Precedents for Cracking the Code-like ideas?

Is anyone aware of past writing/teaching of the techniques that Troy has laid out in Cracking the Code?

My impression is that there was at least a hazy understanding of 1-way pick slanting already, especially starting in the 80’s when economy picking got popular in the rock world. Things were kinda muddled, but the better instructors seem to have had the gist of how sometimes a lick won’t work unless you use hammer-ons and pull-offs to get the right number of notes on a string, etc. Similarly, there must also be someone out there who wrote about double-escape strokes, at least covering the general concept that you need to use a big motion to get out of the strings if you want to be able to play everything with alternate picking. As far as I’ve seen, though, Troy is the first person to write about 2-way pick slanting in history.

So I’m wondering if anyone is aware of CTC-like ideas that were out there already? Anything from 50’s jazz guitar books to 1700’s mandolin treatises. Clear descriptions of 1-way pick slanting or double escape strokes would be interesting, and anyone who had any intimations at all about 2-way pick slanting would be really interesting. If there were teachers/writers that sophisticated in previous decades, it’d be interesting to check out whatever else they taught.

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Well, I can’t tell about the 80s. This is one of the few places left where I can actually say "I’m too young’ :wink: But in the early 90s it was all about “small movements”…

I am relatively sure there was no hard-and-fast precedent for the slanting and escape ideas in Cracking the Code. There, however, were plenty of teachers like Ney Mello and Jaime Andreas from Guitar Principles that discussed motions and components of the arm in guitar playing.

Think I heard troy mention gypsy players historically playing w/slant. Not sure though if they knew why they did or not.
This is the first place I’ve seen it pointed out and I have looked at books for several decades now

There is nothing super explicit that I’m aware of. It doesn’t mean it didn’t exist, just that I’m not aware of it. If you go back far enough and scour enough sources, I would bet you’ll find something that never made the light of day, or maybe had some influence at some point in early guitar publishing history, but eventually got lost.

Instead, what you see more of is evidence that people were onto something they couldn’t quite explain. When I was writing the script for what would become the “Cracking the Code” narrative series, I went looking around the late-2000s internet for historical examples of exactly what you’re asking about. One thing I found was a Guitar World article from the early '90s by Jimmy Brown where he talks about playing scales with alternate picking. Jimmy says he’s able to play them using three-note-per-string fingerings when ascending, but when he tries to descend that way, something about his picking hand doesn’t feel smooth. So he recommends rearranging the fingering to be even numbers of notes, with four notes on some strings and two notes on others. He doesn’t explain why this works, but he can tell that it does.

In hindsight of course we’d guess that he was using some type of single-escape picking motion, most likely upstroke escape / dwps, but not aware of it. A lot of people will find they can swipe the ascending side of this but can’t do the descending side at all until it’s strictly even numbers of notes.

Funnily enough Jimmy is an acquaintance now, and he still works at Guitar World. He’s a great guy. We corresponded about a short Paul Gilbert piece they wanted me to write last year. This was on email. He mentioned that he found the whole pickslanting thing fascinating, which he said had only just heard about after watching some of our stuff.

So there you go. I think a lot of smart people knew something was up, but didn’t connect the dots. Ironically, if you were really good at guitar, like Jimmy, you might have been able to come up with solutions purely by feel without needing to “figure things out” explicitly the way I did. I credit my lack of ability for any ability I may now have!


Tuck Andress had a really in-depth article that’s since gone away but is available with the Wayback Machine:

Section 1.2.5 in particular (“Picking Angle: The Miracle Cure”) gets at some basic pick slanting concepts.

I nerded out on that article REALLY hard, rereading it at least a dozen times. While I was breathlessly ranting about it to a guitarist friend, he said “are you hip to Cracking The Code?”


Yep, I remember that one as well. It’s great. He pretty much describes the escaped upstroke exactly — rest stroke on the higher string, clearing the lower string. He gets close to connecting the dots with the problem of switching strings but doesn’t get there in the general sense. To him it’s more about “aim”. It’s not clear if he realized that all effective string changes involve “clearing” something, even with a more shallow / less obvious trajectory.

The other person who glot close, and got there before any of these dudes, including me, was Eric Johnson on Total Electric Guitar in the '80s. The infamous “bounce technique” description didn’t stick the landing, but here we have one of the most popular players at the time, on a mainstream guitar instructional video, talking about the escaped upstroke. We were really close to a whole new world.

I wrote the independent study about “downward pickslanting” in college in 1991 and I still have the dot-matrix printouts. Didn’t send my first email until 1994 though and of course didn’t really do anything with these observations until at least a decade later. I just assumed this either was, or was going to be, common knowledge at some point.


Oh yeah, the Tuck one is so good. I forgot to mention that. I would say he is the clearest example of someone in the 80’s and 90’s who was super close, to the point that it could be argued that he pretty much had some of the CTC ideas, just in a slightly under-developed way. Like Josh, I have read that article a ton of times.

Just as relevant as the section that Josh highlighted is one from a couple of pages later (section 1.2.11). Tuck’s stuff is so information dense that it’s worth going sentence-by-sentence.

[E]arly on I realized that it was also possible to pick two or more strings in the same direction if they each had an odd number of notes, and that many jazz players did this using downstrokes on triplets and very fast passages, using a slur or rest later if necessary to get the downstrokes back on the beat if the picking got turned around.

Here I’m prett sure Tuck is describing players who re-finger parts in their left hand to maintain alternate picking (like you say about Jimmy Brown, and countless others). He’s like 75% there. Whenever someone starts talking about odd and even numbers of notes, you know they’re on the right track. The biggest gap is that he doesn’t connect it to his discussion of the downward pick slant, and doesn’t seem to realize why they work so well together (the “clearing,” as you say).

Inspired by Kenny Burrell, who played this way consistently on downstrokes regardless of speed or rhythm, I worked on it until I could use it anytime the note layout invited it, both on downstrokes and upstrokes, regardless of how it fell rhythmically. I learned to call this transverse picking.

Here’s he’s describing another level of players: those who alternate pick all the time and are able to play arbitrary lines without modifying what they’re doing with their left hand. Then he says he practiced it a lot and eventually learned to do it himself. So it very much sounds like he found 2WPS–but doesn’t realize what he’s doing.

(Later the term sweep picking was coined to refer to the same process applied to lines specifically constructed based on transverse picking patterns.)

…and here, again, he’s back to describing players that adjust the parts to maintain a 1-way pick slant, in this case players like Yngwie who favor economy picking when possible, and fall then back to left hand tricks when they can’t. But he doesn’t get into the whole logic of how exactly you need to rework the parts, and probably doesn’t know.

To me, Tuck seems like a microcosm of where we were at in the 80’s and 90’s: there was a fuzzy intellectual understanding of 1-way pick slanting, and basically zero intellectual understanding of 2-way pick slanting, although there were some players able to physically do 2WPS without explaining it (people like Paul Gilbert, Batio, and probably Tuck himself). It’s just that he was further along than just about anyone else who’d written about picking publicly up to that point.


Not to get too into the weeds on this, but I think once you get to the idea of making upstroke and downstroke string changes, the term “two-way pickslanting” falls down a bit and doesn’t really describe what’s actually happening very well. This is why you don’t see anything resembling how we’ve described “2wps”, for example, when EVH plays that part of eruption with the pulloffs to the open strings. He’s doing both upstroke and downstroke string changes there, but he’s just moving his wrist two very slightly different directions to do it. No change in “pickslant” or forearm rotation required.

Point being, if you were to corner some really good teacher-players in the '80s and ask, so hey, when you play this phrase do I have to make a motion that goes “this way” when I want to go to a new string? You might get some surprising answers. There were probably a lot of people who’d be like, well, yeah, sure. You could almost infer that’s what Paul Gilbert was getting at on Intense Rock when he talks about exaggerating the upstroke in the “Paul Gilbert Lick” discussion:

Maybe this stuff was always obvious to some people, and maybe they just didn’t think it needed any further articulation.


I think where you might have made a real dent back in the day among the guitar intelligentsia is if you could get in front of a lecture hall at a place like Berklee or MI, and step through the playing of someone like McLaughlin. You point out that almost every string change occurs, highly improbably, after a downstroke. And then you show them, in plain English, the picking motion that handles this. You then point out that John is not strictly choosing notes from the vast ether of jazz knowledge, but instead organizing his fretting specifically in service of what his picking hand does most easily, and tossing the other phrases aside. I have never seen evidence that anyone knew this at the time, and I think that sort of revelation — a McLaughlin “code” hiding in plain sight — would have blown a certain kind of educated guitar mind.


A possible search method would be to determine who were the first few “2 way” players and then peruse their old interviews and see if they mention anything CTC-ish. Or just figure out who was the most nerdish great picker back then who might have analyzed things at that level

Not to get too into the weeds on this, but I think once you get to the idea of making upstroke and downstroke string changes, the term “two-way pickslanting” falls down a bit and doesn’t really describe what’s actually happening very well. This is why you don’t see anything resembling how we’ve described “2wps”, for example, when EVH plays that part of eruption with the pulloffs to the open strings. He’s doing both upstroke and downstroke string changes there, but he’s just moving his wrist two very slightly different directions to do it. No change in “pickslant” or forearm rotation required.

Oh, I’m all for getting in the weeds :wink:

Interesting… I think of being able to make string changes on both upstrokes and downstrokes as exactly when 2WPS does come in. I totally know what you mean, though. It’s possible to achieve the same things by keeping the same pick slant and adjusting your escape motion.

In the original sequence of videos on Batio where you introduced 2WPS, there was a lot of emphasis that he really does change his pick slant, and the whole thing was taught in terms of the pick slant being the operative factor. Would you say the emphasis on pick slanting was pedagogical, to keep things simple–the idea possibly being that the whole game is easier to think about if your whole hand is turning to follow the pick? Or did you simply focus on that because that’s the way he does it? Something else? It’s also very possible that I am just dense and there are aspects that I didn’t catch or am forgetting now :wink:

I think what I’m trying articulate (badly!) is that the simple “one-way escape” type players represent the more radical concept more so that “two way” players. We typically think of hero-level players as being able to “play anything”. Instead, showing a highly educated guitar audience that there is strong evidence many elite players in fact don’t do this, but use a comparatively simple picking motion that isn’t capable of doing even certain basic things like playing a scale, and on top of that, only choose phrases that fit that motion — I think that’s the radical idea that what would have blown minds.

The Gypsies have always taught this way, that the mechanics of their motion dictate the fretting. I don’t think they have historically focused on the string changing problem so much as “we like downstrokes for tone” idea. Either way, result is standardized — the teaching works. Props to them for that. I haven’t seen any evidence that this way of looking at fretting was known at all in popular music, or that great players play this way.

well im thinking of guys like Vinnie Moore, who said in a roundtable magazine interview that he was just trying to play like Steve Morse, who said he was just trying to play like mclaughlin.

But Vinnie came out with his first album right after Yngwies first solo album and then when Vinnie showed how he trained on his vids he showed that he did both 3 AND 4 nps exercises. So there is your basic two way type player.

Vinnie said on his vid that he thought this was also how Steve Morse practiced but I dont know if we know the specifics of guys like Steve Morse. But since Steve won the player of the year many times, surely there are dozens upon dozens of old interviews with questions etc.

Vinnie would be the type of guy who COULD “play anything” as opposed to the others who were sort of painting inside the lines of their “system”.

But was Vinnie the first 2 way guy? What about Michael Angelo? Michael is 8 years older than Vinnie. I wonder who was the first guy who REALIZED it? lol

Is he? Or is he simply employing a different picking motion for a couple notes, making some change to his arm or fingers to achieve this? How is this the same or different from what Eddie does, in concept? This is what we’re trying to sort out now in our instructional material.

Neither. It’s because that’s all we knew at the time. I didn’t know you could do what EVH does. As in, didn’t know it was possible. And I certainly didn’t know I was actually doing it, even though, sure enough, you can watch it in our own instructional material:

Where we’re at now is that we know very clearly what’s happening as far as the joints and how they move. That’s what’s important. We’re still sorting out the simplest way to present this and teach it. For years now we have sent players on a wild goose chase “looking for the slant”, and in many cases, not finding it. Or worse, trying to make their picks “look slanted” but not actually understanding they weren’t doing the motions correctly. The latest updates to the Pickslanting Primer go a long way to addressing this for the wrist motion crowd. If you sign up with us now and that’s the first thing you watch, you’ll be pretty clear on how at least that one joint actually works.

How do we boil down / simplify the other most common ways of doing this, we’ll get there. Ironically, I doubt we’ll ever specifically teach Mike’s movement, even though it’s what helped us learn how things work. We’re shooting for mass, and trying to boil down the most common approaches into plain English instructions. Some of these common approaches do indeed involve some arm turning here and there, and some, like Gypsy-style playing, do involve a very visible pickslant. As long as we’re clear about why this is so, and how to do it, hopefully we’ll help people more than confuse them.

The first player to be able to play downstroke and upstroke string changes? I mean, I can show you mandolin footage from the '40s of players doing this flawlessly. There was probably never a “first”. This has probably been happening since the beginning of plectrum time, whenever that was.

I would say Vinnie very much lives inside his system. He’s an elbow player with a strong bias toward downstroke escape. You will probably never see him play something like the Eric Johnson five-note pattern, or the kind of Gypsy stuff I started out doing and still do when I’m playing with that kind of arm setup. The heavy downstroke sweeping, muting, upstroke alternate type lines that we have in the Volcano seminar, for example:

Any of that classic “dwps” stuff really only lives in the wheelhouse of players who have that kind of form. Doug Aldrich, all day long. McLaughlin / Vinnie and other downstroke escape guys, even Andy Wood — almost never. It’s just not in their mechanical wheelhouse.

Of course these players are all physically gifted and if you told them, your life depends on figuring out how to do this, I’m sure they could, and probably more quickly than me for sure. But I think we’ve come to associate the players who have “pure alternate” chops as being able to play anything, and while that technically may be true, in practice it’s not. They definitely play “pure alternate” type lines more often than not.

by “play anything” I simply mean players who are able to smoothly change strings with up or downstrokes. A guy like Vinnie who does this, plus sweeps both directions, plus taps, plus string skips…how is he not able to play anything?

The EJ 5 note thing would be childs play to Vinnie

Another play anything guy would probably be someone like Joe Stump. I have several of his instructional vids and they often have longgggg sections that are just one take. Dude improvises at fairly blazing speed…no mistakes.

EJ has a style with tons of personality etc and of course the great tone etc etc…IMO he is nowhere near being a technical monster a’la Yngwie/Moore/Angelo/Stump. of those four id say probably Yngwie is the most “limited” simply due to the sort of firm “one way”-ness of his system

look how “wristy” dude is here? lots of different variables at work. wrist in more than one plane, fingers. I dunno if id purely pidgeonhole him as an “elbow player”. yeah, I see him go into his locked elbow thing on certain licks but there is also a lot of variety in his motions otherwise

The ability to “alternate pick every note” is not the same as the ability to “play anything” in all picking styles, especially once sweeping and alternate are combined in tricky ways. And this influences the types of lines players write and choose to play.

For example, when you look at players who do downstroke escape and especially who use an elbow type motion, there is a similarity to their musical choices that you can identify. They do a lot of three-note-per string stuff. They do occasional pentatonics starting on an upstroke. They rarely do two-note-per-string stuff starting on a downstroke, and this means they also rarely do “USX economy” like you find in Joe Stump’s playing, or EJ’s, or Aldrich’s, or like I’m using in that clip.

Doing USX economy properly means flipping your picking motion to a full-time USX motion, which based on the interviews we’ve done, I think feels weird to DSX players. I’m not even sure Vinnie has a full-time USX motion. I think his fast continuous picking motion is only DSX. Which means he’s very unlikely to write or play a line like this:

Of course the flipside is also true. A full-time USX guy like Stump or Friedman, or me when I play “within that style”, we are going to write lines that fit that style, and I can hear that from a mile away. The second guitarist in Marty’s band currently has basically the same technique Marty does, and it’s pretty amazing to watch them do the dual guitar stuff. They’re like mirror images. Of course it works perfectly for the stuff Marty writes.

Vinnie is the best, and I love his playing. And seems like a sweetheart of a guy too. But the idea of the person who “plays everything” just because they can do alternate picking is basically a myth. These are some pretty concrete examples, and this is my best concrete mechanical explanation as to why this phenomenon exists.


It’s not so much even that these players “can” or “can’t” play a certain thing. It’s that they’re just a lot less likely to do so given then mechanics they have, which exert an influence on their musical choices. Even an Anton Oparin-level pure alternate player is very unlikely to write something like “Tornado of Souls” or the “Cliffs of Dover” intro, if only for idiomatic reasons of what the technique lends itself to. And a lick they don’t think of to write is a lick they don’t play.

well I clarified what I meant by “play anything”. I meant someone who doesnt “paint by numbers” or have to prearrange runs to fit their chosen system. By my definition, Vinnie can play anything, Yngwie cant. Yngwie ‘cant’ sweep upwards across the strings for instance. Vinnie can

To define “play anything” by someone actually being a pro at every possible lick is pure foolishness. If we define it that way then the list is empty.