Mini rant - anybody else get annoyed at people discussing "pick speed" in such a general way?


Anybody else get annoyed ay people discussing ‘picking speed’ without clarifying what the particular string change scenario is? I love my jazz guitar forums but I have to admit sometimes it drives me a little crazy to see dozens and dozens of posts of people essentially talking about what TG calls “motion mechanics” and thinking if they just make little incremental discoveries about subtleties of how the pick moves back and forth on the same string that it will translate into not only being able to play fast lines, but then improvise fast lines, that cross strings.

But I guess now that I think about it I was right there for years, and I think TG talks about this in one of the early vids. “I’ll try more elbow! I’ll try more wrist! Maybe I’ll alternate everything! I’ll economy pick everything now!” and there are so many essential details being overlooked there it’s no wonder everybody hits these incredible low walls with this stuff. I’m so glad I was wiling to drink the kool aid and now have such better tools for solving pick speed related problems.

Excerpt from my post in one of those discussions:

  1. Playing tremolo on a single pitch, single string

  2. Playing on a single pitch, single string, in strict time

  3. Playing on a single pitch, single string, and able to coordinate accents and dynamics

  4. Playing different pitches on a single string, in strict time, able to sync up both hands perfectly

  5. Playing passages that require string changes. As far as I know, if we are picking every note, there are only four scenarios that we’ll encounter:
    5.1. Changing to a thinner string after a downstroke
    5.2. Changing to a thinner string after an upstroke
    5.3. Changing to a thicker string after a downstroke
    5.4. Changing to a thicker string after an upstroke

Different picking styles and techniques present different solutions to 5.1-5.4

The greater variety of string changing scenarios within the passage, the more difficult it is.

  1. Being able to do any of item 5 in strict time with total control over accent and dynamics.

As far as I know, this particular discussion has really only focused on item 1. Each of #1 through #6 presents different problems and then requires different solutions. If you’re interested in picking every note I do think it makes sense to tackle #1 before the rest, but you may find what works well for #1 becomes problematic for #2, what works for #2 doesn’t for #3, etc. Similarly when you get to #5 you may find, as many do, that something that works great for one or two of those sub-items doesn’t work at all for the rest.


It doesn’t annoy me necessarily; it depends on the context. If they are talking about what Michael Angelo refers to as “Potential Picking Speed” that’s a concept that makes perfect sense. No matter how good you are at string changes, if your tremolo picking speed is only sixteenth notes at 150 bpm, then you’re not going to be able to play licks that require picking every note in the “shred zone.” The "shred zone"isn’t a phrase that has a strict definition but for practical purposes we can say that it probably starts at approximately 13 notes per second which is equivalent to sextuplets at 130 or sixteenths at 195.

Of course string changing ability is crucial and is what most often is a player’s weak spot insofar as it is almost always what prevents a guitarist from being able to play faster than he is currently able to play. Nevertheless, you’re never gong to get faster than “banging away on one string” as MAB put it, so having a fast tremolo picking ability is crucial if you want to be ale to shred.


You can have my own mini-rant in response: Being able to improvise fast lines that cross strings is more dependent on your scale/harmony/fretboard knowledge than it is on your picking speed, whether that be on a single string or across several strings.


lol. Your preaching to the choir here. I think that’s something that a lot of beginner guitarists talk about. As a guitar teacher, I am sure you see this a lot.

I wouldn’t mind seeing a breakdown of upper picking speeds for different contexts.
Example: Non-swiping 2 string alternation. Both ouside and inside. 3 string rolls.


A. I didn’t say anything about improvising, which is a whole different topic than just being able to perform something on the page.
B. As a prerequisite to being able to improvise something at speed X one has to be able to coordinate his hands to execute that given line at speed X. Being able to think of the line on the fly is a whole different skill set, but it’s obviously impossible to do if the physical, mechanical ability is not there.
C. I disagree with your comment re: ‘more dependent’ because I think it should be clear that it will depend on the player. For some players they may have stronger fretboard awareness and harmonic knowledge than picking abilities (which is the case for many mid-level jazz guitarists) and for some players it may be the opposite. Or both may need to be developed, but there are elements of both skill sets that are fairly independent of each other, and therefore are almost separate topics.


haha yeah, ‘safe space.’

I think I see it more in a jazz guitar context because in a general ‘jazz guitar’ (which isn’t just one thing) educational context, there is so much more non-speed oriented stuff to cover (voicings, reading, tunes, lines, harmony, transcription, etc) that folks don’t get as in depth on the speed stuff, or maybe are a little resistant at times to CTC type of stuff because they don’t want to think of themselves as shredders.

I mean, kind of relating to my own previous comment above, if you’re specializing in harmony, rhythm and the jazz tradition you’re probably going to be less focused on ‘shred’ abilities, and if you’re specializing in shred/speed metal stuff you’re probably not going to be as good at like, improvising over a monk tune with a band in a live setting.


I guess I could have clarified further - there’s a distinction between
A. Talking about pick speed on a single string without acknowledging that whatever discoveries you come across may not actually be applicable to playing any thing that does actually change strings, as most things do, and
B. Talking about pick speed on a single string intentionally to address picking speed without string change variables, understanding that then there will be a whole other set of problems to solve when it comes to string changes.

So my little rant is about the “A” camp above - obviously it’s useful to talk about picking speed on a single string, and hopefully in my original post I implied that it’s actually essential to solve that problem FIRST, but I think you agree that it’s foolish to think that whatever gets you moving well is useful regardless of whether it changes strings or not.

Should be clear that today is my day off, lol.


It was in the first paragraph of your post.

e. Italicised for emphasis, no less!


I think Jazz folks tend to be more concerned about music than bragging rights.

My biggest annoyance are people who’s guitar technique is entirely based on BPM. These people are easy to spot at guitar center… because they only have 2 speeds… moderate speed… and inaudibly fast speed. You hear them doing the same hyper-picking and sweeping routines over and over again. Sweeping is now become the ‘tapping’ of today. It’s cool when you hear it for the first time… and it definitely has a purpose… but it’s also limiting… to the point where 90% of the people who sweep play practically the exact same minor arpeggio over and over again.


haha ok, fair enough and apologies for my mistake in that specific regard. While I did mention improvising, even in that context it was clear that I was talking about first being able to play the stuff - physically make the connections and coordinations at the right tempo - and then improv has to come after that. Because obviously improvising is much harder. So my point is still the same: we have to be able to make the movements just to get in the door. If we’re in the door, then other elements may become our limiting factor…fretboard knowledge, harmonic knowledge, ear training, etc etc. But my comments are about picking speed.


Yeah, in general a lot of the discussions involving speed for the sake of speed contain misconceptions.

But assuming for a second that a speed competition is worth doing - in a CtC approved fashion (e.g. for a given phrase or technique), I think tone and phrasing should not be neglected. I.e. stuff has to sound good, otherwise it doesn’t count :slight_smile:


Although I do agree with you original post that people need to take everything into account, you do have to remember that there are a lot of beginners out there that want to play at blistering speeds all over the neck, but cant hit 16ths on a single note over 100 bpm. Step 1 is vital to begin with and experimenting with the motion mechanics may influence choices on what they might learn - 1WPS, 2WPS, Yngwie/Johnson, crosspicking etc.


I agree with this post. To build pure picking speed you should tremolo on a single pitch single string (still in time however- that way you can measure your speed). This takes all other variables out of the equation- Hand synchronization, String Changes. Of course you can do different tremolo motions depending on what style of picking you are trying to develop to be faster- DWPS (Upstroke escape) UWPS (downstrokes escape) Crosspicking (curved motion).

Then the next step would to find a pattern in a single string that you repeat to build Hand synchronization (Yngwie 6 Note Pattern for example). Other examples would just be doing, 1234, 1242, 1343, 124, 134 (doing like a mini fragment of a 3NPS Scale). You could repeat the ones that are only 3 fingerings twice per beat so that it is still Sextuplets.

The final step would be addressing the string changes which are built into the picking styles techniques.

DWPS covers Ascending Inside (up on low to down on high), and Descending Outside (up on high, down on low). These string changes for this orientation will be very easy- because you can automatically escape after upstokes since it is built into the motion.

UWPS covers Ascending Outside (down on low to up on high), and Descending Inside (down on high, up on low). Again these changes for UWPS are easy since it is built into the motion and you are only changing after Downstrokes.

But if you are using DWPS for example and need to do an Ascending Outside string change that is when you need Two Way Pickslanting (although this particular string change could also be Swiped, or economy picked since it is an Outside String Change marching the Pickslant) rotating between the DWPS and UWPS. TWPS is especially vital for inside string changes as these cannot be swiped or economy picked.

Now if you are constantly escaping the strings and alternating picking 1NPS stuff then is when you need Crosspicking- where the Stroke is curved and always escapes.

Some 1NPS stuff can also be economy picked via Sweeping- but it is not as agile (it can’t comstsntly go back and forth like Banjo Rolls for example). TWPS Economy Picking does allow one to play almost any type of line however and is probably one of the most versatile picking styles there is.


Yes totally - step 1 is essential, it’s impossible to do the rest without step 1.


It’s also possible to find something that works well for tremolo on a single string (Say a wrist/elbow movement or whatever) but is terrible for string changes OR terrible for certain string changes.

I’d argue that it just makes sense to not take too long working out the 1 string stuff without occasion testing of different string changes.


For sure. There’s probably some minimum bar for this that everyone should reach and then move on, even if you haven’t reached your fastest single-string speed yet. Determining what bar that is, and how to test for it, would be useful.

Clearly, establishing a basic movement that is free of stringhopping and other inefficiencies needs to happen early. But it’s (probably?) not super necessary to become a tremolo master at that point. That ability will continue to improve over time, and will be most likely be helped by all the other steps, a la random / interleaved motor learning approaches. That was definitely the case for me. Had I done nothing but unsynchronized tremolo forever, I would most certainly have progressed more slowly.

What’s the test for when they’re done with step 1 - or at least done enough to move forward?


I think it’s going to vary so much depending on a lot of factors. Off the top of my head, mainly the players goals (what kind of music, what kind of tempos) and the player’s current abilities. Also would have to factor their patience level…might not be super motivating or exciting to play on just a single string for a year!

To take a greater risk on the spectrum of ‘useful’ to ‘incorrect’ I might say that if we take the average experienced player that struggles at those average 'i’ve been playing guitar for a while but can’t seem to…" kind of tempos, which I’d say is 16ths at 100-125 or so, I think it would be important that they can do simple single string stuff coordinating both hands at 140-160 bpm as 16ths. If only we could do large scale studies with controls…


I can’t imagine any scenario where I or you would recommend that! But yes some relatively brief amount of time up front ironing out picking motion fundamentals, emphasis on brief, then getting going with more interesting and musical stuff.


well I mean we all have some students we don’t like


Hey there hamsterdude, I was with you until this last part. My old conception of what “sweeping” constitutes certainly fits your description, but for those of us playing jazz that have doubled our picking speed using mini-sweeps when leaving a string in the “wrong” direction, that doesn’t hold true at all. At the very least, I’d like to think the Cracking the Code crowd is expanding that 10% to a larger, more musical number.

That is to say, sweeps are not at all limiting. And as far as tapping is concerned, I’ll say that right hand tapping and two-handed tapping distracted me for decades from the power of left hand only tapping. Peace, Daniel


What did Fripp advise? Three months? I’ve heard of master drummers training on simple beats for over a year in a group context. But yeah, me neither.

When combined with Goodrick’s Science of the Unitar however, I can see the benefit of taking single string playing far more seriously than most of us do.