Pain when picking fast

Hi, folks:

My problem is pain. No matter what grip or supination angle I use, when I try to go fast, it hurts. This is true of both DSX and USX.

I’ve been gravitating toward a two-way escape motion where my hand floats free without palm-anchoring on the bridge or strings. (Picking closer to the neck sounds great on an acoustic jazz box.) I don’t think I’m string hopping; it’s more of a shallow 9:00 to 2:00 scoop.

Like the gent who posted, “Help, I can’t do it,” I can tremelo pick on one string, but when I change strings I slow down. I can maintain maximum speed for several notes and then have to slow down because it hurts.

Maybe it’s age-related: I’m 65. (I understand both Morse and McLaughlin have age-related issues.) But if it’s possible to overcome this, I would like to. My left hand is way faster than my right, and it’s frustrating.

Any thoughts?

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is it your hand, shoulder, elbow or wrist? what thickness pick? i’ve had wrist issues and just use a thinner pick so it doesn’t abuse my wrist as bad. Sometimes tennis elbow pops up so i wear a band an it helps with that.

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Hi Scp,

I’ve had similar issues.

What worked for me was to re-learn to hold the pick with a very loose grip.
Lots of what Troy calls pick flop. It took a month or so to get used to, with
the pick falling out of my hand a ton. The tension is now going away though,
and my hand / arm feel loose and free as I go faster.

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It’s where the base of the thumb meets the wrist. I use a thick pick, I believe the Dunlop Big Stubby is 2 mm. I’m working toward a looser grip. How tightly I hold the pick depends on the effect I’m going for. If I’m digging into Strat strings like SRV and rotating the forearm to snap the notes out with sting, then I hold it tightly. But when I’m trying to play fast, I try loosen my grip and my wrist.

Maybe I need to look into incorporating the elbow more? I haven’t looked at the elbow-related videos yet.

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Hey @scp, welcome to the community!

As you can probably imagine we can’t give medical advice on the forum, so (Corona lockdown permitting) our first advice in these cases would always be to consult a specialist to avoid injury.

But we can certainly discuss the mechanical aspect of your picking that may be responsible for this: have you noticed if if happens on upstrokes/downstrokes or both? Do you feel a lot of resistance going through the string in either direction?

EDIT: I’m trying to understand if your pick may grab the string a bit too much before releasing it - in this case a possible solution would be to adjust pickslant, edge picking and lean until you feel that upstrokes and downstrokes encounter the same (small!) resistance.

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I have consulted doctors. I have developed some arthritis in the wrist: erosion of cartilage at the base of the thumb. There may also be some repetitive stress soft-tissue injury going. The docs can’t tell me because they can’t analyze my picking motion.

My default grip is a loose trigger, with the Big Stubby pick held over side of the last index finger joint. I’ll rest the hand on the strings if I need to palm mute, but over the past several years tended to let the hand float freely over the strings. Just where, between neck and bridge, depends on the sound I’m going for. My pick angle and hardness of grip also depends on the desired effect. The amount of supination varies with the guitar: I play jazz boxes, flat tops, 335s, strats, LPs and Ibanezes. I also play a Dingwall 5-string bass, often with a pick, and some effects require a tight grip and a hard hit. I’ve experimented with all three escape directions but haven’t settled on one. I’m fascinated by both the Morse and Batio double-escape methods. Morse’s seems more flexible; Batio seems (and I may be wrong about this) limited to three-note-per-string passages. Both Morse and Batio use hand positions quite alien to me. I don’t think palm muting is possible with either.

I suspect one problem is using too much radial deviation, causing pain in upstrokes. Another may be too much emphasis on wrist movement. I’ve never been able to figure out how to apply Paul Gilbert’s turn-of-the-key movement. I’ve also always avoided using the elbow much because (1) I thought it was “wrong” and (2) I’ve been afraid that short, fast, repetitive motions in my elbow would cause injury. Maybe I need to bring more elbow and forearm in to relieve the wrist strain. I’ve worked with Roy Buchanan/Steve Vai thumb-and-index movement, but can’t get that movement to cover more than two strings and I can’t get my elbow or wrist to cover more territory while doing the thumb/index thing.

In any event, I need to modify my motion(s) in a way that (1) reduces stress, pain, and injury; (2) lets me perform with the different forms of attack my style(s) call for (which range from SRV “snap” to mutola, to Clapton/Carlton finesse; to bluegrass), (3) lets me play fast passages of 1-4 notes per string smoothly as well as arpeggios; and (4) lets me do this without pre-planning passages. My usual role is to be invited to sit in to make everyone and the ensemble as a whole sound better, and that requires improvisation. (Gambale’s economy picking seems to require too much pre-planning. But I haven’t practiced it much.)

So, that’s where things stand. Suggestions would be much appreciated.

P.S., the amount of string grab/pick depth depends on the effect sought. Also, I use different string gauges, from .10 - .13.

Why not make it easy on yourself and try stringing a guitar with 9’s, or even 8’s (what I play)? I would aim for being kind to your joints for your upcoming decades of guitar playing, and high tension on strings seems so unnecessary (and likely bad for both hands).

And why not consider a somewhat flexible pick, like Paul Gilbert and EVH use, to get a little “cushion” from the strings?

Note: While I am a doctor, I’m not a medical doctor, so take anything that I say with at least a grain of salt! :smile:

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I recommend this to all guitarists suffering from pain while playing: just take a break for a couple of days.

As Steve Vai says in his “30 Hour Practice Routine” book, we can get burned out from playing too much or too hard. Just a little more time to recuperate may help improve your playing, and hopefully (as you ease back into your routine), the pain should go away.

My mom is an RN, and when I asked her about pain while playing the best advice she could give was to settle down for a while. And if the pain persists, see a professional; even though chances of a bigger issue are slim, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Anyway, welcome to the forum, and good luck with your picking! The issue may just be inefficient technique that can be fixed and corrected over time. It would help us a TON if you could record a short video of your playing for the masters @tommo , @Troy , and the rest of the CTC team to look at.

Stay safe, and keep shredding!

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Unfortunately, this is chronic. I have stopped for a week, or even a month at a time. The only result is that when I come back, I’m stiffer and slower.

I agree that I need to change my technique, and that it would be helpful to film what I do. I’ll try.

But what is the mechanism to upload video from my phone?

Easiest is to upload to YouTube, then paste in the link here on its own line and it’ll show as a nice embed. See here for a more comprehensive guide on how best to film & share video:

I would definitely speak to a doctor about this! Pain in this area could be something like scaphoid arthritis, which no change to your guitar technique is going to fix. Again, no idea what it really is, let a trained professional take a look. And as @jasper426 points out, stopping is always the best approach when you encounter any pain.

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I would go see a doctor, it sounds like arthritis which unfortunately may just be a chronic issue. The thumb CMC joint (where it meets the base of the hand) is a common site to have it.

Well, guys, thanks for all the input. Some of the problem definitely is arthritis; that’s been confirmed by the docs.

Yet the odd thing is that I can flop the wrist loosely quite fast. And I’ve got strength in it; I work out with a sword an hour a day. I also have enough control so that I play one-note-per-string arpeggios, although not as fast as Morse. That’s why I think I can improve with the right advice. Or at least slow down the deterioration. So, I’ll videotape what I do and hope you can suggest a better approach.

Worse comes to worse, I don’t have to pick that fast to play well. Some of my technique is legato, if not quite the pure Holdsworthian nothing-but-hammer-on technique. I’ve developed some 2+ digit finger-picking. I’m into chordal movement and voice leading and I don’t need to be Batio-fast for that. And because a lot of what I do is double-escape, I don’t have to count notes per string when improvising. I can simply play the phrases I hear.

There may very well be a technique you can use for continuous picking that doesn’t aggravate this, but I wouldn’t be super comfortable telling you to experiment with things, because as you point out, it may be that any picking motion causes degradation in the joint, and some techniques simply degrade more slowly than others. Which is an improvement but not ideal.

What about lefty? Can you fret without pain? I’d still run any of this by a trained medical professional though before you start experimenting.

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I’ve got a little arthritis in the left hand, too. It’s in a slightly different place. In the right hand it’s where the hand joins the wrist. But there’s a bone between the wrist and the thumb knuckle, and in the left hand the arthritis is between that bone and the thumb knuckle. Most of the time, I don’t feel it that much. I feel it most when I shift the thumb so that it’s behind the middle finger and the fingers are perpendicular to the neck, classical-style, instead of angled so that the fingertips are more toward the body, rock or jazz-style.

With the flat-picking, a lot of the time the barrier is not pain, it’s that I simply can’t get the right hand to move with the speed and precision I need. This part of the problem may not be related to the arthritis at all. (Or it may be.)

I’ve consulted two orthopedic hand specialists. Neither was familiar enough with guitar picking to help me figure this out. (And one of them wanted to remove a bone in my hand and couldn’t promise it would help.) Can you think of a relevant subspecialty? For example, a sports-medicine/fine-motor/hand specialist? Is there a doctor to the guitar gods? Steve Morse consulted someone in the last few years. Who? Even if the guy’s in Georgia (or wherever Steve lives these days), if I can learn the guy’s exact specialty, maybe I can find someone here in Colorado.

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I’ve been working on strumming patterns on my acoustic for some songs I’m doing and use a extremely thin pick because I like the smoothness of the sound. Low and behold it works well with alternate picking on my electric as well. :man_shrugging: I never would’ve thought that because it seems like every great picker uses a thick pick. There doesn’t seem to be any issues with breaking threw the strings, or having a positive sound. Most importantly and the reason I bring it up is I can hold it in my hand, and have less issues with tension. @Troy have you ever used a really thin pick for fast picking, and do you think it will work as well as a thicker one?

Yes, I love thin picks, they sound cool. This is .46mm, which is crazy thin. Only works on electric, it’s super quiet otherwise:

This is from the Primer “pick design” section, the chapter on gauge.

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Very cool! I take it, it sounds just as good distorted?

Hi again:

After watching the video on pick selection, I picked up a 341. First time I’ve used one in a long time. Lighter and less pointy than the Big Stubby. Sounds less crisp, because I’m letting the round tip glide over the strings. And it seems to help a bit.

Other suggestions will still be appreciated.