Picking implications of fingering

I’m interested in the issue of starting a phrase on a downstroke versus an upstroke. This gets to be a very deep topic. Troy mentions it in discussing the real life application of alternate picking. As a jazz player, I have to have a technique that is instantly prepared for the next phrase. Experienced players will know that specific phrases will be much more or less playable depending on whether the opening stroke is down or up. Which gets us into fingering issues, since the fingering chosen can determine which strings you’re playing on, and therefore what the first stroke should be. I remember John McLaughlin saying that choosing a way to finger a passage is 90% of the battle. Meaning, I think, that there will be one best way to finger a passage for maximum efficiency. And this involves the right hand as much as the left. At one point I thought it would be a good idea to practice everything two ways, beginning with an downstroke, and then beginning with an upstroke, to try to minimize this issue. Now I’m wondering whether that’s a waste of time, and whether time would be better spent learning to make these decisions about up vs down “on the fly”. Meaning, you just have to develop the ability to instantly know how to start a phrase (up vs down) without thinking about it. If you’re not improvising, this gets a bit less difficult, but the fundamental challenge is still there. Thoughts?

I think most players who alternate pick, will be playing lines that have been learnt and rehearsed and organised in a way that suits their primary escape. Much of what is improvised has been played before, when we are talking about fast lines.
For example, most of what John McLaughlin plays will be dsx. So he favours lines that end with a downstroke before switching string.
I don’t think it’s productive to try to learn to play the same lines starting with an upstroke and downstroke. From what we see in the interviews here, most players have a primary escape.

2 Likes

One clarification - are you assuming strict alternate picking?

I get your point. This would be a very strong argument for developing a double escape technique (which is not possible for everyone, but maybe worth experimenting with).

Yes, I am, although I realize that almost nobody actually alternate-picks every note. Discussions of alternate picking issues are often over-simplified by the tacet assumption that alternate picking is completely consistent.

You do see players switch from double escape to single escape when the speed increases in some of the interviews. Even Troy himself showed in one the of the videos that at medium speeds he’d play a 3nps scale with double escape but when pushed faster, switches to mixed escapes.
I’m not saying double escape can’t be done at really high tempos, I’ve not seen it up close under a magnet though

Remember there is also primary plus secondary motions, mixed escapes and other methods to handle odd numbers of notes per string at high speed

1 Like

Isn’t it essential for guitar players to be able to play the same phrase in different fingerings(pianists for example don’t have this feature)? It’s not just for expressive purposes, but it also can make you less limited by the fretboard. Just some of my thoughts :slightly_smiling_face:

1 Like

yeah this is a heavy topic and I think gets into a lot of things regarding what improv is or isn’t, how much pre-planned stuff one incorporates, and also the harmonic/melodic/rhythmic complexity of the material someone is trying to play. Putting together 8th note bop vocabulary is a more formulaic challenge than some other types of improv. I had a period of time of being really into Joe Henderson and learning a lot of his phrasing, and I think playing that style without a lot of sweeps and slurs would just sound odd.

My .02 on some of this:

Which gets us into fingering issues, since the fingering chosen can determine which strings you’re playing on, and therefore what the first stroke should be.

yes, but just one ‘swept’ string change or slur and you might wind up resetting anyway, if that makes sense.

At one point I thought it would be a good idea to practice everything two ways, beginning with an downstroke, and then beginning with an upstroke, to try to minimize this issue.

I think if you have significantly greater ease with USX vs DSX or vice versa, then there’s logic in having vocabulary worked out to your strength. If not, being able to escape in either direction is certainly more versatile. But in either case, I think there’s such a thing as ‘option anxiety’ with too many options for a phrase and not enough confidence in one choice - sometimes I find that even if I can basically execute phrases equally ‘fast’ with different fingerings, the accents and time feel changes noticeably depending on where the string changes are, and it’s something about my own playing I wish was more dialed in (eg being very exact about timbre and accent choices, rather than a large % of that being a result of where the string changes are)

…learning to make these decisions about up vs down “on the fly”. Meaning, you just have to develop the ability to instantly know how to start a phrase (up vs down) without thinking about it. If you’re not improvising, this gets a bit less difficult, but the fundamental challenge is still there. Thoughts?

I think between complete and total spontaneity and playing a rehearsed solo note for note, there’s a lot of grey area. My observation has been that literally every guitarist (And probably every instrumentalist) that has some ability to improvise ‘fast lines’ has a lot of repeated phrases and ideas that come up in their playing. And on the guitar it does seem that the phrases get repeated with the same fingerings/note-per-string orientation each time. As for a prescription about what exactly to do in the practice room in light of this observation, I’m not sure, and I think it would be naive to think there’s a clear answer, especially in terms of jazz specifically.

Remember there is also primary plus secondary motions, mixed escapes and other methods to handle odd numbers of notes per string at high speed

Yeah. My double escape stuff isn’t where I want it to be, but past few years I’ve made a lot of progress cleaning up my ‘weaker’ escape (DSX) so way more phrases are doable ‘both ways’ now, I just get stuck if it’s like going back and forth rapidly between two strings, or some wide interval 1nps thing…but if I was dying to play that line exactly I could hybrid pick it.

Isn’t it essential for guitar players to be able to play the same phrase in different fingerings(pianists for example don’t have this feature)? It’s not just for expressive purposes, but it also can make you less limited by the fretboard. Just some of my thoughts

I think it’ absolutely essentially to be able to play the same phrase in different fingerings/areas of the fretboard. However, when it comes to improv, it can be useful to have a ‘favorite fingering’ I guess you could say subconsciously queued up - and if the tempo is very fast or we’re trying to execute a very busy/fast idea, we want to have something ready to play that we can confidently execute at that tempo.

For me, I feel confident that I can re-finger and transpose most of what i play - but not all at equal tempos.

Simple example, I might often play something like this on an Fm9:

it’s not hard for me to see that this fingering below is the same notes, but it’s much, much harder to play:

And frankly almost all the alternate fingerings for that particular line have a much, much lower speed cap than the original one.

This kind of dynamic is common - Tim Miller is a good example if you look up “212 licks” or anything with “212” and his name; a lot of phrases that utilize a certain layout of notes per string, and he tears through them like few others can, improvising…but they work best for him with the “212” orientation. They’re just smoother to play fast that way.

2 Likes

I think Charlie Parker is a good example of someone who played great lines that you would often hear repeated over the same progressions in different standards.
I still consider this improvising. Entire solo’s not planned out, but a good library of lines that work over those ii v i’s etc

Honing in on this - I’ve always focused on improvising in my own playing, probably to the detriment of learning other people’s solos or writing my own, probably because I got into blues before I got into shred and still carry some of that ethos with me. I’ve, in part thanks to this site, I suppose, kind of come around to the idea though that even if you’re not playing something thought out note-for-note, you’re probably leaning heavily on phrases that you’re comfortable with or with variations of those phrases, and your playing is almost certainly not entirely spontaneous.

That, coupled with a better understanding of how my picking hand works, has led me to two basic observations which I think are making me a better player:

  1. Knowing patterns you should be able to pick pretty well, or rather what makes a pattern efficient for you vs not, can be a good source of ideas for other patterns that you could also, in theory, play fairly efficiently, and spending some time figuring out and then practicing these things can be useful for building a vocabulary that works for you
  2. I’m less sure how to say this one… but I guess being open with yourself that some of these licks you tend to play a lot pretty close to note for note, one that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but two being more conscious and thoughtful about that, and maybe looking for similar variations on them or making a point of coming up with a couple alternate versions or different ways to “escape” from the end of one lick into a different sequence is probably time well spent as well.

I feel like I’m finally getting to a point where I can “write” solos, coming up with something both cool and repeatable, through an iterative process of improvising, figuring out what I like about an improvised take and honing in on the good parts and trying again on the bad, and gradually stringing something together that both sounds cohesive and not overly arranged and overthought, but also is all a series of runs that are efficient for me, rather than just sitting down and coming up with licks that I think should sound cool, then figuring out if I can actually play them, which always sounds forced, and means there are going to be sections that are just mechanically inefficient for me to try to play.

1 Like

Yeah totally. Before a couple years ago I had basically just given up on being able to do any kind of useful double escape motion, but my single escape stuff has been strong for a while. Over the years through doing exactly the process you describe I came up with a lot of neat things that I was happy with. It’s been restrictive to avoid double escape scenarios but limitations can be a boon for creativity.

I’m looking at this from the standpoint of trying to increase velocity. I think that for any phrase, a given player will find one way to play it that’s fastest and most efficient. It all depends on the context. If you’re sight-reading music in a studio, you might not have time to figure out your best fingering for speed. And, as you point out, the fastest way to play a phrase might not be the best in other ways.

Agreed. I find that for purposes of discussion it’s easiest to simplify issues, e.g. (1) Talking about improv as if it were completely new and spontaneous, when in fact it’s essentially the re-arrangement of known phraseoids, or (2) Talking about alternate picking as if it were an absolutely consistent up-and-down, when even the most dyed-in-the-wool alternate picker will occasionally use hammer-ons, pull-offs, sweeps, etc. Once the discussion starts, my sometimes over-simplified presentation generally gets torn to shreds.

1 Like

You actually can hear him play the same or similar line in one solo. And it makes perfect musical sense, cuz as we all know repetition legitimizes :grinning:

1 Like

Yes Eryops! Without question - if one is playing 2 note per string lines, even 3 notes to some degree, the fingering can be constructed multiple ways but, generally straightforward and fingering is not a big issue. Mind escapes where they need to be and all is good. However, especially w/ Jazz playing and any other styles where your lines involve 4+ notes per string (Yngwie comes to mind) yes - you will discover an infinite number of ways to finger and this has to be studied in the same manner as one would determine escape motions. It’s such a factor with these type of lines that I’m sometimes surprised it’s not discussed more. Here’s where the rubber meets the road and if not subject to “infinite” possibilities, it’s pretty damn close. Use of all 4 fingers, slides, hammers, pull offs, choice of same notes on different strings, econo vs. alternate pick - there are some extremely clever approaches that yield themselves if you fool around long enough and try different things. One can use the same techniques on 2-3 note per string lines but 4+ seems to increase the possible approaches exponentially. Good luck!

Yes, and my view is a little skewed since I play mandocaster, 5 strings tuned in 5ths. The fingering options are just about exactly what they are on a violin. Meaning that to play a scale across the neck, you’ll be doing 4 notes per string. Arpeggios will be one or two notes per string. The phrases I play tend to be quite variable in terms of notes per string, so I have to be able to do “everything” with my right hand. I’d like to think that I have a double escape motion going, but I think it’s probably stringhopping, which keeps my velocity down. Lots of things to figure out.

I haven’t observed jazz lines having more or fewer notes per string than other styles. If anything, there are generally more arpeggios and wider intervals in comparison to say, rock/metal/blues, and that will often increase the likelihood of fewer notes per string, all else being equal.

I also don’t know if there’s such a direct correlation between NPS and ease/difficulty of re-fingering.