My one year progress

If this post has any duplications and reduplications of points made by previous posters, I apologise in advance, but I thought I would post my progress made over the last year and bring those things I have found to a conclusion about my learning process.

I could play 200bpm 16th notes on a single string with elbow picking but I was not able to move onto another string without the risk of the plectrum becoming stuck on a random note. Practice seemed to make impermanent. Sometimes I could get across to play a few notes on the second string, sometimes it would be the first note on that string that stopped the flow of the plectrum. It was mysterious.

When I googled right hand picking technique on the guitar, I found the Guitar World videos as part of Cracking the Code. I watched most of them, and decided that Martin Miller’s arm and wrist shimmer alternate picking technique, because it was described as using little effort, would be the one to go for.

If there was one pickslanting principle I kept in mind, it was to keep the plectrum off the vertical.

And it took months.

But then I finally got the motion; and while I could not palm mute with it, I could mute the strings I had just sounded on clean descending and ascending runs. I was holding the plectrum halfway down the left side with the tip leaning towards the headstock, and while I was always accurate starting on an upstroke, I had to remember to bring my arm nearer to my body to start on a downstroke.

To help with practising the technique, I worked out a set of licks all over the neck, often only a few notes long but covering at least three strings with two or three notes on each string, to get my fretting hand to synchronise with my picking hand.

There was, however, one oddity. Although I had started with the idea that pickslanting meant having the plectrum slanting downward or upward depending on the contact you wanted the plectrum to escape from, I found that I was escaping with my plectrum always at a slight downslant, and I could reverse the plectrum into a permanent up slant and still escape the string. Keeping off the vertical seems to be the golden rule.

I then realised that this motion, which I was playing with my wrist in a fixed position that was strongly turned to the right and bent down about ten degrees, was a similar motion that when the wrist was turned to the left and bent down about sixty degrees could be used with the hand and arm position used in Eddie Van Halen’s tremolo, so I had get a great start on that one without having to learn the rhythm of the motion.

Then I saw that one minute video of crosspicking with the wrist on this blog, so I tried that.

This one was weeks not months later.

To stop my arm from rocking I would every once in a while look at my playing in the mirror and move my arm up and down the body of the guitar until my arm was in the right place to stop the rocking movement; the top of the arm where it connects to the wrist is to be focused on in the mirror, not the picking hand because it is the to and fro motion that is to be dissuaded. At the same time, I stabilised my hand by putting it as far back on the floyd rose tremolo unit as I could. And thirdly, I put a lot of pressure on my arm when on the body of the guitar; so my method turned out to be one that was neither playing slowly and then trying to speed up nor playing a phrase as fast as I could. And when I released the pressure after a few weeks of monotonous rolls my speed doubled immediately. I played eight down, up, down, up, down three string rolls on the A power chord, and four on the B and D power chords in the space of The Boys are Back in Town intro, helped by holding the plectrum in the middle and at its top to give maximum plectrum length.

And then I was shattered.

After a break I tried the first of Steve Morse’s six string arpeggio shapes in the Guitar World magazine article.

I was shattered again.

But I did find out that this mix of wrist and elbow single note crosspicking was best done by holding the plectrum at the top right with a small amount of downward slanting. And I could put my little finger down for support, but only after I had played the arpeggio through once to establish the right place for the finger to go. I had a brisk pace with this crosspicking pattern, and I found I could also pick a three note per string major scale across all six strings entirely from the same wrist position taken on the bridge with no elbow component used.

So now I had the alternate picking in which I moved from string to string with the elbow, balanced on the third and fourth fingers which held my hand above not on the bridge, the notes being playing with the wrist and arm shimmer combination. And I had an all wrist crosspicking style with no rocking arm movement.

Yet I felt that there should be something in between these two motions that may bring them together.

So I looked at Frank Gambale’s sweeping, noticed he had a bent thumb as I always do, so I thought given that my sweeping with the elbow was imprecise, I’d try that motion. So I copied as best I could his fist with a little finger as a support, and quite quickly I could use that hand position for patterns of sweeping, economy picking and brisk alternate picking.

So now I had three motions; the fist without any fingers on the guitar body for crosspicking with the hand anchored at the bridge; the fist with little finger down for sweeping, economy picking and brisk alternate picking with the hand still anchored on the bridge; and two fingers down and the hand not anchored on the bridge for fast alternate picking.

And then I discovered that if I took up the shape I think of as Frank Gambale’s and then just put my third finger down next to the little finger, I could play the wrist and arm shimmer technique in a lower profile, and could use it now for palm muting or have my picking hand lifted only a little from the bridge.

So what I have come out with, by having these three motions created separately, is a composite motion where the moving parts have come closer together and form a more flexible and compact technique.

Throughout I haven’t attempted to learn any music other than the pieces that obtain to a specific technique alongside my attempts at writing licks that test out the techniques I have just started to learn.

So the lesson I draw from this is that if I were to be shown my current hand positions to myself a year ago when I started the learning process, I may have been able to make quicker progress in learning because they would be the ones biomechanically suited to my right hand specifics, but that would not have given me the archaeology of hand positions and movements that I think have been necessary for me to create my current hand posture.

Surely, this principle is germane to the myriad combinations of picking styles of those guitarists with more talent than me?

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Hey thanks for sharing! Cool to see detail on how you’ve developed some mechanics that seem to be working well for you. What of our stuff have you watched / found most helpful? Not sure what all you’ve come across so far but we have lots of great crosspicking discussion on the forum; you may find our two workshops on crosspicking motion worth checking out as well if you haven’t seen those. Any other questions or things we might be able to point you to or give feedback on, just let us know!

I’ve not watched anything yet beyond most of the videos on Guitar World and a few of your YouTube videos, although I’ve read most of the blog postings here in the last few months.

I’m getting my gear in order at the moment, having just got over the fear of my own amplifier.

I will watch what I can on the site shortly and see if I can improve what I’m doing.

Keep up the good work.

Cool post, lots to be learned from your perspective - thanks for sharing!

Ah, my initial post hauled out of the archives!

I’ll say a little more about my progress with my forearm rotation.

First, I’ve had my variety pack of eight different sizes of Dunlop flow picks for about a month and they’re all great. Yesterday I used the 0.88mm and the 2.00mm regular size on my electric guitar, and the 3.00mm is very good for acoustic single note runs. I have a cheap practice amp which I use on the principle that if I can get a good sound out of that, I am getting things right!

Second, it took me a long time to be able to get control of starting runs on a down stroke especially on the heavier strings with my forearm rotation technique, but now that I can, for certain runs, if I want to, I can be very fast. In fact, there was a point where I could play slowly and I could play fast runs starting on an upstroke, but I had pretty much no speeds in between. So I spent time on my wrist technique, which is reasonable now for cross picking and certain quick runs, but as I did that I seem to have added ways of controlling lower speeds while using my the forearm position, with finger movement and/or wrist movement.

I think from what I’ve learnt I’d say try as much as you can rather than go after a single technique, because one thing seems to help the others.