My Picking Technique


Hello everyone. I am hoping to get some feedback on my picking. I basically just played this stuff at a decent speed to see what would happen. I uploaded regular speed to YouTube and figured the slower speed options there would work ok, but if I need to upload better videos or videos that are recorded in slow motion to really show anything then I can do that. My playing today was not very good at all, but it illustrates issues I have I am sure. Tension being the big one I think. It seems to creep in and make it almost impossible for me to play at all and I am not sure how I can defeat it. I have identified what I feel is a comfortable position for my arm and on good days works ok and it allows me to tremolo at around 220 or so on those good days. When crossing strings however, things fall apart. I am a downward pickslanter as far as I can tell and I use forearm rotation on a single string and then that combined with arm movement to change strings. At least that is what I try to do. I am sort of out of ideas how to get this stuff better. I seem to have this tension issue most days and it prevents me from practicing fast stuff for very long. Maybe I am doing everything completely wrong. Wouldn’t surprise me. I also have an issue regarding the Randy Rhoades/Kirk Hammett/Jimmy Page (or whoever you want to relate this to) type stuff I played towards the end of the pentatonic video. It seems like most people I see play this stuff pick the first note, do a pull off to the second and then pick the rest like I was attempting to do. It feels super awkward when I try to speed it up while doing the pull off and trying to get to the next string on the descending side and it feels like a jumbled mess when I try to pick it all too. Pentatonic stuff in general seems to make my arm tense up a lot after a couple repetitions of any pattern and it turns into garbage. Anyway, I am hoping I can get some feedback on what I am doing wrong. Or right (if anything). Thanks in advance.


First off: take everything I’m saying with a grain of salt. Use your own ears, who cares about what I say if you don’t like it. This is music, not a competition.

I didn’t go through these frame-by-frame and I’m not a great rotational picker. I will note that it sounds to me like you have some hand synchronization issues, though, just based on how the pentatonic licks sound. Fortunately, that’s the easiest thing (in my experience) to fix - all it takes is patience and time.

Also, I see what you mean by “tension,” but it kind of looks to me like you don’t have an anchor point. Do you? Related, have you tried using large rest strokes?

Just my thoughts, but it’s late so they might not be super coherent.


Thank you for the feedback. Yes I think I I do have some synchronization issues. I do have an anchor point on the guitar for my arm and my hand. Arm is at the top and my pinky sort of lightly rests on the guitar by the high e string. My wrist makes light contact on the strings when I want to mute and I try to rest it on the lower strings when playing on higher ones (b and e). I have not tried large rest strokes. The tension I have does cause me to not actually cross over strings at all sometimes based on what I saw when I slowed the videos down.


Thanks for posting! In general the core of what you are doing here looks good. You have some basic motion happening and it appears reasonably fluid. In the first clip especially, your motion is principally wrist. The second clip mixes in some more forearm, but it is not pure forearm. It’s a mix of wrist and forearm similar to what Doug Aldrich uses. In general, you are more wrist than you are arm. Nothing wrong with that. But part of learning these movements and making them habitual is learning to feel when you’re changing from one motion to another. Most people have no idea they’re doing this and it can make things really confusing.

In general I would dial back all these fancy patterns and just get some simple stuff happening on a single string using the motions that you have the foundation with. Since you’re a rock fan it’s easy to take simple repeating ideas, like the Yngwie six-note pattern and build on those. You do it in one position with accents to develop hand synchronization. Then you do it in different positions on a single string, with the accents. Once that’s happening you try some two-string patterns. And so on.

However, there is no need to be rigidly sequential with this. You can mix and match - that helps the learning process. But in all instances the emphasis should be on smooth, natural movements, and learning to recognize when you’re doing those movements specifically and not other movements. No metronome, no long practice sessions, etc. That stuff kills gains and also kills enthusiasm. More thoughts on this here, and of course elsewhere on the forum:

I would also recommend finding a good teacher who can dig through this further with you, working out what it is you are looking for and giving you immediate/instant feedback on what is working, from a few feet away (or via Skype) so you don’t waste time. Again, you have a solid foundation here and you should be able to make fine progress.


Thank you for taking the time to look at this Troy. I will follow your advice and get one string stuff working tension free and smooth. I think wrist is most comfortable for me so I will try to make that the thing I do. One thing I would like to ask is what to do about crossing the strings. I need to move my arm to make it happen (it feels like anyway) and when I do that I often end up switching the mechanics I think. So should I use the arm thing as a way of repositioning the wrist or as an actual way of picking that first note on string changes? Maybe I’m overthinking it all.


A little bit! Most people use a combination of tracking movements and if they’re only playing across a couple strings, they hardly think about those movements at all. If you have to move across more strings, or play something that stays specifically on the low strings, that’s when it sometimes becomes more obvious that your arm position needs to change. But those are somewhat specialized cases.

If you’re at the point where the simple act of moving from one string to another adjacent string impacts your picking motion or becomes confusing, that’s a sign your motion is not yet learned. This is consistent with the two clips looking slightly different as far as picking motion. So I wouldn’t worry about playing multi-string stuff until you nail down what your motion is going to be, and you start to habituate it on a single string with good hand synchronization.

Also, don’t be afraid to have some pick attack - I can barely hear the notes in those clips above. You don’t want to kill it with force, that can feel unnatural when you’re trying to learn a movement. But you want to use at least enough power to give you a good solid sense of what the movements you’re making actually feel like.

Again, a teacher can help with this by making this path clear, like a coach, and giving you instant feedback.


Ok thank you. That clears up a lot. I’ll work on learning the motion. I’ll try to find a teacher as well if I can.


I just wanted to post an update on my picking. It feels improved a little bit.


I am still working mostly on one string patterns to improve my synchronization and sprinkling in two string patterns to check string changes.


I love the speed, fluidity and look of your picking. This is very close to the way I hope to develop, but I think I will never reach your speed. Actually I’m a bit envious. :wink: Your picking doesn’t look too tense to me. Maybe a bit more on pentatonic patterns and I recall that from my own playing where I feel a bit more tense keeping up with the string changes.

I’m interested to know, do you feel you picking hand loosing up and relaxing more the more you practise?


Thank you for the kind words. I struggle with tension a lot actually. I’ve been working on getting my picking motion consistent and ingrained in my muscle memory like @Troy said to do. It’s helped a lot. Even in this short amount of time. Pentatonic stuff definitely makes me tense up more for sure. I think it’s due to the rapid string changes required for two note per string stuff. It’s noticeable in this video when I try to do that Zakk Wylde pattern across all six strings. Sometimes I can do that at 200 bpm, but I haven’t gotten it that consistent yet. I tend to tense up too much while doing anything across more than two strings right now. Most days anyway. My tremolo picking I’ve gotten as fast as I will really ever need it’s more about consistency, tension management, and hand synchronization now. I would recommend you drill the Yngwie six note pattern for a while at a medium speed with a focus on consistent motion and hand synchronization. Also paying attention to how much tension you have built up. You need a little to play effectively, but too much kills your ability to do anything. Trust me on that. I’ve had it so bad I’ve had to take a few days off from guitar. A good trick is too make sure your shoulders are relaxed while you play. Post a technique critique video for everyone to see so we can give you feedback! If you haven’t already. I’m not an expert on this stuff like some people on here are, but I’ll give the best advice I can.


That was really great buddy. I really enjoyed watching the video.


Here is another update. What I am mainly looking for is the escape on the upstroke. I think I do not always escape correctly and that messes me up. It also looks like I do not always execute every pick stroke when I am playing as fast as possible. For two months of work on this I think I have gotten the one string tremolo ok. Though my left hand sometimes does not keep up at the really fast speed.


love the stubbies!

Just as a suggestion… have you tried lengthening your pick-strokes?

tiny pick-strokes are great for just one string, but can sometimes cause major reliability and timing problems when crossing the strings, especially when playing ascending/descending scales.


When we see technique critique posts from players who are still developing a particular motion, this is what it looks like: moments of smooth punctuated by moments of spazzing out where you’re no longer doing the movement or, switching to a different movement, with lots of little note dropouts.

There is a progression to this, from very random to less random. Players start out with lots of these issues, and especially flip-flopping between multiple motions in uncontrolled fashion because they can’t tell by feel how to differentiate them. Later on in the progression, you’ll see a particular motion more frequently to the point that it becomes the only one. But the spazzing out will still happen periodically. At the end of the road, you’ll see the one motion and you can do it smoothly for a length of time. I call the tail end of this process “convergence” because all the different ways you know how to do something are weeding out and you’re settling on one or two of them, and learning to do them deliberately and smoothly.

In other words, this is all normal. The July clip looks less random than the initial clips, and there are moments where the movement you have chosen (consciously or otherwise) is happening smoothly and it’s working. So I don’t really see an “escape” problem, per se, just smoothness. When it’s smooth, the motion appears to work fine.

How are you structuring your practice? Is it mostly intuitive, toying around with different phrases for a few minutes here and there before switching to another? Are there lots of small breaks where you step away from the guitar and come back? Because that’s the best way to encourage this process to come together. Super slow practice is not very helpful. You’re trying to learn what “smooth” feels like, and you can only do that at normal playing speeds where smoothness happens. That’s your main goal here - searching for smooth.

To that end I will say I really don’t like the little fragment licks like the Gilbert patterns, especially the swiping versions. It’s just introducing more noise and coordination issues that you don’t need to be thinking about at this point. I would assemble a basket of phrases that you stand the best chance of doing smoothly. I would include single string things where you do a thing in a single position, or maybe move between positions. Those are phrases that you can do for longer without stopping, to try and get that smooth feel happening. You can include more aggressive string-switching things like the pentatonic lines, sure. But again, try to take a look at your playing and the lines which you feel you are smoothest with currently, focus on those, and include a variety of them.

Do not do this with a metronome or for very long periods of time. Thirty or forty minutes tops, but with lots of variety and lots of small breaks. If at any point you feel it clicking where a particular stretch of playing is smooth, fast, and sounds good, do more of that. Then stop, put the guitar down and go away for a minute. Then come back and try to recreate that feeling exactly. If you can replicate it, awesome, you’re done for that session. Stop practicing and go watch some TV. Then come back and hour later and try again. And so on.

Nice work here, keep it up.


Yeah I have a tendency to practice too much. I will definitely start doing shorter sessions and follow that method you outlined. I’ll stick to one string again. I think I over complicate things with all the patterns I try to play. Thanks for taking a look again.


I’ve tried a little bit, but it ends up feeling unnatural. I guess that’s how some things start though. Maybe I’ll try again. And yeah I really like these picks. Thanks for taking a look.


The core of this isn’t really the length of the practice, it’s the question of what is the central activity of the practice? When it comes to learning motions, the central activity is looking for the “click” when a thing feels right. Everything else is secondary and sort of flows from that: The multiple attempts. The brief sittings. The breaks. The variety in your practice material.

I wouldn’t only stick to single string, I would stick to things that feel smoothest to you so far. You need variety. Think of it like a basket of things that you choose from at random. There are little moments in your pentatonic attempts that look good and sound good. We can see that it is working. It’s ok to mix those in. I don’t like the Gilbert lick attempts, they look awkward and we already know that the string switching doesn’t work with the motion you’re using.

Anything else you can do to generate variety would be good. As @hamsterman says you can experiment with motion size. How do you do that? You use more force for whatever speed you are playing. This may cause rest strokes to happen. In fact, you can intentionally try to cause rest strokes to happen, that’s another way of tricking your brain into the larger movement. Again, anything you can do that feels smooth and gets you familiar with that feeling, do that.

As an aside it has been brought to my attention that term “spastic” is offensive in the UK - noted. Not intended as an insult, only as a way of describing the start/stop and changing nature of the motion. We’ll come up with another term for this.


I think I see what you are saying now. Mostly what I have been doing is the stuff I played in the videos. So the PG thing, ascending/descending sixes, the pentatonic stuff, and the single string Yngwie thing and variations on it. I’ll ditch the PG and the sixes. I will experiment with the motion size too. I feel that may be helpful for the pentatonic stuff in particular because of all the jumping around. Ive been working on trying to keep all my picking to the very tip of the pick as well. This feels the best to me and I notice when I am playing pentatonics especially that on the higher string (pitch wise) I will sometimes be digging in way to much and this messes me up. It is getting better though. I have been really trying to get my DWPS consistent and not changing to a more neutral slant which sometimes I do unconsciously. Going back to the Gilbert lick for a moment, I can play it decently up to a certain speed and I have played it pretty fast with the swiping. Mostly at the beginnings of play sessions since this pattern seems to be one that really loses steam the longer I play. I guess this is because I am doing it wrong. For the future should this only be attempted with TWPS? I have seen people including yourself use swiping to play it, but I have also gotten confused on whether swiping is something one should do on purpose or not. In the Paul Gilbert episode of Cracking the Code, you state that it is a TWPS lick and I totally see that it is I just thought I would swipe instead. Is it my approach that is wrong or is it the actual motion mechanic I have chosen that is wrong? Sorry I don’t mean to beat a dead horse with this Paul Gilbert stuff I just really like his playing and that lick in particular sounds really cool to me.


I wouldn’t worry about fancy string changes at all until your basic motion starts to feel smooth and natural. It looks to me like you are learning a dwps motion. That’s fine, I would stick with that for now since you are making progress.

Re: the Gilbert lick, why practice this phrase at all? Do you want to use it in your vocabulary? If not, then why bother? For Paul it’s a signature lick, but for the rest of us it is hard to play it or use it and not sound like Paul. If you’re only doing it for mechanical reasons, there are a thousand ways you can learn mechanics while also using phrases that you want to keep in your active vocabulary. Honestly, that goes for any of these lines that you’re using. It gets really boring practicing the same vanilla pentatonic phrases and scales all the time.

There are so, so many great lines you can write with a one-way pickslanting motion that don’t sound like anyone but yourself. If you can make your mechanical practice be musical at the same time, you make progress in both areas.