One direction rolls: IN vs OUT picking


First, I’d like to clarify that this is my first post on this forum, so hopefully I made sure to post correctly and all.
Secondly, I’ll be discussing in this post 1nps arpeggios, over three strings, only in ONE direction (i.e., note on G-string, note on B-string, note on E-string, then back to G-string).


E-------x-----x-| OR Descending: |x-----x-----|
B-----x-----x---|                |--x-----x---|
G---x-----x-----|                |----x-----x-|
D --------------|                |------------|

Obviously repeated indefinitely.

A good example too would be Al’s arpeggios in Short Tales of the Black Forest.

Some background: I’ve only ever seen these arpeggios cross picked or outside picked. For achieving very high speeds, only outside picking–strictly one directional lines. When they’re two directional, i.e.:

 E|-----x-------x----| Or even: |-----x-----x-----x----|
 B|---x---x---x---x--|          |---x-----x-----x---x--|
 G|-x-------x-------x|          |-x-----x-----x-------x|

Cross picking is by all means the way to go.

I guess I have a couple parts to this:

  1. Has anyone ever seen these sorts of one way rolls done with other picking permutations?
  2. Thoughts on picking these inside vs. outside (or any other permutation)?
  3. My thoughts within that last two weeks after working on these for years: outside picking is “superior.” My question: why?
  4. For these ONE way rolls, where does cross picking stack up vs. outside or inside picking?

So the first time I came across this type of pattern was from a duo, Rodrigo y Gabriela (R&G), and the arpeggios popped up more often than not in their rep. Obviously I went through the normal, let me sweep this with all down strokes, to no avail. Then I read an article released with a lesson they did, where the picking was described as “down, down, up.” Al di meola talks about this in his REH video, as have other guitarists I’m sure.

Now the particular pattern in this R&G arpeggio has a rest every other time around on the note on the G-string. So I thought that performing this pattern as “up, down, down,” or picking it inside, made more sense: there was a rest every other time that would give me the time to hop back over the G-string I just played before hitting the B-string with a down stroke… rather than lifting over the G-string before the rest, down stroke it, have the rest, then down stroke the B. Playing the line outside seemed counterintuitive, and it still does.

Regardless, I struggled with these arpeggios for awhile, slowly saw more and more instances where guitarists would play them outside, and tried to break the economy down. Thinking about just pure triplets, no rests in between notes or funky rhythms, in theory there’s no difference between inside and outside picking.

This is the case with Troy’s Paul Gilbert anti-gravity episode, but applied to normal scalar lines, and that’s the same conclusion I draw with these arpeggios: the distances traveled to cross the string is the same in both instances. The only difference is whether its before or after the note is played, and utilizing them in a scalar sense is situational, depending on direction, phrase, etc.

I figured the same goes for these arpeggios, and I continued picking them inside for the longest time, having hit a speed roadblock at the same time.

About two weeks ago, I finally said, okay, I have yet to see these picked inside at the speeds I’m trying to get to, I’ve been working on cross picking for a hot minute, and for the past year I’ve been introducing myself to outside picking more rigorously. I’m gonna crank these arpeggios out with outside picking.

Two practice sessions later of just me and a metronome, switching between inside, outside, cross picking, and one other permutation, I’ve surpassed my speed limit and noticed a couple things. For one, there’s a stronger tone from the low note, the consistency between all three notes far surpasses inside picking, and it feels 100 times easier and cleaner than it ever did, and does, with inside picking.

After reading about a month ago this forum post:

I feel like it might be onto something. From my own experience, picking these arpeggios outside is far superior for high speeds, even when the particular pattern would make more economical sense with a different permutation. Has anyone else come across this? Has anyone tried other permutations for these and gotten better results than with outside picking? Does anyone else find that outside picking these is better than inside picking them?

Keep in mind that I’m mostly comparing inside and outside picking for these arpeggios; I believe cross picking has better place with lines in two directions rather than one, although pretty high speeds can be achieved with cp even in this one directional case.


at first i was like “what is he talking about? inside or outside picking a sweep arpeggio??” Then I caught the part where u wanted to return to the G string lol

I glanced at some instructional vids I have. Rick Graham shows that G-B-E pattern as U-D-D so thats inside when it goes back from e to g. he also shows the pattern going e-b-g as D-U-U so again inside stuff. He is way into economy picking so a lot of his ascending patterns start on upstrokes to then set up a sweep downward

Chris Brooks doesnt really show that exact pattern afaik. He starts with 2 string arps on the b and e with 2 notes on the e. Same as Joe Stump I believe. So that would be D D U. So thats an outside change back down. As they build the arps they just add a lower note each time etc but the pattern. So for a 3 string arp it would be D-D-D-U (of course thats using dwps)

for instance DDDU


Chris Brooks mentions the possibility of using an upstroke to return to the low string but says he is generally against it since you then have to switch the pickslant etc. On all his examples including 5 and 6 he just goes back to the lower string with outside picking


I think that if you post clear TAB of the music that you’re interested in playing, people can opine on the optimal way to pick it.


What you’re talking about is the Bluegrass forward roll, like:


right ?

I think that, finger picking excepted, the most efficient way to do it fast is crosspicked, like I indicated above. Other patterns like DDU are OK too, and provide different sound, but at certain point in speed you go into ‘stringhopping’ issue.

There’s a YT clip somewhere of a bluegrass player discussing this. He said alternating is the fastest. Molly Tuttle said so also (another YT clip). Now of course YMMV, but picking consecutive and non-sweeped strokes 1nps (like in DDU, or UUD) is troublesome at high speed.


Absolutely, those types of rolls is what I mean (I changed the topic title after realizing “rolls” is more of what I’m going for than “arpeggios.”

I guess I’m skeptical about crosspicking for purely one directional lines. My bigger issue is why picking them outside seems more fluid than inside, or this other permutation that’s like the second half of being crosspicked:


Theoretically inside, outside, and this ^^^ should be the same I feel like.

I guess I’ll crank out some more cross picking to see how it stacks up with more practice, too.


I found a copy of the first phrase with the pauses on the low string every other time around:

(Rodrigo y Gabriela: Tamacun)

The sheet music puts it at 140bpm. The phrase repeats with different G-string notes for 16 bars I think, but the same rhythm and pattern. I know the guitar player, Rodrigo, does this with outside picking, but I figured inside picking should work just as well, if not better, but, as I described, I’ve found it more difficult.

Gonna also crank this one out with cross picking to see.


Just seeing this now, we’ve been a little swamped in the office.

I may be missing your question, but if you’re asking are roll patterns done with alternate picking, yes, totally, and since the time of Doc Watson it is probably the most common approach for this. Here’s some discussion with the great Molly Tuttle on this subject, who is a roll master:

Prior to Doc, there was George Shuffler who is credited with introducing the pattern to bluegrass. George uses a rest stroke sweep approach:

By comparison, honestly, Al Di Meola’s approach of repeated individual (i.e. non-sweep) pickstrokes is not going to come anywhere near the speed or loudness of these two methods. And Al himself talks about the arm strain that builds up from doing this. It’s a recipe for RSI injury and I personally have no appetite for repeated pickstrokes given that the alternatives work fine.

Not saying he doesn’t sound good - he does! Just saying, that’s not for me.

Edit: Regular readers have probably seen this, but you can find our lesson on alternate picking the forward roll pattern right here:

And here’s what it looks like in slow motion: