My Technique Critique Diary - Alternate Picking Assistance


#1

Hi everyone. It’s about time I finally uploaded a video to share with you.

I have wanted to develop my picking speed for probably the last 10+ years, but always seem to fall into the trap of [practicing] > [seeing a little bit of progress] > [losing confidence in my current approach] > [losing interest]. It’s a frustrating cycle, however there is just so much fantastic content out there to learn from.

One issue I have had since my teens is to begin using my thumb/index finger when I get up to a certain speed. I recently watched Martin Miller’s lesson footage, where he discusses playing outside of your comfort zone, and pushing your speed in bursts. I started this and found it helpful, however I noticed that my technique was not remaining consistent, and it was my thumb/index movement that was ‘getting me’ to those higher speeds.

The problem with this is I find the faster I get with this technique, the less control I have, and it ends up a bit sloppy. Over the past couple of days I have tried consciously and slowly practicing my picking, keeping a close eye on the thumb and ensuring it doesn’t move. Is this a good approach to ingrain that technique before pushing ahead into ‘uncomfortable territory’?

Any general advice on what you see in the video and how I might consider practicing and progressing would be greatly welcome. @Troy I would love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks! :wink:


#2

I suppose the question is what are you trying to acheive? DWPS? 2WPS?


#3

Definitely DWPS. I find when I tremolo (with excessive tension often), I naturally go into an UWPS, but I just find DWPS feels more natural for playing in general.


#4

Definitely keep working on the tremolo, its worth it. Experiment with different tension levels ( I found that adding a bit of tension allowed me to feel what it felt like to release that tension - after a while It felt easier to control. It could just be my eyes, but it seemed that there was a little curved movement on some licks - although its good for crosspicking, DWPS requires the pick direction to be a straight line going in and out of the string plane, where the upstroke escapes the strings.


#5

While I had the acoustic to hand, here is a short example of the way my picking hand performs straight-up tremolo picking. It gets the job done, to a small extent, but just doesn’t feel particularly comfortable.


#6

Your thumb looks different in this compared to your original post. With your thumb being more straight in the tremolo example, you may be inviting the UWPS that you mentioned and extra tension. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying either way is best, you will have to try both ways and see what is best. Try it again, with the bent thumb and post again! :wink:


#7

Ah, I always have a straight thumb when I play tremolo that way. With the thumb/pick slanted, the attack is just too soft from that angle.


#8

I’m not sure that it is particularly wise to have a different grip to the one that you intend to use with DWPS. In my opinion, it defeats the object of working on the tremolo as a way to play fast. Also, if it is making you use UWPS then it is not going to help you with DWPS at all!

How is it ‘soft’? Could you post a vid comparing the two? It maybe the edge picking angle needs adjusting to get the tobe you want.


#9

Your form looks pretty good.
In your first example (the electric one), when you get to your “top” speed it sounds like you could go faster but you’re holding back because you think it’s going to get sloppy. Go ahead and allow yourself to be sloppy at first. Your brain/hands need to experience what it’s like to play at high speed, even if you only get a few notes to sync up between your hands. That short burst of clean speed playing will give your mind a target to get back to.
You also might want to consider holding off on string changing because it just adds an extra element of difficulty to your practice. Try practicing short bursts of speed on one string for awhile. Then when you get better at that you can incorporate string changing by adding one string at a time.
I don’t know if I’d worry too much about your hand/fingers changing their form when you tremolo pick. I think this is fairly common. If you watch any of the Masters interviews here on the site you’ll notice quite a few players alter their grip/movement a little bit as they speed up. Different muscles come into play at higher speeds and sometimes you need to adjust things to make sure you continue playing cleanly and/or prevent your pick from flying out of your fingers :joy:.


#10

Thanks for posting!

You are not using dwps, you are crosspicking, like Martin. It’s pretty cool, I’d keep doing it!

But to back up a second, when I say dwps I am not referring to the appearance of the pick, as in whether or not it has the appearance of a slant. That is secondary. Instead, what is important is the path of the pick’s motion. The downward pickslanting motion is only when the downstrokes get stuck between the strings and upstrokes are escaped. In other words, downward pickslanting is a straight-line movement (more or less) into and out of the strings.

This means that in the downward pickslanting system, downstrokes cannot be used to move from one string to another, because they are stuck in between two strings. And in the first example you play, ascending sixes, the downstroke is the final note on the string. You follow that with an upstroke on the next higher string. In between, the pick goes up into the air and over the top of the string. This should tell you right away that you are not using dwps. In other words, your downstrokes are escaping, meaning, they are jumping over the top of the next string.

Again, nothing wrong with this. Your movement is cool and can be used to play arbitrary combinations of notes per string, but it is not pickslanting in any strict sense of the term.

If you want to work on downward pickslanting as a movement, it’s not going to be more flexible than what you are currently doing, it’s going to be less flexible. But it might be a little faster. Or it might not! Crosspicking movements can be quick as well. This might be more about figuring out what it is you are trying to achieve and then working on that thing specifically. And sometimes simply learning more about the movements helps you understand why things work they way they do for you currently. Lots of options here.


#11

I feel uniquely qualified to expand on what @Troy’s saying here, since my “main” arm position and picking motion is almost identical to the first video. Depending on how much “wrist extension” you apply at the bottom of downstrokes, and how much supination your arm position has, this technique can result in pickstrokes that are “curved” in the crosspicking sense, but where the curve still “terminates” below the adjacent string. The more your arm position is pronated and the more “wrist extension-y” the movement is, the more effective it is for fast crosspicking (but the wrist movement is still subtle, I’m contrasting with a DWPS forearm-rotation technique where the wrist flexion/extension component would be even more subtle). The more your arm position is supinated and the more subtle the wrist extension component is, the faster you can crank the speed, at the cost of requiring a jerkier supplemental wrist extension movement to try to do a “crosspicking” string cross. A key to me in how this feels, and perhaps you can relate, @kcyrowolf, is that I’m usually not even really thinking about the wrist extension component, it feels like an almost involuntary consequence of the “camming” motion of the tip of my radius bone against the base of my wrist near the thumb each time the forearm makes its subtle rotation in the pronation direction.

One experiment you might find interesting is to try that picking motion with a slightly more “flexed” wrist in the gypsy style to see how much you can crank the speed. Then, after you have a feel for higher speed in that position, try to recreate the speed in your “original” position, or even in a slightly more pronated position.

In short, this position and motion is interesting because it sort of straddles a conceptual line where it is very conducive to crosspicking when it looks like your video, or even tilts a little in the “pronation” direction; but it’s also conducive to blazing fast DWPS when it tilts more in the “supination” direction (and maybe adds a little flex to the default wrist position). And there’s a third cool thing: when the essence of this motion/position gets tilted in the “pronation” direction past crosspicking, to a point where the default wrist position is more extended, and the curved pickstroke “escapes” on downstrokes but remains trapped on upstrokes, it provides more margin for error for “fast” UWPS. I’m at a point now where I’m trying to develop fast fulltime crosspicking in the “middle” of these positions, and the drawback is that the margin for error to cross the strings in either direction is kind of small, which means things I’m accustomed to do for dynamics with a one-way pickslant have a greater chance of throwing off my accuracy, but I think it’s still do-able. My tendency as I try to reach my limits with this is to “default” to the fulltime crosspicking motion (with the “midpoint” of the curved pickstroke pretty much directly under the target string), and for extreme speed stuff, leaning back into the “UWPS” mode of this technique (with the “midpoint” of the curved pickstroke crossed after the downstroke has picked the target string and is on its way out to the “escape zone”), and at the highest UWPS speeds, the elbow motion might click in slightly, creating a more “classic” straight line UWPS motion.

Mind you, when I’m not actively working on that stuff and my “lizard brain” takes over, I revert to a fast DWPS motion that is basically the motion from your first video, but with a slightly more flexed default wrist position and a curved stroke that stays buried at the bottom of downstrokes. (Edit: I guess when I say “default” I mean “at the top of upstrokes”, and the total amount of wrist flexion/extension movement in all cases for me is pretty small, though it’s slightly larger when I try clear the strings on downstrokes from a setup that’s more “DWPS” oriented)

TL;DR: The essence of the motion in your first video has tons of upside for crosspicking, UWPS, and DWPS, and can be “tweaked” for any of them as described above.


#12

@Troy and @Frylock Thank you for your input here. You are right, I was considering DWPS as my ‘form’ rather than ‘action’.

In terms of specific advice for how to practice these mechanics, would you say it is best to carefully focus on the mechanics (without the metronome), before pushing ahead with speed outside of my comfort zone (using the metronome)?

Again, my concern is that my thumb comes into play too much when pushing into higher speeds. I’ll post another video when I am home.


#13

What is “too much”? Martin Miller’s crosspicking technique has a significant finger component, and so does Andy Wood’s two-way pickslanting technique. There is nothing wrong with finger motion. And there is nothing really wrong per se with what I’m seeing in these clips either! The ability to do phrases like ascending sixes with pure alternate picking is a useful skill and you appear to have it. I’m a big fan of “ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Honestly, my best recommendation is to keep doing what you’re doing, just with a somewhat more detailed understanding of what is exactly happening. In other words, simply understanding why your motion is a crosspicking motion, and not a pickslanting motion, can help you become better at it. You can more deliberately use it in different types of of phrases / string change combinations, while maintaining the smoothness of the movement. Although, again, it already looks good to me.

If for whatever reason you still want to learn a pickslanting movement, you first need to verify that you are actually executing them. This is our best overview currently of how the most common picking motions work:

https://troygrady.com/channels/talking-the-code/introduction-to-picking-motion/

We’re also currently working on more detailed, chapterized versions of this for the Pickslanting Primer which should make it easier to follow along in gettable, lesson-sized examples for each motion rather than this two-hour data dump.

But again, keep doing what you are doing!


#14

Thanks for the input so far everyone. Here are a couple of clips on both acoustic and electric, going over some cross picking and sextuplet runs.

This one will give a slightly better insight into my single string picking.


#15

Great clips man! Love the crosspicking! Nice tone as well. What pickups you got in the axe?


#16

Thanks man! It’s a Tom Anderson Drop Top, so it has their own pickups. H2+ in Bridge, SC1 in middle and neck, running into an Axe FX II and Matrix Q12A. :slight_smile:


#17

Those Tom Andersons look like really fantastic guitars… if only I wasn’t so poor!

Keep up with the updates!


#18

Here’s a little noodle update video, including butchering the After Life intro riff, wooops.

Feeling better about my picking right now than I ever have. It feels as if I’ve sort of cracked the inner game of learning to program my muscle memory effectively. I have been focusing closely on practicing certain mechanics slowed down, paying close attention to the feel and consistency. As the mechanics become more and more familiar, I find I am able to push the speeds a little higher in a very natural way.

Thanks for all the advice and I’ll keep posting here from time to time.


#19

After a long silence, I just wanted to drop a little update.

Progress has really boomed in recent weeks/months, particularly after a bit of a break from the guitar for a number of weeks.

I feel like I’ve finally ‘snapped’ (any Sanderson fans?) or ‘cracked the code’ as it were, in a very subtle way. I now understand the sheer importance of establishing consistent, motorised mechanics and allowing them to set in and become automatic on their own. This is probably the most difficult step, because ours egos are always trying to push us beyond where we need to be. From there, THAT is when the actual ‘speed building’ work begins, but not until the mechanic is truly established.

I had the opportunity to speak briefly with Martin Miller after one of his clinics with Tom Quayle here in the UK and he essentially confirmed my findings and reinforced the importance of establishing the technique BEFORE hitting the metronome or doing the subconscious ‘playing in front of the TV’ work.

In one of his videos Martin specifically talks about playing ‘outside of your comfort zone’ when it comes to speed. This can easily be misunderstood as ‘tensing up to achieve a greater speed’, which is just not correct. I have now found, through my own experience, that once a technique or specific mechanic becomes natural and flows without conscious effort, you are then able to play beyond your comfort speed in a relaxed way, albeit perhaps sloppy. Then the goal can be to work within that ‘uncomfortable tempo’ as it begins to clean up.

I guess this ties in directly with Shawn Lawns comments on his early ability to just move his hands stupidly fast, where the goal was for him to tidy his playing up rather than constantly work at ‘building speed’.

After many many years of playing, I feel I am finally on the path, in that ‘2 year window’ many players talk about as the time where they really drilled their playing and established their technique.

Be great to hear your thoughts. (You too @Troy) :grinning:


#20

hey @kcyrowolf, can you go more into how you got to the improvements you’ve made? Your playing is excellent in this most recent video and it really seems you’ve figured things out.