Natural picking motion vs learning a new one

Hello everyone, for years now I’ve been trying to improve my alternate picking with little to no results. Anyways I’ve recently started watching a lot of Troys stuff on YouTube and had a question for anyone willing to help me.

I’ve seen the different motions for picking and my natural feeling motion is elbow motion. However I have no control over this. Basically it takes me a couple pick strokes to get it going and then it’s just “on” as in balls to the wall, fast as I can go. If I attempt to slow it down the technique changes and I’m not using elbow motion anymore.

Sorry getting off topic here. My question is, can a player who is naturally better at elbow motion, train themselves to be good at wrist motion? I’ve recently gotten a guitar teacher who insists I use wrist motion for alternate picking. On the flip side, I’ve seen multiple videos where Troy says not to start slow, start fast and then slow THAT motion down to clean it up.

Am I wasting my time practicing wrist motion at 90 bpm triplets? Should I instead focus on harnessing the elbow?

I was elbow, and can still easily revert back to it - but I worked with Tom Gilroy to get a wrist motion going; pronated DSX with a trailing edge grip, and it’s working out pretty good I feel. Takes time and practice, but it’s definitely doable.

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Thanks for the quick reply. I think I’m being taught the same movement, DSX with a pronated forearm. The hardest part is not constantly reverting back to other movements.

I’m not sure if I ever really had a natural picking motion, it wanted to be USX wrist but was a tense mess!

The problem I encountered with elbow is that I was able to brute force my picking up to speeds of 120bpm 16th note triplets (faster then my wannabe USX wrist motion), fooling myself that this was a correct picking motion despite it being quite fatiguing and tense and I think a lot of people can fall into this trap.

To answer your question I would say yes, you can learn any motion you want if you figure out how. I’ve since learnt efficient wrist/forearm USX and wrist DSX motions but while learning them I never really practiced the motion below 115bpm 16th note trips.

The key is to find a way to play at this speed at length, with no build up of tension - it should feel easy. The reason it looks effortless for guys with great technique is because they’ve learnt an efficient, effortless motion :slight_smile:

So Jacklr, I have a tendency to let the pick flop around/pull the pick up away from the strings with my index finger and thumb anytime I get to around the speeds your talking about 110 bpm 16th or 130 bpm triplets.

I’ve been practicing triplets at around 90 bpm trying to focus on wrist deviation and keeping my pick in a straight line through the string, rather than coming up and down, as in string hopping.

In your opinion am I better off practicing slower and really focusing on locking in the correct motion or should I bump up the speed and screw up repeatedly but try to notice the times I get it “right?”

I think this is wrong way to think about it, don’t try and get to those speeds, 115bpm 16th note trips should be the starting point :slight_smile:

The straight line part is a good thing to think about but wrist DSX isn’t just deviation it kinda feels like you are flicking the wrist outward a little bit. The below video goes over it and really helped me:

Never slow, practicing slow comes WAY later once the motion is mastered. The problem is when you practice slow to start with you don’t know that your motion is correct so you could just be baking in an inefficient motion which tends to make learning an efficient motion harder.

Definitely start at speed but you need to keep tweaking and shifting your hand position until you get something that works and feels really easy, don’t stick with one way and try to make it work, it should feel easy from the get-go. When I couldn’t find the motion I would try and introduce elements of randomness in the hopes it would make me do something different e.g. stop for 5mins and come back, change pick, change guitar etc.

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Thanks for the replies you’ve been immensely helpful!

I’ll try this out later today and see if I can find a way to make it feel right. But as you stated earleir, anyone has the ability to do this speed from the wrist, correct? There’s not some thing where some people are elbow and some wrist, just a matter of what you’re used to? If I start reverting back to my elbow I should stop and and try again (if I want to learn wrist picking.)

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Happy to help!

Yep as far as I know, the table tapping tests on the site would probably be the best way to gauge that. All of mine max out around 210bpm, with elbow a little faster at 240bpm (though I haven’t learnt an efficient elbow motion on the guitar) and I think my results are pretty typical :slight_smile:

Yep exactly :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

I agree with everything @Jacklr and @Scottulus said. Both awesome players. Scottulus will tell you he sucks but he’s mistaken :rofl: Jack is also super humble but in the last year-ish he’s learned one of the best forearm rotational blends we’ve seen on the forum, and now he’s in the beginning stages of having an equally impressive wrist DSX motion.

Couple points I’d like to chime in on though:

What does the motion turn into when you slow it down, just a little? I know what you mean. There’s like a ‘hyper picking’ motion that’s really only accessible when we tense the brachioradialis. Rusty Cooley talks about this. However, he says he doesn’t feel tensed up when he does this. Yes obviously there is some tension but he is able to control it. I’d bet this is just a familiarity thing.

Still, let’s say you slow it down a little and then it turns into a wrist motion. Is it still pretty fast? If it’s in the 16ths @ 160 - 210 range, you’re golden. That should cover you for most ‘fast’ playing.

I’d want to know why. This sounds like dogma. Yes, wrist motion is awesome but you don’t have to do it. I do think for the most general type of picking that can seemingly play “anything” it’s probably the best contender…but very few players really need to play everything. There are plenty of great elbow players, and forearm players who have extensive vocabularies. If someone has a great elbow motion going (or the potential to have a great elbow motion) having them start from scratch with wrist could be very frustrating. You’ve touched on some of the reasons → you’re so used to elbow that it wants to ‘involve’ itself even when you’re trying to keep it out of the picture.

Yes, I think so. This is too slow to know if your motion is efficient.

Maybe! Anecdotal here, but elbow was my default motion. I’ve since learned a forearm rotational blend, a wrist only DSX (which really I could always do…I just wasn’t aware of the implications) and several wrist motions that have DBX capabilities.

I’ve spent the better part of 3 years working on all those. I’m a hobbyist and I actually get a lot of enjoyment learning new motions. I’d suspect most people just want to play music though lol! It’s probably easy to say this and I can’t prove it, but I’d bet if those entire 3 years I’d have only worked on elbow and concentrated on the fastest speeds, I’d probably be able to play some runs in the 16ths @ 220 range. I’ve just worked on…other things :slight_smile: What are your goals??? If it’s just ‘to play some fasts runs’, you may get there quicker by taming your elbow than by learning a completely new motion.

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Great post, Joe.

Hey @Jawnka could you make a video maybe of a thing that you are working on? I’d love to see/ hear it if only to see another pronated DSX player!

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Joebegly, thanks for the reply! So yeah, the elbow motion I use I essentially feels exactly what you’re referring to, not a lot of tension when preforming it but definitely an engagement of a certain muscle. A couple reasons why I don’t feel secure enough to try to evolve this technique:

When I use it I pronate my forearm a lot and the fleshy part of thumb really digs into the strings/guitar body below the string I’m on. I have to idea how to accomplish switching to another string during the movement.

I feel like I don’t have “control” over the movement. It really only feels right if I go as fast as I can with it and I can’t “feel?” each note if that makes sense.

I’m not too sure on correct form with things but I already have some golfers elbow in my right hand from weightlifting and unsure if this technique could aggravate it more.

The reason my current teacher wants me to use wrist motion is honestly because that’s the technique that he’s mastered and said that’s the way he knows how to teach alternate picking. I don’t really have issue with this because a lot of my favorite players use wrist motion and I would like to get better at.

Yesterday when I got home, I followed Jacklr’s advice. I tried to start at 115 16th note triplets and no matter what method I employed I run into the issue of wanting to string hop I think. I start to use my thumb to pick, along with my wrist and elbow and it’s like my brain will not let me use just elbow or just wrist. Not saying I have to use just one but it’s almost like I’m writing with a pencil when I “naturally” try to pick something fast. Couldn’t keep up with the speed at all.

@Scottulus I will try to post a video here later this afternoon showing the way I pick with my elbow vs the wrist technique I’m being taught now.

Thank all you guys for the advice so far!

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@Scottulus , @joebegly

The first is me attempting wrist movement

The second is the way that feels the most “natural” to me

The third is elbow motion.

Sorry for the full on slow motion, having a hard time figuring out the tech to upload with only a slow motioned section.

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Oh most of us on here just upload to YouTube in original speed, set it’s visibility to “unlisted” and paste the link in. I’ll check out the stuff you posted here though.

Cool man! It takes a lot of bravery to upload a clip, so thanks for sharing. I am by no means an expert, I am working on this stuff myself! Some observations though, because I see you going through some of the same things I did when I was working on some of the same stuff. While I don’t know the corrections I definitely recognize what you’re going through! Pretty fast playing though, man! Awesome!

  1. The wrist movement, looks like strict deviation to me - radius to ulna in a straight line I think? I notice that you are kind of starting towards the radius more so than the ulna, so that means that there’s tons of room for motion on the downstroke, not so much on the upstroke. Maybe the dudes could weigh in on this? Looks tense though, brother.

  2. Looks like your fingers/knuckles are turning white from grip pressure - might be too much pressure on the pick? Grip issue perhaps? I don’t know. Maybe Troy or Tommo or Joe or Tom Gilroy could chime in on that.

  3. Looks to me like you are squeezing the guitar into your body slightly, ie applying pressure with the picking hand/arm to the guitar body which definitely interferes with execution of notes! Again, I think that the fellas might have some good advice on that as well.

Probably all kinds of stuff that I’m not seeing also, so I hope my post is somewhat helpful and doesn’t lead you astray. My observations of course are just observations!

Hey man, since you were kind enough to share a video of you doing some picking I thought I’d share one of me playing the pop tarts lick, keep in mind that this is no warmups, just jumping onto my guitar and going for it - so it’s certainly not polished and it could definitely be a lot faster/better! But I think you can see my picking angle, and the pronation. And, it’s an honest representation of my base ability and what my DSX looks like. I use a trailing edge grip between finger and thumb with my middle finger acting as a sort of “brace” so it’s basically a 3 finger grip. The pop tarts lick is a great little study that works great for both single escapes so that might be a good one to go check out?

Anyways man - you got this! Hopefully seeing some dork struggle with life (me) will help out somewhat? Good luck, man!


The first video your motion looks trapped, the second looks like string hopping, the third it looks like you have a shallow downstroke escape but it’s hard to tell if it’s efficient in slow-mo.

I think the problem is your assuming what you think a correct motion should look like and trying to make it work rather than discovering the correct motion at sufficient speed through experimentation and then trying to learn/ingrain it by recalling it every-time you pick up a guitar :slight_smile:

@Scottulus great playing man, very interesting insight on the second motion. That second motion is kind of the fall back I always default to when things get fast and it simply does not work. I think you’re right though I’m kind of regrabbing the pick tightly everytime I pick so maybe I need to try loosening my grip on it.

@Jacklr honestly man you’re right. I tried what you said the other day about moving hand positions around but I never could get a solid wrist motion going. The only way I could get any fast tremolo picking going was with elbow. It’s a mental barrier for sure. I kind of tell myself I don’t have the ability to pick from my wrist because of the years I’ve played I’ve never gotten it to work.

I watched a Ben Higgens video last night where he says the same thing you and Troy himself have said. Go fast, find the motion that works for you then refine it. I guess it’s that I don’t know how long to try it. An hour a day for a week? What if takes me months or years to find the right motion for me… sorry, I’ve spent a good 5 years playing focused at 60 bpm climbing up to 120 only to hit a wall and start over. Stupid on my end but I’m so frustrated with this and keep looking for that “secret” to make it click for me.

Have you tried placing your picking hand on the guitar without a pick and just try to move your picking hand fast? It’s way easier to “pick” without a pick, there is just no way to get stuck on the strings. Try it and see if you can move your hand fast while having it in the position that you normally use. (Or try to find another position that feels comfortable).

If you can move it fast, try to look at the way your hand moves and see what kind of escape you would have if you would use a pick. After this it’s all about trying to find a pick grip that allows the pick to travel without getting stuck while using your motion.

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Solid advice, I’ll try this whenever I get home today!

I’m assuming you mean in the open air as in, not letting any parts of my fingers touch the strings?

Just play with your hand as if you were holding a pick. So your fingers will be very close to the strings and they might touch the strings but that doesn’t matter, it won’t interfere with the motion.

If I can do it, you definitely can, you just need to figure out how! Guitar playing becomes a lot easier and a lot more fun when you have an efficient motion :slight_smile:

This is my old tense/painful USX(kinda) motion going as fast as I could 11 months ago:

This is my tensionless/easy DSX wrist motion from 2 weeks ago, 120bpm 16th note trips here but can go even faster now:

(It doesn’t take a year to work this stuff out, I learnt my rotational motion 6 months ago but didn’t include it to keep this post more concise)

My advice would be to keep working in/above the 115bpm 16th note trips range, start with upstrokes and try to find a motion that you can keep up with no tension for at least 30secs at a time. When learning my motion my string attack was also really quiet and I always play with a crunchy amp with a clean boost to help the attack anyway! I just wanted something that was easy to do and I could do for a long time, as my comfortability increased with the motion so did the attack. Good luck! :grin:


Also quickly on this, you don’t have to labour away at it or anything. Whenever you feel like it, give it a try and see if you can get anything working - the trick is recognising when you are doing it right and then trying to do it right again and again. Over time it becomes instant, though at first you may only be able to get it right for a couple of minutes at a time before losing it :slight_smile:

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