downstroke escape”. Never fear, “pickslanting” is still a part of this lesson, and we have an entire chapter devoted to it called “Setting the Pickslant”. The goal here is to be ultra clear that the pickslant and the motion are both things you need to “do”, and just doing one doesn’t guarantee the other.

We’ve decided to put the first of these chapters public on YouTube. The is the USX / Downward Pickslanting motion chapter. For those without a subscription or a copy of the Pickslanting Primer in your back pocket, you can find that right here:

It’s deceptively straightforward, and not something you’d imagine was years in the making. But honestly the subject of actually how to do picking motions is way more tricky than we ever imagined when we first started doing this. The wrist is used so commonly in picking technique, and so often mixed together with other joints, that it’s actually pretty tricky to talk about how wrist motion works on its own, even though the instructions for doing so are actually pretty simple once you figure out how to do it. We hope we’ve given you the simplest presentation we can. Every post on here detailing a player’s struggles getting basic motion to work for them is a big motivator, and we really want to kick those troubles to the curb as directly as we can.

And that’s not all. We’re also building out a second section with more mechanics-oriented explanations of how the wrist works, starting with a nice 10-minute explainer on basic wrist motions. We’re giving these their own section on the “wrist motion” page so that players looking for tutorials will know right where to go, and won’t have to wade through 20 minutes of science to get there. At the same time, we want these chapters to be fun, approachable, and easy to follow, so we’ve done our best to give these the Cracking the Code treatment of colorful animations. We’ll be including “Clock Face” here when it’s ready, along with a nice overview of what different clock face motions look like and famous players that use them.

We’ll be building out both of these sections regularly. So stay tuned for more updates.


An enjoyable video.

It made me think of this question.

When the Eddie Van Halen picture appears, he is listed as USX and DSX, and as using a ‘Msupinated forearm’.

Does this mean he uses alternates between pronation and supination, which I think is what Robben Ford does too?

I have a Van Halen Wolfgang guitar with a drop D tremolo, and if I am right, what this allows Eddie to do is make sure his hand does not push down too much on the bridge which would send the low E string out of tune, so his pronation allows him to get some height over the part of the bridge with the drop D mechanism, but he can also use supination for extra reach across the strings.

Ha you found a Final Cut bug. That was supposed to say “mid supinated” like Albert. For some reason when you copy and paste text titles it sometimes randomly deletes letters and we didn’t catch it until after we hit ‘publish’.

Short story, no Eddie does not appear to make forearm changes when switching picking motions. You just switch the motion by… moving the wrist in a different direction! It’s that simple.

This is what is amazing and not obvious about wrist motion. Nobody (well, at least not me) would watch him play that lick in Eruption and imagine two different wrist motions were involved. But that is what is happening.

Sorry for finding that misprint!

That is a very good line about “centring” the motion in the video, that the centre of the supinated wrist is not the wrist pointing straight forward but slightly turned to the right.

Do you know if I’m right about Robben using both supination and pronation and switching between the two?

I’ve never looked at Robben’s playing so I can’t comment. But even if you see that, the player may still be changing the direction the wrist is moving, and only making a comparatively small arm adjustment so the pick attack stays smooth. We address this in the “Setting The Pickslant” chapter. What most people do not appear to be doing with alternate picking is keeping the same wrist motion and just turning the arm to change its path. If that’s what you’re getting at.

I watched the DSX quite a few times and have to say its a great explanation I sat down and instead of trying my pronated DSX I just supinated a little to get both the pinky side and thumb pad side contacting and then saw awesome. I can still do DSX and I like the fact for the upstroke escape I didn’t have to rotate all that much to accomplish that either. Thanks again for the great tutorial.

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Awesome. Thanks for checking those out, and hopefully the improved clarity on this will make life easier. Re: switching from one escape type to the other, I would even go further and suggest that in certain cases there may very well be no need to change grip or arm orientation at all. Here’s an example:

In theory, the motions require the opposite pickslant to keep the pick attack smooth. In other words, the downstroke escape motion requires an upward pickslant, and vice versa, the upstroke escape motion requires a downward pickslant. But I think what we’re learning is that there is a special case of this that occurs when the escape path is relatively low, like 10 degrees or so, and you use edge picking. In this particular case, there seems to be a sweet spot of pick orientation, which you establish via grip and arm position, where the attack will be smooth on both upstrokes and downstrokes without changing anything.

This is not true for more inclined escape paths like what you have in gypsy picking. There, I think you do need to correct for the motion via pickslanting, given how tilted the motion path really is. And to some extent you can’t really avoid downward pickslanting in that scenario anyway just given the arm position that’s required. But in cases like the Andy Wood example which we looked at in the chapters, where the escape angle is low, and you’re using edge picking, we can see that there is not an obvious pickslant one way or another during his downstroke escape motion. And that may be the special case of this.


I think i know what you mean cause sometimes when i did the gilbert thing it didn’t feel like i had to change that much at all and was wondering why i didn’t slam into the lower string on the way back. I for got to mention I use to practice playing leaping thirds alot like 1-4 2-1, 4-2 etc but haven’t done it till recently again and this was a good test for the minimal slant thing to see if i would crash and burn and it felt real good.

Here are two clips of Robben Ford and his wrist picking.

To me he looks like DSX and USX?

Without going through this frame by frame it looks like wrist playing. If he’s switching strings sometimes after a downstroke and sometimes after an usptroke, then there’s no need to look any closer. We know the wrist can do it, and we know the wrist can do it without substantially changing anything about your grip or arm position. If that’s what you want, we now have the instructions for doing it. Give it a shot and post up your clips so we can take a look!

Edit: The second clip, the very brief 2nps moment at about 3:25, that looks the be exactly the USX wrist motion we are teaching in the YT clip. Meaning, it’s not just an upstroke escape motion, but it’s an upstroke escape wrist motion performed from a lightly supinated arm position, i.e. wrist deviation, 9 to 3. However as soon as he slows down toward the end of that line, the motion becomes double escape.

The upstroke escape form appears again at about 4:20 for the fast pentatonic stuff, starting on a downstroke, Eric Johnson style. Again, 9 to 3 motion.

If you find instances of fast pentatonic type stuff where he starts on an upstroke, and the final note on each string is a downstroke, then that would be a DSX motion. Not sure you’d be able to tell what’s going on with the forearm if he’s wearing long sleeves as in this clip.

I’ve met Robben. He watched a presentation I did at the Larvik Guitar Festival on motor learning. My impression was that he’s not super into technique and found the whole thing a little left field. Not clear he’d be interested doing an interview with us and being asked to do fast things on command so we can see what his wrist motion looks like. But you never know. We have met players like David Grier who are more into the old school “do what works” approach. But David is a great guy and a total sport about letting us see what we need to see. He came back again a few weeks ago and we all had a great time.

Simply put, I need to rummage around to see if there is a clip or a lick played quickly which begins on an upstroke, but to assume at the moment that he starts on a down stroke when playing quickly. And that he uses two way escape picking at brisk speeds.

This makes sense of the pieces by Robben that I know.

And if you watch his Rig Rundown, he largely zones out of that experience too, so I’d not take it personally. I think you caught at a time when he’s become interested in rhythm playing more than single note runs.

Thanks, Troy, for your expert assistance.

I just went through these again, you may have taught me how to ‘wrist pick’ - Might be too early to celebrate just yet but let’s see how it goes. lol I think I followed the instructions…

Great videos Troy, it takes a bit to kind of digest the lingo but man is this ever highly detailed stuff. Thanks !

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