Problem Shifting Gears

I’ve been consuming as much material as I can from the Pickslanting Primer but I’m having difficulty finding info on practicing that transition from your “normal” picking speed when your playing a song to your “tremolo” picking speed when you want to play a fast riff.

I have a history of wrist problems which I’ve learned to manage over time so my standard picking motion is DSX using mostly wrist motion, but when I switch to my natural tremolo speed position I switch to primarily elbow motion and my palm comes off the strings. The “shift” between those position as my speed increases is where I feel lost.

Thanks for any insight,

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It’s kinda hard to say without seeing an example of you doing it. My best guess from what you’ve said is that you are likely using a bit more motion and force than you really need to, even with forearm movements, which are rather larger in general. The best suggestion is always a video demonstrating the issue at hand as it helps more to customize advice based on your particular issue.

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I’m not sure if this is what you mean so apologies if I got it wrong, but we usually don’t recommend anymore the “minimal motion” approach. Basically the only things we look for are: speed, good sound and comfort. The actual size of the motion can be anything, from small to huge, and there shouldn’t be any need to control it or correct it — unless of course there are reports of discomfort/pain.

TLDR: I agree RE: trying to keep things easy (no excessive force), but I would not explicitly do anything about motion size.

In terms of practicing the alternation of faster/slower picking, I would personally write a song/etude that has a lot of that in it but still sounds musical.

If you mean you feel lost musically there is likely a mental component. It takes time (i know, i know) but playing along to a rhythm of some sort (internal, backing track, metronome) while improvising can help get used to the shifting gears between slower melodic playing and busier shreddy work.

@tommo without seeing what the issue is, we’re unfortunately both just speculating hint hint cough cough video cough

To clarify what you asked, my hardly unique thinking on the matter is that generally speaking larger motions typically take more time and energy to do, (the further away you move back and forth from your target, the longer and more energy it takes to get back to it) and more times than not tend to have the side effect of being fatiguing, and more importantly being less controlled, which can lead to unwanted noise if your muting is suffering or your hitting adjacent strings, uneven note durations, or even missing the target completely. Control is the big one here. Now is that to say you can’t use larger motions to accomplish this? No, obviously there are people who can and do and do it well! And if you are one of those, I 100% agree, there’s nothing to fix! But when you read a post like this, where somebody is having an issue or trouble with whatever technique they are using, you don’t really walk away with that impression, so maybe it’s something you want to use all angles to address, but again we’re kinda shooting in the dark on this one.

I would also argue there are limitations to just how big you can make those motions, just as there are to how small you can make them. I mean, nobody is shredding using Pete Townsend windmills, and if by the way somebody is, I’d like to see that!

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Sorry for all the confusion. I basically just have 2 motions, My basic picking motion that has worked for years and My Tremolo picking motion (the motion you test for at the beginning). They are different motions and I don’t know how to transition between the two.

I will try and get a setup where I can upload a video of each.



In the hundreds (thousands?) of critiques we’ve looked at on here, I can honestly say I can’t recall any where the problem was making motions that are too large, and doing something to try make them smaller is what fixed it. Usually the solutions that work for people involve some sort of motion change. Switching from a stringhopping motion to something that’s not stringhopping is a common one. Or switching from one joint motion to another one which the player is better at for whatever arbitrary reason. That kind of thing.

Picking speed is about frequency, i.e. how often you can change the direction of the pick. The distance the pick travels in between those direction changes, i.e. “the motion size”, is not something you control directly. It’s the function of lots of things, like how far the pick is from the joint, which doesn’t really tell you anything about whether the motion itself is efficient, correct, or comfortable. Plenty of very fast motions are giant and comfortable, like strumming motions, or the 250bpm+ wrist motions I’ve been putting up on Instagram lately. And plenty of small motions are tense and slow, like the ones we often see in Technique Critique.

Ultimately we’ve had better luck with going fast and searching for easy / comfortable as something a person can do. We haven’t had great luck with telling them to be smaller.

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I’m sorry I prompted this response and created so much confusion, I guess I’m not good at explaining my issue.

It has nothing to do with the Size of my picking motions, I just have 2 different motions that I naturally fall into.

One is the primary one that I’ve used for many years which is slower, palm resting on strings, mostly wrist motion. It works but can’t get near the speeds of the Tremolo picking

Second one is my Fast Tremolo style picking which is a different motion.

Both are USX but the natural tendency is for my wrist to “float” and use Elbow Motion for the Fast Tremolo style picking. Neither one is forced are painful, they’ve just been how i can do it with the most stamina and comfort.

The problem is how to transition between the two. I have a video I posted earlier of the Tremolo Picking at a “moderate comfortable” tempo which I can’t sync with left hand yet. I still need to get one of my other which I use all the time to play leads which can sync the two hands.

When you say ‘transition between the two’, do you mean like you have a phrase that’s sort of slow and then suddenly requires a fast flurry of notes? Like some solo with bluesy bends that’s melodic but then has a fast scalar passage or something?

Rusty Cooley has a pretty different motion when he’s all out shredding than when he’s doing palm muted chugging and another when he mixes legato with ‘sort of fast’ bits in between or plays slower melodically.

I don’t know that he ever really ‘shifts’ or ‘transitions’. It just sort of jumps from one motion to the next. I’m not sure if that’s what you’re asking or not.

When I first read your thread my head was somewhere else. I thought maybe you had a pretty fast motion that you wanted to be able to slow down some. First instance (just throwing out numbers hypothetically to make a point) let’s say your wrist motion only gets you to 140 bpm, your elbow motion is fine at 180, but difficult to do much lower than that. So how do you play speeds in between 140 and 180? That’s probably not what you meant though and just me being me and overanalyzing :slight_smile:


I think I initially missed what your issue was, and probably didn’t read as carefully as I should have. I’m not sure there is an easier answer for this than doing what @tommo suggested earlier, and writing a practice etude that emphasizes those transitions, but maybe in a way where you aren’t quite transitioning to your top speed, so that you can still sync with both hands, but fast enough you have to switch to your tremolo picking position.

I know there was that rock discipline video John Petrucci put out in the 90’s that has a segment where he suggests just that, and may even have a sample exercise he used for this very thing. His lesson on this was more so under the guise of utilization speed transitions for better phrasing, but it very pertinent to this.

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Here’s a video I just uploaded, not the cleanest playing (I should go back to the nylon pick instead of Tortex maybe), but hopefully you get the idea.

I was trying a Ben Eller exercise (this video is not it) where you play sixteenth notes with these triplet bursts, the bursts need to switch to my Tremolo elbow motion, but that switch is the problem I have.

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I see. If it were me, I’d just do the same motion the whole time. Since you can’t speed up the wrist motion, slow down the elbow motion. I’ll see if I can put up an example.

Sorry for the lighting, you get the idea though

Changing motions mechanics drastically during a phrase can feel awkward, so if you can use the fast one the whole time (and just make that slower when the playing needs to be), that’s the path of least resistance.


Honestly Jen, the biggest thing I see is really just an issue of two hand synchronization, and these things take some time. So let’s back up a little. What is the fastest you can play consecutively and reliably using your tremolo picking position synchronized? Even if it’s not that fast compared to a single note, it’s good to gauge where that is. Once you find that, what I would do is apply that to a 4 note phrase of your choosing, it can be anything you like, but one you can play in time synced using that hand position. Work with a metronome and set the tempo to where it’s challenging for you to play 16th notes against, but not so much that you fall apart after two beats. Every other measure jump between 8th notes and 16th notes. This will help train that transition. You can even start off just doing this with one note, but I urge incorporating a 4 note phrase as soon as possible to get that synchronization happening.

I also think @joebegly has a good point in that trying to use maybe your “trem” picking position for everything may be the way to go in the long run, or perhaps even a different mechanic altogether that you haven’t discovered yet.


Thanks a lot guys! :+1:
I just need some direction. I will work on the tremolo elbow style more. The biggest challenge I see is changing strings since I’m “floating” and don’t have that “anchor” which helps me navigate to other strings quickly.

I would take it one step at a time. Work on that synchronization first using your fast position, one or two strings at a time if you have to, and eventually all the pieces will fall together. Also leave yourself open to experimenting too, maybe there’s a good comprimise you haven’t stumbled in yet.

If you want I can post up a few simple exercises that I came up with this evening that may help with the transition, along with a simple one string etude I threw together too that focuses on speed transitions.

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Bill Hall has an awesome elbow mechanic but anchors very lightly/gently by pronating a little and making a little contact with the inside of his thumb. Maybe try that if you feel like you need a reference point but don’t want to feel quite so “anchored” as we traditionally think of it.

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I will check it out!
I uploaded a video of me just “jamming” for a minute with some slo-mo so you can see relaxed position.

Out of curiosity, what do you feel is your biggest hindrance to gaining more speed with your relaxed position? The fact that you feel planted in position by muting the strings? or do the injuries you mention earlier make it uncomfortable?

The wrist problems are pain in radial nerve & ulna nerve when overused. I have it managed and know when I’ve done too much and take a break for a while, ice up, and practice singing or something else for a few days.

The relaxed playing above, if I try to go much faster it gets to a point the elbow kicks in and thats when left hand doesn’t know what to do.

@motochick, and/or for whoever else. So here’s the exercise I came up with that works on shifting between note durations. This keeps it really simple and jumps between playing 8th’s notes to 16ths and back and forth. You can even start off with doing it for just one note, but I urge throwing in other note patterns as soon as you can. It’s one thing to just jump between the two doing tremolo picking, but you really want to start applying it to real music as soon as possible, otherwise there’s really no point. I set this at what I felt was a very reasonable manageable tempo for most of 120, but use what ever works for you, the main goal is being able to jump between note durations using which ever motions you have to, to do both, which is useful in the long run for phrasing.

Example 1:


Next you can write a little etude to practice this. This one I threw together. It may be boring to some, but it does thrown in duration shifts all over. Again feel free to come up with whatever you will be more enthusiastic to play. Make this meaningful and fun for yourself or else you may lose interest.

Here’s the transcription, first page is repeated twice, but I didn’t include that:

Notice these are all just one string examples, well except for the very last note. Eventually you will want to incorporate more strings, but I would make sure you can do it on one.

Edit: the last three triplet groupings are played sliding into the last note of each grouping. There was no option for that in the little program I used.