Not much progress : Am I still string hopping?


#1

Hi,

After close to one year practicing my picking, I still haven’t made much progress.
I went from 4 notes per beat at 110bpm to 125bpm. Which is not great givin that picking faster was the main thing I worked on (though I had long breaks because of sport related injuries that kept me away from the guitar for about half the year).

I suppose that if I am still that slow, it might be because I am still string-hopping, although I don’t think I do.

I still haven’t found any motion where I feel like speed is available. I do understand the concept of playing fast and sloppy to feel what speed is, but when I try different motions, I am even slower (the only exception being pure elbow, but after praticing a lot with it, it never felt good : painful and non musical).

So here are videos of my picking, which I think is a type of crosspicking (with an “upward slant” as in the molly tuttle interview"). Could you tell me if this looks like a usable motion, or is there any string hopping ?

I tried working on bursts with some success : I get a feeling of fluidity and my speed increases, but only for a short time (about 7 notes) before I switch back to a feeling of “unavailable strength and speed”.

And lastly, I am also quite slow at strumming. In case there was a connection between my picking and my strumming that could explain my lack of progress, here is a video (I also practice short bursts, but with less success as I manage to play faster, but only for 4 to 5 strums and without any accuracy) :

That’s is. I hope I am missing something that will make me click, because guitar is what I do most of the day (no joke, it is extremely frustrating to practice tones ans think about the way I practice, but still stay stuck) and I really struggle on the ability to pick faster !


#2

Hi! Thanks for posting, and great playing. The crosspicking stuff especially sounds great. I remember your intial post from last year or so and I’m sorry you’re still working on basic motions. We aim to help you fix that.

Short story, the motion you are making is stringhopping. This is going to be especially noticeable when you go for fast single-note lead playing where the speed limit is obvious. For crosspicking, it’s less obvious because that stuff is typically not played super fast. But even there, what happens is that even though it sounds good, without more efficient motions you build up tension and it burns out your arm quickly, putting you at risk for RSI. The speed limit is really secondary to the smoothness and injury prevention of doing it more efficiently - with all these motions.

Since your current motion is learned and has been for years, you will have a tendency to want to do that motion. This is one reason why you can do elbow, because it’s different and feels different from your wrist approach. When you attempt other wrist motions they probably feel similar to your current technique and it’s harder to tell the difference or even know if you’re doing them right.

At the time you first signed up we may not have had some of the instruction on basic movements that we have up there now. This includes an overview of various fast pickslanting-style motions, which are the ones used in rock an jazz. And we also have two quite detailed tutorials on how to do crosspicking movements. The first lesson focuses on the wrist techniques that Molly, David Grier, and Andy Wood use. We look at both guitar and mandolin footage in that lesson. The second is a lesson on using more forearm motion in combination with wrist.

But the basic idea here is that you need to try these motions, with the clearest possible instructions you can get your hands on, and verify that you’re doing them correctly by feel and by video. If you’re not doing them correctly, do not repeat the wrong motion forever. Make a change to your motion, and try again. Getting the “feel” of correctness, usually at a fast and sloppy speed, even for “seven notes”, as you say — that’s actually how it all starts. Over time you will get it with repeated frequency until you can do it on every attempt.

Because we didn’t have some of these things when you first signed up, I feel like we failed you a little, so I’ve credited your account with a month of free access to the “Intro to Picking Motion” lesson and the “Crosspicking With the Wrist” lesson. You can find those here:

Keep us posted!


#3

Thanks for your reply Troy!

I was suspecting that I was still stringhopping, even though I can’t spot it myself.
I actually watched the crosspicking interviews (Molly, David Grier and Andy Woods). As with all the other videos I watched, it all seems crystal clear when explained, then I start applying it while thinking “this is definitely gonna be the click for me” and I never managed to make any motion feel right…

I spent time experimenting with various motion, and the problem is this :

I never got this “feel” because every motion I tried was actually WAY slower than what I usually do (and I mean trying to go full speed, without any attention to accuracy). The result being Slow and Sloppy instead of Fast and Sloppy.

The only time I get this “feel” is when I play chunks of 3 to 7 notes. But after a while working at it, I stay stuck at these small chunks and somehow can’t translate it into my “usual” picking.

I did work on the pure forearm motion, but it never felt good. I started at a top speed of 155-160 bpm (4notes per beat), and never got any faster. It also never felt comfortable or accurate : I arranged some songs and scale patterns doing 2WPS (as my understanding is that crosspicking is not possible with pure forearm), but it was sloppy and even a bit slower than my usual playing.

Lastly, I did work on the crosspicking motions and thought I had it right, but obviously I’m missing something here :
My understanding was that the forearm inclination relative to the guitar top was enabling me to naturally escape the strings when the pick moves in one direction, and that I had to add wrist flexion in the other direction to get the motion “9 to 3” for example.
However it seems you say I am still using wrist flexion in both directions (up and down), which is what I understand to be stringhopping ?

I’m sorry it’s a bit long, and I’ll try to put videos (my internet connection at home is so bad I have to sneak early at work to upload them) of the motions I’ve tried to see what’s wrong with them. But I am pretty sure some of them don’t have any string hopping component (such as pure wrist rotation), yet I still don’t manage to get them to speed.

Lastly : Troy please don’t feel you’ve failed me: I really feel like the information at hand is great and very clear (and the main reason I stopped my subscription is that my connexion does not allow me to watch the videos at home… I think you’re doing a a fantastic job helping people out here. It’s just me that struggle when it comes to applying the concepts, for some mysterious reason.


#4

Again, sorry that you’re struggling with this! The short story is that given your level current of guitar playing skills, I’m absolutely certain you can perform any number of these basic motions smoothly and speedily.

Your “bursting” clip actually looks pretty good! This is a crosspicking motion, a combination of elbow and wrist similar to what Doc Watson used. Please film this again with the camera closer to your hand if you get a chance, it would be cool to take a look at. I think we’ll see that the wrist is still moving along with the elbow, causing a shallow curve to the motion. The elbow is just giving it greater range of motion.

Do you have 120fps slow motion mode on your phone? If so, please use it. Even at normal speed it will make the video much less blurry so we can see what’s going on. Finally, please don’t narrate your videos - it makes it harder to find the playing examples. Just do the playing. Include commentary in the text of your posts so we can easily quote / respond. Here are some more filming tips if you get a second:

Anyway, the reason this motion feels smoother to you than your other motions is that it is much flatter. You’re not asking your hand to make drastic changes in vertical direction. Your usual technique goes more sharply down into the strings and more sharply up and out. Whether or not this is technically “stringhopping” as we have defined it, would depend on whether you use the same muscles or different ones for the vertical component. But I think we’ve known for a while now that you can still alternate the muscles and be limited if the motion is too V-shaped, i.e. because it’s too hard for the muscles to cause such a sharp change in direction. Without splitting too many anatomical hairs I think we can still call this more aggressive V-shaped motion “stringhopping” because the end result is the same - a bouncy-looking motion that is speed limited and causes arm tension. I think this is most likely what you are doing here, and what lots of other people do too.

So the goal with any of these crosspicking motions, whether it’s the wrist kind or the elbow-wrist kind or any other, is to make the flatter curve. Not so flat that you hit the strings and strum, but flat enough that the feeling of tension goes away. I suspect that your elbow motion is already doing it, so your goal there is to experiment to see if you can do it on roll patterns and other kinds of phrases. Give that a shot and see what happens.

Relentless experimentation is the key to learning motions. Not repeating exercises and hoping. But trying something, viewing the results, and if the motion wasn’t correct, changing some aspect of your form and trying again. And I do mean relentless. Do not repeat bouncy motions that feel tense. Do repeat the ones that feel smooth and film them up close to make sure they really look like what you want them to look like. Most of the time when they feel smooth and sound correct, they will also look correct. So the filming is just a confirmation that tells you that you are on the right track. It’s a little like fishing - casting out your line, seeing what you catch, and trying again. When you get something good, try and see how you can make that motion work on different type of phrases.

I guarantee you, if you can do it right on one phrase, even if it’s seven notes long, then you can do it right on other phrases. They just feel different so it confuses you at first. This is normal. In the beginning, getting the motions only on certain phrases or certain strings or even certain guitars, is what happens. Over time you will learn to recognize what it feels like to do that same motion with different phrases, and that too becomes memorized and filed under “same technique feeling”. Eventually you connect them all in your mind as one technique. In realty, it’s a collection of memorized bits that you have tricked yourself into seeing as one technique. And as a result of that trick, when you film yourself, you will see that the motion does look consistent.

As a reference for what these motions should look like when performed optimally, take a look at this post we just put up:

This is what your pickstrokes should look like when you get them - whichever type you are trying to do. When they look this, you will know because the feeling of tension will go away. It seems to already be working in your elbow/wrist technique so you are on the right track here.


My alternate picking: What’s wrong?
#5

Thanks again Troy. I can’t express my gratitude enough.
It’s truly wonderful that you and your team help people get the best out of their abilities with such dedication.

I do understand what you mean about the V-shape motion equaling to stringhopping… This makes it a bit clearer for me.
I did videos with better light and from a closer standpoint. I do not have the slow motion on my phone, but found a way to do it with “movie maker” and the result seems of decent quality: I think these videos should show what I’m actually doing more accurately.

Bursting on one string


Feels pretty smooth and faster than what I normally can play, but have not found a way to pass the “7 notes”.
To me it looks like a mix of elbow and wrist deviation indeed. It does not feel locked and tensed, contrary to the pure forearm motion.

Bursting on 2 or 3 strings


It is also faster than my usual playing, but I’m not sure what the approach to string changes is here… I think I even swipe at the point.

My “crosspicking” of a scale with the apparently stringhopping motion:


This is not fast as I’d like, and I do see that’s it is a bit bumpy and not very smooth looking. There is no feeling of tension at all: it’s more like I don’t have the ability to push the speed because I have no access to any power.

Same with a 3 strings crosspicking pattern


Looks even bumpier, I guess this time I really see the stringhopping going on.

Pure elbow on one string


This one is the fastest, but it’s the one that feels the more tensed. My arm completely locks up.
I looks to me like there’s no stringhopping at all here, however it is still not very fast and my speed never increased when practicing this motion… So I guess there’s still something wrong here.

Pure elbow, attempt at crosspicking:


As suggested, an attemps to crosspick with the elbow motion. If feels quite strange, because when my arm locks up for this motion I feel like I have no accuracy. I think I end up doing other motions, and not purely elbow.

I completely forgot to film other motions I have experienced with. I’ll do it the next time I can use some wifi to put up a couple videos, because I wonder why I am even slower on motions where I cannot possibly be stringhopping.
I absolutely get the thing about experimentation being the key. However everything I experiment with is super slow, and I have no imagination left to find other possibilities to tweak these motions and find what can possibly limit their speed.


#6

I haven’t looked too closely at the rest of your videos, but I just wanted to say that the ones that you call “pure forearm” look a lot like pure elbow to me!


#7

That’s right Johannes! I was thinking there was something wrong each time I was writting this, without knowing what… I think I just mixed the meaning of these two words in my head, it’s now been corrected, thanks!


#8

Dude, this is blazing. And it sounds good. I’m not sure what you’re referring to as “slow” but this is not slow. If it feels good and sounds good, then it is good.

As noted, your “forearm” clip is elbow. It is not stringhopping, and it is the only rock/jazz-style linear motion I see you doing here. Specifically it looks like a trapped motion, which means it is not a string switching motion by itself. Unless the pick is escaping on one of those pickstrokes, which I can’t really tell because the camera is still a little too far away. You can determine whether it is downstroke escaping like an elbow motion should by attempting some multi-string downstroke escape lines.

Re: the last clip, “elbow crosspicking”, the elbow cannot crosspick. It is a downstoke escape motion only and cannot switch strings when you play an upstroke. So right away that tells you that this clip is not pure elbow. It is in fact elbow and wrist, and I think you can see that in the slow motion. It looks pretty much the same as your other crosspicking clip just with a little more elbow. The fact that it is fast and a little sloppy is good. That is how efficient motions work. If you cannot do a motion so fast that it becomes sloppy then it is not an efficient motion and needs to be changed or thrown out.

So where does that leave you? Well, elbow is a great picking motion and worth working on. Lots of players use it for tremolo and for fast downstroke escape single note lines. Chris Thiele is a great example.

If your issue with this motion is “arm tension”, well, some arm tension is necessary. You can’t play fast without it. What people get wrong is thinking that tension causes the motion to be wrong. Instead, I think doing the motion wrong causes tension. Elbow is naturally a downstroke escape motion because of its plane of operation. Look at your upper arm - it is angled away from your body to reach over the guitar. Moving your elbow back and forth with your arm arranged like this will cause it to move in same plane as your upper arm. This will make downstrokes move away from the guitar’s body. If it doesn’t, then something is wrong and maybe that is why it feels weird to you.

This is where trial and error comes in. Not trial and error with different motions, per se. But repeated attempts to find the correct way to do these basic motions like elbow flexion/extension where they click and feel fast and smooth. Again, many attempts and tests, with little changes in your form and thought process trying to produce a different feel and result. Verify with video. Up close video. 120fps video is immensely helpful. Save up for a 120fps phone or borrow one if you can. It’s an invaluable tool that eliminates guesswork.

Your “elbow crosspicking” thing also maybe has some potential, because it’s sloppy. Can you do that even faster, to the point where it is very fast but totally sloppy? Try that. If you can go much faster and into the slop zone, then this is an efficient motion and you should work on trying to clean it up. Doc Watson played this way and Jake Workman’s technique appears similar, a combination of elbow and wrist:

If you can go this fast but super sloppy, that’s totally ok. Then you’re on to something. Apply the same trial and error techniques to try and go a little slower while maintaining the feel of “fast” but with a tiny bit more accuracy.

Don’t spend hours and hours on this. And don’t repeat motions that aren’t working. Try something for a minute or two. If it feels good and sounds good, then film it and verify. If not, take a few minutes break and try again.

Keep up the good work.


#9

Thanks again for your detailed reply!

I’ve been practicing the elbow motion 2 minutes here and there (basically every 10 minutes all day) and I think something is happening there! There is clearly an increase in speed and at moments I do get the smooth feeling I’ve been searching for.

I didn’t kown Jake Workman, he’s great! If I could ever manage to pick like that, then I could finally sit down and think about musicality only, I guess.

I’m gonna work with this new info for a few days and check what I do with videos, and will put video updates when I feel I’ve made a step in the right direction!


#10

Try to avoid this mindset. You can always think about musicality and technique at the same time. It works better that way anyway since a wide variety of musical ideas is what you need to help find the smoothness / click of the motions.

Fyi I just took a look at some of the lines Jake is playing there and in fact most of them are even numbers of notes per string, last note on every string is a downstroke, aka downstroke escape elbow motion. So in other words, much of this does not even require crosspicking type motion. Jake may or may not be making a crosspicking motion - we can’t tell from this angle. But super fancy picking motions are not required to play face melting stuff - just basic motions and great ideas.


#11

Hi there!

Sorry for disappearing for a while, I keep having troubles with a collarbone that doesn’t seem to ever get fixed properly and broke for the third time in a year… But this time it should be alright and hopefully I can play without having to stop again.

I started playing again about a week ago and I think I made some progress!
The only thing I found through trial an error that was not a complete disaster was a slight change in the way I hold the pick, which allowed me to play with way less tension and ro achieve a smoother feeling (I understand that some tension might be necessary, but my elbow picking felt so tensed it was ridiculous).
This resulted in an increase of my max “sloppy speed”, and now I can play very sloppy indeed! I got to about 170bpm as fast as I can on one string (no left hand), and 145bpm on scale runs (ultra sloppy).

I feel like this could still be smoother (and faster), so I suppose I should keep searching for a better motion before I start “cleaning it up”. Here are some videos (for some reason, I seem to have more success working on this motion on the mandolin rather than the guitar).



Any opinion on whether I’m headed in the right direction is very welcome! And suggestions as to how it’s best to continue will be more than appreciated as well!
I feel like I don’t see the end of the tunnel quite yet, but at least I started moving.

Another question: I read on another “technique critique” post that strumming could actually be a great tool to work of smoothing out a picking motion. The thing is my strumming is too slow lacks in smoothness as well.
I can’t comp bluegrass tunes above 135-140bpm (getting to 160 would be nice in order to be relaxed at 140), and I never got the hang of double time, triplets, and such things.
It’s more or less the same as with my picking : the only way I manage to get any speed at all is by using an elbow (mostly) motion. I feel like this might not working for funk or swing, which seem to rely a lot on the “whiplash” created by the wrist.
Would anybody have any suggestion to work on that ?


#12

Quick update:
It seems to get better, slowly but surely. I can now play some fiddle tunes very sloppy at 140-150 bpm.
I suppose I add a wrist component to my elbow motion to make it escape the strings on upstrokes and downstokes, but I regularly fail to escape and hit the adjacent string.
Sorry about the lack of light, I did not realise that until I watched the videos once on youtube.

A fiddle tune:

G scale stuff, all changes of strings happening on upstrokes: this feels pretty natural. I think I only escape on upstrokes here (but I don’t consciously change anything to my motion)

Inside picking and crosspicking on three strings are the two things that I still don’t feel are getting smooth

Playing the scale in fours is also troublesome as there is more crosspicking involved: