Question about tab + notation of pickslant direction


I just started working on the Pickslanting Primer. As for the tabs for the Two way picking MAB licks, why isn’t there something in the notation indicating the pick slant direction? I think it would be very helpful and it seems it would be easy to add.

Decent Reference Chart for Beginners to CTC?

Hi! Sorry for the delay in responding.

I think part of the issue is, we’re still sort of discussing when precisely these pickslant changes need to happen! Some players switch very quickly and come right back. Others, may spread that out over a certain number of notes. And sometimes, when you film yourself, what you see in the slow motion clip doesn’t exactly match what you you thought you were doing, but it works anyway.

So adding all that kind of notation into the tablature felt like being a little over detailed in a way that we were still a little unsure about. I do think we need more clarity on how and when these movement changes take place. And I think that consensus will develop over time as we see more people learn these movements from scratch. For now, it’s best to use the tab as a general guide when it comes to pickslanting movements.

But the pickstrokes themselves need to be accurate - if you find any errors there, we will fix those.


For what it’s worth, I think a simple convention that would sidestep the “when does the change happen?” question is to mark the change at the last possible stroke where not making the change will result in a “trapped” pick. So people know their “last chance” to make the turn, and can decide how urgently they want to move over to the exit lane, so to speak.

And notation and terminology-wise, I think the notion of “inward” and “outward” strokes (which I think you said Ben Eller has advocated) would help keep the “trapped/escaped” concept orthogonal to “upstrokes/downstrokes” in the minds of students. “Upward-slanted downstroke” is probably harder for people to keep a mental grip on than “outward downstroke”. In addition to making it more clear that the magic is in the movement direction of the pick rather than the orientation of the pick in space (which seems to be a pretty frequent source of confusion), the “inward/outward” language also avoids the confusion that arises when some people think “downward slant” ought to mean “tip of the pick pointed toward the floor”, rather than “end of the pick furthest from my body pointed toward the floor”.

If I were to undertake marking up tab for my own use, I’d keep the established “upstroke/downstroke” notation, and supplement with a letter “i” for “instroke” and a letter “o” for outstroke. I’d put them vertically aligned with the existing pickstroke notation; not sure whether it would fit better “above” or “below”. I wouldn’t mark up the whole score though. I’d mark the first note (or maybe 4 notes) of each major section, and if there were any particularly tricky parts, e.g. two-way pickslanting, or basically anywhere I had to do anything “special” to clear a string other than one-way pickslanting, I’d add "i"s and "o"s to mark those up. If there were a lot of recurring motifs, I’d probably only mark each one up the first time it was encountered.

Edit: And one handy aspect of “i” and “o” notation is that it’s super easy to write quickly by hand, especially if you just use an undotted vertical stroke for the “i” and infer that it’s an “i” from context. Mind you, I’m not a big music-reader. Is there a major obvious conflict between this and an existing notational convention? (I mean, simple letter “o” circle should be easy to distinguish from a whole note, but is there another conflict I’m missing?)

Edit 2: And I’d probably use a red pen or something the underline any sections that diverge from one-way slanting, except in cases where that would result in so much red that it became meaningless. :smiley:

Edit 3: That notation probably covers crosspicking as well, people just need to know enough to infer that if you have a passage with alternating downstrokes and upstrokes that are all “outward” (ending with the pick “escaped”), the way you achieve that is with curved pickstrokes (or stringhopping if the passage is slow enough).


Troy thanks for the response. I was thinking of something much simpler, that is, just indicate on the tab where the change happens in the same place as you explain on the video. How each player accommodates that change can still be decided on an individual basis.

Great web site. Thanks again.


Thanks for the excellent thoughts here! A mark in the notation when something changes is something I haven’t thought about.

Instead, the section bracket type concept is how I have always imagined this, similar to what you have above the staff for alternate endings. This way you get a visual indication of “this pickslant state applies to these entire measures”. And that has a very real correlation to the type of arm / hand setup you would use throughout that section. It’s telling you the desired body positioning.

The single mark notation is certainly less busy but I feel like it visually connotes “do something on this note” which can be misleading. Sometimes that is an accurate description of the way someone plays, i.e. don’t use an escape stroke unless you have to. But sometimes it’s not, like in the case of someone like Joscho or Marty Friedman, where there is a clear state that is maintained at almost all times. And simply saying ‘o’ doesn’t really capture what those players are doing.

Third option, no notation. Understand the concepts and play the pieces any way you want.

Fourth option, some combo of the section brace and the note mark.

I guess visually I would favor the section marker type if you are describing steady state type playing where there is a clear orientation for any length of time. The notation would just look more representative of the actual playing. It’s also much easier to see that and go, aha, this whole phrase is dwps, and so you know how to arrange yourself on the instrument.

The single note mark I can see working well for movements which really are instantaneous. Like if you really want to transcribe exactly what Andy Wood is doing, then you have a uwps section bracket above a bunch of notes, with the note marker on the one where the little flippy 2wps movement happens. Or you leave out the bracket beacuse you assume it as default?

So confusing!


Yeah, I view the main benefit of any pickslant-related notation as being for those finicky types of passages. For straightforward passages, it seems to me you just need to decide whether the first note is an upstroke or a downstroke, and whether it’s “downward slanted” or “upward slanted” (or crosspicked).

I like the fact that a note mark like I described is motion-mechanic agnostic. To me, if someone is a badass wrist deviation DWPS guy, he shouldn’t be required to adopt Joscho’s motion mechanic to play Joscho’s material (though the dynamics will probably end up sounding different). To me, if motion mechanic information is going to be conveyed, there’s probably a generalization that applies to most of the piece and could be covered by a performance note at the top, like “with gypsy jazz forearm rotation” or some such.

Mind you, someone who understands picking principles might want to re-arrange things anyway to fit their preferences, e.g. to try and play Django with elbow-driven UWPS. Again, I see the greatest value of “pickslant notation” being more for for unscrambling tricky slant changes that don’t fit neatly into a one-way pickslanting convention.


Yes totally. But: the tab is supposed to document the way the phrase is being played in the attached video, and that video only. That’s what makes it a transcription. It doesn’t really matter that the lick can be played different ways with different techniques. It matters that it accurately represents exactly what Joscho (for example) is doing so that the tab follows the video when the viewer watches it.

So in thinking about it, this sort of moots my concern about all the different ways to play something. The tab shows what’s happening in the video, nothing more, but also nothing less. As long as we have enough symbols to represent unambiguously what is going on in the performance, then the tab is succeeding as a transcription.


I think I agree with you here, with the possible question of what we mean by “different techniques”. I agree that for any given clip, there are a bunch of potential approaches that aren’t relevant to describing the actual performance that’s being transcribed. But especially when we move away from someone like Joscho to someone who has a more ambiguous “blended” motion mechanic, the motion mechanic information might be hard to express succinctly. However, the essence of where the tip of the pick is moving on each stroke should always simple enough to express succinctly and without ambiguity. That is, there’s perhaps a win in keeping fidelity to the performance being transcribed in terms of “where is the pick at the end of each pickstroke”, without getting tangled up trying to transcribe the nuance of “what motion mechanic did this performer use to get it there”.

I guess part of how we think about those questions can differ based on what we expect someone to be trying to get out of the transcription. That is, is the consumer of the transcription more concerned with using it to apply their existing understanding of pickslanting to a play the given piece of music (i.e. looking at the transcription as “a written description of the pickslanting solution applied in the transcribed performance”), or are they more concerned with using the transcription itself as a means for gaining understanding of pickslanting principles themselves (“oh, so that mechanic is a way of getting the pick to move the way it needs to move for this piece, and it works because the pick is ‘escaped’ before I change strings”).

I suppose the angle (no pun intended) my suggestion was geared toward maybe puts the cart before the horse a little: “Ok, I think I know what I need to know about pickslanting, and I can execute it with a few difference mechanics, now show me how pickslanting was used to solve the string-crossing in performance X.”

But if notating the motion mechanic itself is difficult, I’m just saying notating “inward/outward” should be far less difficult, yet still add value. Not that I’d like to see significant resources devoted to this. I think the only CTC tab I’ve spent significant time looking at is the Morse “Tumeni Notes” arps. I wouldn’t want other cool CTC stuff to be set aside in the name of spending time/energy on tab issues.


Great comments. I love how this thread started with a seemingly simple question and ended up at the deeper epistemology of like “just what is the purpose of musical notation?” Yes we may be limited in how much time we can spend actually implementing stuff like this, but always interesting food for thought :slight_smile:


I’m bringing this one up :muscle:

(Funny, the box to the right of the writing window asks me if I am sure I want to continue this old coversation :smiley: Yes, oh considerate box, I’m sure I want that.)

Today I was transcribing a piece where straight minor scale is played continuously. My preferred way of playing this is 2WPS and I got an idea how to notate it:
/ = DWPS
\ = UWPS
| = transition (do whatever feels good)

And so that’s how it would look like:


  1. It’s a bit boring to add sybol for each note but hey, that’s the job of a transcriber.
  2. As Troy mentioned somewhere in the beginning of this thread, players may have different points where to change the pickslant so this specific instruction wouldn’t work for everyone.
    2a. If player has a primary pickslant, this wouldn’t work either as (s)he would try to play most of the notes with the primary pickslant and change it only whenever needed.


  1. I kind of like the symbols. I’m almost going to claim that they are kind of intuitive (at least to me). If somebody is puzzled by them, just put your guitar flat on something like floor or couch and look at it from the bridge towards headstock. Put your plectrum to a string in DWPS manner, then UWPS, and zero slant. You should see why I chose those sybols for those slants. That’s the image these symbols should represent.
  2. They are already created, we can easily find them on a keyboard, and I don’t think they are used in music notation for anything else.

Anyway, that tab is far from perfect. So, I came up with the idea Frylock has also expressed: to indicate the pickslant only where it has to be one way or another. Before and after that, one could play whichever way (s)he wants.
That would look like this:

This one solves the problem of pickslant change timing. One can play first two notes however wants but then 3rd note has to be UWPS in order to get to the higher string. Then another two notes whichever way and a DWPS on Eb which allows one to get to yet higher string and then the last note also DWPS because this phrase loops (ugh, I didn’t indicate repetition).

I’d like to ask for a critique of such approach because I came up with it so it’s natural that I think it’s undeniably the best possible solution :smiley: But mostly I want to continue this conversation. I think that the indication of pickslant would be a useful addition to guitar tabulature/notation. Is it absolutely necessary? I don’t know…I wouldn’t dare to claim so. Just as picking directions - I don’t think they are absolutely necessary but we use them nevertheless. They provide us with a more accurate information of how the passage is played or intended to be played.

Just to be clear, such system works for 2WPS. Cross picking and permanent pickslant like in Gypsy Jazz would require some kind of separate instructions. Likely few words in the beginning of section or the tune or something else.