Thumb wiggle along a different axis


Hi there
I just wanted to ask a question about what works regarding the thumb holding the pick.

I have noticed that when I am trying to cross pick, at anything faster then around triplets at 110bpm, I notice that when I try to stay relaxed, my thumb seems to wiggle when picking. Have a look at this:- I’ve tried to just demo it. It looks hard to see when I film me just picking, but I can feel it

I feel like this is tripping me up, as the wiggle changes the orientation of the pick to the strings, giving a really uneven feel, maybe it even counts as string hopping?

I have been watching Troy, Andy Wood and also I have a Steve Kaufmann DVD (picking up speed), and none of these guys have a thumb wiggle at high speeds. It’s all just wrist…And when I do straight DWPS, there is no movement at all of this wiggle

But, when I try to eradicate the thumb wiggle, then my hand just tenses up slightly, which I know won’t fly at faster speeds.

Does anyone have any insight into this? I’m presuming I need to cut the thumb wiggle out, but how do I do this? The way here seems to not be to start slow and build up. Is it just more of

  • trial and error
  • just try it fast and sloppy at higher tempos till the new mechanic clicks and I cut it out?


This looks like what Martin Miller does, which we’ve called (correctly or not) “MP” picking, for the MP or MCP joint of the index finger:

The reason this is happening is because you are asking the pick to move along a more pickups-parallel path (on electric, for example), which the wrist by itself can’t do, because it moves more in a semicircular windshield wiper path. It’s just a different picking motion than the wrist, elbow, forearm, etc.

I think the main thing with the many options that work is that for a lot of people it just seems like a giant random puzzle that feels different every time they pick up the guitar. If you can separate these enough that you can actually work on them and develop them, great.

Like growing up in a multi-lingual household, trying to develop multiple motions at once takes longer, and can be confusing at first. It may seem like you’re not making any progress for a while. Then further down the line they’ll all start to click at once and you suddenly have multiple ways of doing things.

Up to you!


Thanks for this - yes I watched this video a while back, he is amazing!

I have tried searching on the forum for an explanation of the movement which is parallel to the pickups. I can’t tell from the various descriptions on the thread - it’s confusing there are so many axis to be parallel to - but is this what you mean? the lines indicate the motion of the pick up and down the strings, which would make sense as that is the line the wrist would draw if it had a pen and was tracing picking each string without moving my arm


If so - then I think I don’t want to try the MP motion right now It looks really cool but maybe I just need to learn one language for now.

Do I just need to:

  1. focus on moving the wrist only in this windshield arc
  2. grip my pick so that the thumb is rigid and doesn’t wobble?


You might try experimenting with the different grips.


Your grip isn’t causing this. Grip “flop”, as I call it, is a thing that we all use to control dynamics, but it doesn’t look like this. It’s just the pick itself flopping around between your fingers.

In this case this is a motion of your fingers, and it is something you’re actually doing, deliberately, at some level. Again nothing wrong with that if you want to work on this. Who knows, maybe you’ll be great at it? I always try to take the hints my body gives me when it’s kind enough to throw one my way.

If you don’t want to work on this, I personally don’t like to think about “not doing” unwanted motions. It may be psychological, but you tell me to “stop” doing a certain thing, I usually respond by making my muscles more rigid in some way. And that generally doesn’t promote fluid and smooth motion. Instead I like to try and think about “doing” the target motion.


Actually screw it I might as well try this - I seem to want to do forearm rotation and the finger motion, and I don’t think cross picking with the wrist is working so far for me - maybe it’s worth trying this and seeing how it goes? I just tried doing the MP motion with the index finger leading, and I can do it quite fast - it’s almost like a table tap.

Ok so from the video the formula seems to be:

Downstroke - forearm rotation followed by the MP motion to get the pick out of the strings
Upstroke - MP motion to get back to the string, followed by forearm rotation to get the pick out of the strings.

Am I getting that correct from the video? Should I just try this with any particular pattern/lick to begin with? I am trying to watch the Miller mechanics workshop but for some reason the web is being slow here…


That sounds correct. However, I wouldn’t worry about that too much. If it’s already working for you, don’t try and micromanage what the arm and fingers are doing, just try and get it to feel smooth and fast at first, and smooth / fast / accurate eventually.


ok great - I’ll watch the Martin Miller workshop and then give this ago -
there is no reason why this wouldn’t work with acoustic bluegrass stuff right? It is just cross picking using a different motion and the double escape should hopefully allow me to play that stuff too??


That’s right, it’s just a motion. Whatever plays the notes!


ok so repost with edit:
Ok so I have been doing some experimenting with this - and I also watched the Carl Miner interview (another wonderful interview and again so much to see and learn from here).

It seems like Martin Miller and Carl Miner in some ways are similar - above the string forearm rotation, below the string finger/wrist extension.

I can’t really get the feeling of the Martin Miller finger movement, but I did try to replicate what Carl Miner does. How does this look?

I feel like I may be onto something here, because, although this is not that fast:

  1. It feels nice and smooth (once I hit the string on the downstroke it feels like I am “flinging” my arm away, which feels nice)
  2. I got it up to this speed with not much effort
  3. It’s a lot louder for me, and the tone is a lot better I think.
  4. It definitely feels easier to be accurate - like in this clip there are almost no wrong notes, and I’m not even thinking much about accuracy.

Anyway my main question is basically 2 fold:

  • does this look like something that can carry me to 8th notes at 240bpm, or is it just another version of string hopping. Here is a clip trying to do a roll at 16th notes 120bpm:

So it’s sloppy and I’m trying to keep up to the click, but something feels better abou this movement at this speed, it again is louder, a bit more accurate than previous attempts at this speed, and even though it’s too fast for me, feels a bit better…is this the kind of fast and sloppy that you mean, or again is this just fast and bad?

It’s hard for me to know, because with trying all of these different motions, I can get to around 8th notes at 160~170bpm, but then any tempos higher than that don’t fly. I think for me getting past this tempo is a litmus test to see whether I am doing anything correctly.

On a side note, one thing I am learning is that even though I can’t do most of these movements, it’s actually fascinating to learn and think about them. Guitar technique is really very interesting…


These look and sound good. If you really look at what you’re doing, it’s not that different from what you’re doing when you’re anchored. There’s extremely little forearm here, so there is still the same deviation / flexion-extension motion of wrist escaping happening. In some sense you can just think of this as another way of tackling the same motion. If you ask the pick to go more pickups parallel, you will see more arm or finger involvement. If you ask the pick to go more windshield wiper, you will less arm / finger and more wrist. It’s all a spectrum.

Re: fast and sloppy, no, this is not what I mean. We already know you can play at least 160bpm sixteenths because you did it in your downstroke escape clip. So for these roll patterns we’re looking for at least 140bpm sixteenths or more. The precise speed isn’t important, and don’t turn on a metronome. It just needs to be fast enough where you can no longer perceive or control individual notes. At that speed, you will feel the overall motion more than the pickstrokes. You’re not specifically trying to be sloppy, you’re trying to do the motion as realistically as you can. You are simply not letting accuracy get in your way at this point. Sloppy is simply what happens when you do that.

Get into position for this motion and go for it. Just pretend you’re playing air guitar with a real guitar and do it as fast as you can. Make sure it’s smooth. If it’s not, keep faking it until it feels smooth. Do you hit any notes correctly? Film it in slow 120fps with good light and look at what it looks like.



Ok cool - yes that makes sense. When I play single string downstroke escapes at 160 I can’t think of the notes anymore, it’s just the motion.

Ok, how about this, my phone only does 30fps max!

I’m really just trying to floor it and the only note my brain can process is the 2nd String which I play on the 1. Is this more what I need to be going for? actually it’s not as crappy as I thought it would be - at least I can hear what I’m actually trying to play, even if it’s not note perfect (a bit like the kid drawing a house and a tree - you can kinda make it out)?

I think it feels smooth, It certaintly doesn’t feel as jumpy as all my other attempts at this tempo…Do I need to go even faster? Is this even close?


Right, that’s more in the ballpark of what I’m getting at. You’re trying to simulate what you think the correct fast technique is so you can at least have a shot at recognizing what it feels like to do something at that speed which is realistic.

Re: smoothness you can see some of these strings are being hit a little aggressively, and the body is rocking around. Are you standing up here while holding the guitar with no strap? If so that’s probably why the body is rocking. If you’re sitting down, the body should be more stable. Do you have upper arm / shoulder joint movement? Moving across the strings (tracking) can involve a small amount of continuous motion, but if your upper arm / shoulder is going up and down on every note then you’re using that for the actual picking motion and you don’t need that. Instead, make the motion come from your wrist and arm.

Re: motion correctness, did you try watching this in slow motion? Even in the youtube player you can see some detail. You’re enacting more of the arm turning between the second string and third string, and less at other times. This is common. You’re doing this by feel so your body is just spitting out some combination of learned motions. To be more consistent, try making the arm turning motion all the time, on every note, or conversely, try making only a wrist-path motion with less arm overall — but again, on every note. Film it and watch it in slow motion to see what you get with these attempts. Don’t put hours into tiny little tweaks. If it doesn’t feel that different to do it, then it’s probably not going to look that different when you watch it.

As a general note phones which can do 120 have been out since 2013 so a lower end model can be had for cheap and it’s totally worth having. As an alternative, find a camera app for your current phone that lets you control shutter speed, and crank it up to 1/80 or 1/100. It won’t give you slow motion but it will make the 30fps video much less blurry so you can see what’s going on during fast playing. You will need a little more light for this but more light almost always makes phone video better regardless.


Alright! ok good, finally I might be getting somewhere.

Re: smoothness you can see some of these strings are being hit a little aggressively, and the body is rocking around.

I am sitting down, with no strap, I feel like my whole upper body it trying to make my hands go that fast! I’ll try to just isolate this to the wrist and arm - I think my brain was in overdrive so maybe the whole body just started going for it. Let me look for the shoulder movement, eek…

did you try watching this in slow motion? Even in the youtube player you can see some detail. You’re enacting more of the arm turning between the second string and third string, and less at other times.

Yes I noticed this too. Sometimes I turned it a lot, and others it barely turned at all. Was that why I kept missing the note on the D string I wonder?

I’ll look at other camera/phone options, yeah my phone is not that old but it’s not a great model.

Sounds like I need to isolate this more to the wrist and forearm. I’ll give this a go, thank you!:+1:


Oh also, when I’m trying the tweaks to make the motion more consistent do I try them really fast, or at a more moderate speed or both??