Pursuant to our various discussions on learning picking motions, here’s some fun stuff on the legendary, awesome Eddie Van Halen tremolo technique. It’s not really a tremolo technique, of course — you can also use it to switch strings, as Eddie does on “Little Guitars”, and as I do in the practice footage I’ve included with the blog post.
Very generally speaking, this is how I work on motions. I get them going at or near their realistic speed, accuracy be damned, trying to find that click where it gets smooth, as an indicator that I’m doing it right. I’ve never had success trying to start super slow, and this motion is a great example of that. When you do this really slowly it feels super awkward and overly twisty / turny. It feels like a lot of mass is swinging around and it doesn’t want to go faster.
Instead, a much better way to get this is to do it in the air with no guitar, fast and lightly, until it feels smooth and looks realistic to what Ed does. That’s step one. Then you try and translate that smoothness to the guitar.
I’ve put up some practice footage of tooling around with using this to play single-note lines. This is typically how I work stuff out — just banging around really sloppily, trying to get things to look realistic, occasionally hitting notes right. It’s not about tempo. In fact I find metronomes super distracting at this early point in the process. It’s like a little drill sergeant yelling at me to go go go, and it makes it hard to focus on the coordination. I like stopping and starting, I like trying different tempos, or not worrying about tempo at all. I like an unstructured playful atmosphere. And I don’t like doing this for more than twenty minutes or something, or I get bored. More thoughts in the blog post.
More importantly: Show us your Eddie! I know @alexvollmer does a badass Eddie. Who else has got it?
Thanks for showing the takes of you not “getting it”. It actually helps a lot.
I try this exact motion myself every so often. I can get the motion but the hardest thing for me is retaining a position where the pick is always hitting the strings. I’ll hit the strings a few times and then completely miss them, like my hand is flying drifting farther away from the plane. The motion itself feels smooth but connecting it in a playable way to the strings is tough for me.
The other thing that kills me is the complete lack of muting in the other strings. Even when you’re bashing into the wrong strings and playing lines across them in your second clip, there’s little to no extra noise. Obviously you’re probably doing some work in the left hand, but EVH isn’t in his famous clip. Is this compression and noise gate technology at work?
Yep, all of the above. It’s more like discombobulated parts and you’re trying to figure out how they work. I definitely have the “not hitting the string” problem and it’s probably in that clip. But definitely, that happens. @Brendan experiments with elbow picking sometimes and even though he can get the movement going absurdly fast, he often misses the string causing dropouts. I think these are all great, great examples of precisely how this process works.
Re: noise it’s there, but there’s amp compression and I was also doing some thumb over the top of the neck to stop the low strings. I can reach just enough to mute one or two of them for a short amount of time.
In general, flexed-wrist playing can be pretty quiet like Ed when you’re really accurate and only hit the string you want to hit, and your motion is butter smooth like Ed’s and doesn’t rock the whole guitar back and forth violently. Also, descending lines pretty much self-mute with the left hand so there is almost no issue at all.
I’ve messed with this on and off since October or so. I can’t get it to work properly outside of creating a “buzzsaw” effect for single-note lines. It sounds more aggressive than my normal playing and I think it works great for extreme music. I learned to do it with my left-hand first, I have no idea why.
You can hear the “drop out” pretty significantly here. In a live setting no one would care but it’s very apparent solo. I have put no time into this and it’s fairly frustrating to practice - there’s that constant need to make sure the pick hits the string. I don’t think there’s any movement save rotation.
EVH-Style (egregiously awful lighting, will re-record soon):
Normal technique, obviously a lot less rotation here and there is muting capability which is impossible to my knowledge with EVH’s style:
That’s awesome! That’s about 225 - 240bpm and I don’t think it sounds buzzsaw at all, I think it sounds pretty great. I’d use the hell out of that motion. Especially for descending lines where muting isn’t as much of a concern. I think there are a lot of people who’d like to have a picking motion that works that well.
There’s still some variation in the motion which is probably why you think you need to monitor the “missing the string” problem, but I don’t think that’s down to the motion, it’s down to not having it totally smooth yet.
I’d definitely come back to that every so often until it smooths out. Nice work here.
This is great! I’ve been trying to do something similar in terms of adapting the Eddie-technique to something more than the kinds of tremolo picking he does, especially in terms of string crossing. The pop-tarts lick or any Gilbert Six-esque patterns seems like a good start as the string-tracking mechanic just feels weird at first.
I’ve also been experimenting with pick grip and wrist angles. Originally I had two very distinct pick-grips: my normal thumb-and-index-finger grip and my Eddie “flying-wrist” impression. But I always hated how much of a radical change it was since I could never get it to work smoothly. I think it works for Ed because his tremolo grip is close to his normal grip.
Anyway, I went about trying to flatten the wrist angle while maintaining my normal pick grip with modest but promising results. I think that there’s definitely something to this and, with enough development, could be a handy arrow to have in the quiver.
One thing I’ve noticed (and would be curious if others have too) is that I only seem to have one speed with this string-fanning technique. I haven’t spent a lot of time on this, but early experimentation has revealed that (currently) I only have one speed for this. Has anyone else run into this?
Great observation. I can do it at all speeds below the maximum, BUT — and I think this is the key — I had to get it at (or near) the maximum to know what the correct form was, so that I could then slow it down. If I went the other way, I could do it slowly but couldn’t speed it up, because I hadn’t hit upon the efficient form. Speed is the test for efficiency.
Related to this, I think one reason why people think that this is a “high-speed-only, tremolo-only technique”, and can’t be synchronized, is because it’s easy enough to figure this out even for a player who is a total beginner. Even if you’re new to guitar, but you can move your hand around in the air, you might just be able to figure this one out, at the highest speed where the smoothness is most obvious and easily gettable.
In other words, doing this motion fast on a simple one-note, one-string phrase, is the first step to getting it. It’s not surprising that a beginner would make it to step one, but not steps two, three, and so forth, which involve knowledge and experience with hand synchronization and string switching mechanics.
I’m not referring to you, of course! I’m referring to what I imagine were hordes of kids in the '80s who probably were able to figure this out in their bedrooms but didn’t have much other picking technique beyond this.
Ha! I was totally one of those kids. The first time I saw Ed do this thing was watching Live Without a Net on a VHS tape I borrowed from a friend. I had been playing for a few years and when I saw the clip you “quoted” in your video, my head exploded. Fast-forward 25+ years and I think I might be starting to grok how it works.
Ha! Touché. I’m sure lots of other Cracking the Code-aged dudes are in this group as well. Is that when you learned this, around that time? What did you actually do to get it?
I’m pretty sure I started experimenting with it shortly after seeing that video, but I remember it was a hot mess at the time. I couldn’t imagine how it would ever feel like something I could control. Like you, I continued mucking around with it here and there over the years with no real dedication to getting it right. Eventually, it just kinda started making more sense. I’m sure with some concentration I could have boiled a decade of haphazard experimentation down into something smaller.
As you pointed out too, I think it’s a technique worthy of more use in different ways. Like most folks I had relegated it to the one-tricky-pony bin until you suggested (in another thread) that it was worth developing beyond Eddie’s style. I remember thinking at the time, “duh, why didn’t I think of that?”
So now I wonder, who else is doing something like this? I know the gypsy-jazz crowd has a pretty stylized picking motion that seems similar to this, though with a different wrist mechanic, right? Anyone else?
Like you say Troy, rotation seem to be something that most people can do “air playing” but have a hard time adapting to the guitar. One problem seems to be the lack of stability. Is there any reason to be totally floating without any anchoring? To me the technique works just as good haveing fingers gliding on the body or even flattening out to anchor with the palm at the bridge. Is there any lost benefits in doing this?
To me rotation has this super fluid sound that both you Troy and Guitarenthuiast are strong showcases of. I, for one, try to use rotation as the exclusive motion for my regular picking. That’s not always the case but every time my playing feels really good and fluid, it’s often because I managed to be using almost pure rotation. I’m actually baffled that we don’t see this motion more frequently in general guitar playing.
I was actually going to tag you in response to Alex. Your clips of this look and sound great. Do you have any “down the strings” takes of it?
I think some of the Volcano clips were done with different motions, one of which is almost pure rotation with a less flexed wrist. I was somewhat aware of it at the time. This one during the fours part, if I watch it in slow motion with the speed slider set to an additional 50%, the palm is definitely turning more so than in other clips we filmed:
My best guess as to why more people don’t use it is that it must be easier to accidentally do other motions first, and then stick with those. In other words random chance. It could also be a function of teaching. Most “traditional” teaching even though it never really focused on motions, but I would venture to guess that most teachers demonstrate what looks like a deviation or elbow motion when teaching beginners. Just a guess though.
Since we have this thread, I’m resuscitating the cringey-in-retrospect video I posted in response to Troy’s “Eddie Challenge” from a few years back. Apologies for the subpar audio and video quality, but it’s worth it to hear me drone on and on in circles for about 40 minutes (and that’s the edited version )…
[video clip mercifully redacted]
Ha. I remember this but I confess I didn’t watch the entire thing, and had a hard time locating the actual playing examples the first time around. We awarded you the “A” mostly for the effort. I think we need an updated 20-second playing example version, especially if you’ve picked up any new tricks since that time!
That’s a much better idea.
Do you find it easier to play his tremolo style by holding the pick between your thumb and middle finger?
Thanks for this! For some reason, I always thought this picking motion was something so specific to Eddie that I never tried it. After this video/thread, I started trying to put it in some improvisation this morning (my version of the “floor it” concept I guess) - it wasn’t all the way there, but it felt like it wanted to work, if that makes sense.
Not specifically easier but middle finger grips require more supinated arm setups like what Eddie uses. So you have to match the two. With an index grip you’ll use less supination.
In this case I was just going for something that looks like what Ed does, for fun.
Yeah I remember this one! I thought it both looked and sounded really aggressive and fluid in the “right” way. I think this was one of the clips that really turned me on to rotation.
Ok, so this is a quick “holding iphone in left hand” recording of what I think is a flattened out Eddie tremolo style. I’ve been working in this for a good while now but it’s not perfect by any means. I can still feel that it’s not fully burned in. Especially on the low strings where the wrist is bent toward the radius. Lately I’ve been trying out different approach angles for the arm but still haven’t found the perfect setup.
Unfortunately I only had a black pick so maybe it’s hard to see.
I already posted this clip in another thread but this is the same style including the left hand.
I see you removed the vid but I got to say I loved that clip! Especially the tooth brush. Great tutorial!