Single-note to multi-string tremolo picking transition

Hi. I recently migrated to a pen-slant three-fingered pick grip with an upward escape motion. For single notes, it is quicker and cleaner. However, it is much harder to play a multi-string flamenco-style tremolo than with my previous grip, because the pick will no longer glide across multiple strings on the upstroke.

Previously, I played with the pick parallel to the strings and perpendicular to the guitar’s top. I was able to do the tremolo picking but had to contend with string-hopping, which became painful.

It takes time to shift from one grip to the other, and I’m trying to find a smooth transition between fast single-note playing and multi-string tremolo.

Any suggestions? Thanks.

Thanks for experimenting!

The middle-/three-finger grip does not create any pickslant on its own. Instead, the pickslant is the result of your grip and your arm position working together. For example, you can see here in this clip where I’m using the that grip, that I don’t really have a pickslant:

The first and most important concern is that the motion is smooth and fast. The second concern is that we know what kind of escape the motion is. If the motion is single escape, where it is diagonal, then there usually has to be a pickslant. It should match the motion. USX = downward pickslant, DSX = upward pickslant. But this is a somewhat smaller concern since most of the time, when the motion is right, the pickslant is already right and you don’t need to do anything.

When in doubt post a link to a video example, we’re happy to take a look.

Hi, Troy:

Thanks for the quick response.

Your video gives me an idea. I see that you often, perhaps unconsciously, switch to a thumb/index grip when you play chords. I’ve been trying to avoid switching grips because it slows me down. But maybe it’s necessary for the reasons I explain below, and the key is not to avoid the grip change, but to get comfortable enough with it for it to become seamless.

My new motion is USX, and the downward pick slant is pretty extreme:. The bottom of my wrist is almost perpendicular to the guitar top, and the pick slant is at least 45 degrees. The motion differs from yours in the video, which looks to me like DSX. (Your also grip differs from mine. I use either the side or the tip of my middle finger to grip the pick; you use more of the pad. Both of us use the index finger to stabilize the edge of the pick.) Unlike the George Benson grip, in which the upper flat of the pick points toward the right shoulder, my pick is turned in the opposite direction, so that the lower flat of the pick is slightly toward the guitar jack, turned just enough so that it doesn’t catch on the upstroke. (I’ll change the angle of attack depending on the sound I want.)

The reason I’m evolving this new technique is that it maximizes the extension/flexion component of the motion. The sideways component (toward the thumb, then toward the pinky) tends to slip into string-hopping. Whether because I’ve done so much string-hoping over 50+ years, or because of encroaching arthritis, or both, this sideways motion hurts, and is slower than it once was. Further, the pain is distracting. The docs tell me that there’s an arthritis component, but that short of surgery to remove a bone, there’s nothing I can do to cure it. Flexion/extension lets me avoid both the repetitive stress and any bone-on-bone rubbing inherent in the sideways wrist motion.

The range of motion inherent to extension/flexion also makes it easy to skip multiple strings in the middle of a quick passage. (Quick, at least, for me. I’m not as fast as you.) Surprisingly, I can do this string skip in both directions, because the USX lets me fly toward heavier strings, while the extreme pick slant lets me glide to the lighter ones.

When I try to do what looks to me like your DSX motion with the three-finger grip, I have to bend my wrist back, and this makes flexion/extension almost impossible and maximizes the sideways component, with attendant pain and distraction.

But, as I use more of the USX extension/flexion motion, I’m finding that when I do pick sideways, it hurts less than when sideways picking was my main approach. This leads me to hope that what I have is more a recoverable repetitive-stress injury than just incurable arthritis, and that maybe I can eventually re-incorporate more of the sideways motion into my picking.

The extreme pick slant is not yet natural to me. I have to consciously put my hand and arm into that position, and then warm up for awhile. As I do, it gradually becomes comfortable, and then I don’t want to go back to the less slanted position.

Unfortunately, the new technique makes multi-string tremolo, and quick R&B chord-flick patterns, harder. It’s also much harder to use a whammy bar because my pinky and ring fingers are buried between the three-finger grip and the guitar. And hybrid picking is impossible because the middle finger that I once used for it is now holding the pick.

But, as I said at the outset, your video gives me an idea. I’ve been trying to avoid changing grips and techniques in the middle of a song because it slows me down. But maybe it’s necessary, and the key is not to avoid the grip change, but to embrace it. Maybe step 1 is to get comfortable enough with my new technique so that it feels natural and does not sneak back into sideways string-hopping; and step 2 is to gradually recover some ability to pick sideways in order to do the techniques described above, while it grows instinctive to shift grips as needed.

Make sense? Any thoughts?

I don’t switch pick grips in the middle of a song or phrase, regardless of whether I’m playing leads or chords. But then again I don’t normally use three-finger pick grip, so there’s nothing to switch from/to.

This particular clip was simply filmed with the three-finger grip on purpose as a demonstration of the EVH style of pick grip an arm position. I had just sat down after turning on the camera. I happened to be holding the pick with two fingers before I hit record just because I was trying to get the phone set up and needed the spare fingers. I switched to three-finger after I started playing, and you can see in the closeup that I played some chords that way as well.

More generally, when it comes to questions about complicated technique things, it’s far preferable that you post a video showing what you’re doing. It’s super difficult to follow long textual descriptions. And morever I’m a total skeptic and no longer trust what somebody says they’re doing unless I see it!

Happy to take a look at whatever motion you want. Film an example of playing something that you suspect is not working and we’ll take a look.

OK. I have a video to post, which I’ll post as soon as I figure out how, since the upload function doesn’t support .mov files.

And you’re right: Watching it shows that I’m not doing what I thought I was doing, although I’m string-hopping less than I used to. So, once I get the file uploaded and you can view it, how do I move toward a correct technique from here?

I figured out how to upload a video. Here’s 20 seconds worth. Thanks for any advice you can provide.