Tommy Emmanuel Flat Picking Technique

Hi all, I’m new to the forum but have been following CtC since 2014. CtC has immensely helped me with my picking technique (still working on it).

I remember seeing a video clip of Troy interviewing Tommy many years ago. Can we expect a finalized version of this anytime soon?

Moving on to Tommy’s technique, It appears to me that he is a USX/DWPS type player when he uses a flat pick. To me it looks like he uses the flexed form (gypsy level) forearm/wrist blended motion particularly when playing gypsy jazz tunes.

On another note, he also alternate picks eally fast with this thumb pick almost using it as flat picks for certain runs/tunes. I wonder how he does it? When I use a thumb pick the upstrokes just doesn’t feel right and seems to get caught between the strings. It is almost as if these thumb picks were designed to be used on the down strokes only for Chet Atkins style finger picking playing.

So is Tommy Emmanuel a primarily USX/DWPS type player? He plays country styles too and it appears that he may be cross picking or even doing TWPS. Thoughts?

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Hi! Yes, Tommy is an upstroke escape player for sure. He’ll sometimes do downstroke swiping, and I think he can do an occasional downstroke escape by way of wrist motion. But I’m not sure he’s a forearm player, because I don’t see any actual forearm rotation in his technique. He has the flexed form, but I think he may do what Zakk Wylde does in terms of “mystery elbow” motion. I say mystery because the elbow technically cannot do an upstroke escape motion — at least not by itself. So there has to be some other joint working alongside it, and it’s not easy to spot what it is.

I also do this motion, whatever it is. Here’s what it looks like from a couple short clips we’ve discussed before on the forum:

Tommy is using the flexed form but I don’t think that affects where this motion in particular is coming from. We think the mystery ingredient could even be rotator cuff, like shoulder rotation. Evan Marshall the mandolinist appears to use a similar motion, and if you watch the first few seconds of this clip you’ll see his upper arm rotating around pretty clearly:

If you tap on a desk without moving your wrist and without moving your elbow, you can actually do this pretty fast — it’s the upper arm rotating at the shoulder joint.

Re: Tommy’s interview it’s ancient with the old footage so I don’t know what we’ll do with that. We might just try to get him back in at some point. Preferably with short sleeves!


Thanks Troy for the detailed explanation. I’ve noticed that Tommy does “move” a lot from the shoulder particularly when he starts to play fast lead. It is as though all other joints seem to sort of ‘freeze’ up when he starts fast soloing. To me there is a difference in the way he plays rhythm/slow soloing and fast lead as seen here in this clip from this timeframe.

This is a good angle to see his shoulders move and the whole guitar ‘shakes’ with it. The reason I’m interested is that I also play in this manner (i think). I am naturally a DSX/UWPS player and my form looks very much similar to David Grier (highly pronated and the pick goes towards the electronics of the guitar on the downstrokes). I used to swipe through everything (almost always).

However, after finding CtC and attempting USX/DWPS, my form ‘naturally’ appears to be very similar to what Tommy (or Evan Marshall) does on fast runs. I feel like a lot of motion/energy is coming from the shoulders and the whole guitar ‘shakes’ when doing fast runs and to me it doesn’t seem consistent. It feels like I am ‘muscling’ through it and can feel definitely feel it in the shoulder joint (doesn’t hurt or anything).
I want to keep working on this technique as I prefer the tone when picking this way. The notes are so powerful and authoritative and you get a great snap from the rest stroke.

I also remember watching the old Batio interview and towards the end Troy moves his camera to get a different shot of Batio’s picking technique. In that scene, it appears that there is a lot of shoulder (or maybe elbow) motion involved in his technique and the guitar ‘shakes’ when Batio alternate picks.

Is this something that is fully understood? Any other forum members who play like this?

Maybe I’m over analyzing it…


Great clip! And short sleeves, ha. Tommy is the best. I do see the upper arm / rotator cuff action there. It’s not entirely clear if that’s what I’m doing, and we’ve sat around the office trying to see if that’s really happening when I do the really fast elbow stuff. It’s just not as obvious visually and we can’t tell. But the guitar definitely shakes in that 225bpm clip. So if we can’t measure the rotator cuff motion, maybe guitar shake is easier secondary evidence to look for.

Either way what I can tell you is I like the technique, it feels comfortable, and I don’t find the shake to be a problem. So I wouldn’t worry if that’s happening as long as it sounds and feels good. If you’re saying it doesn’t sound or feel optimal, like you’re missing notes or something feels awkward, then that’s a different problem and I would maybe tool around with some changes to see what effect they have. You can try the forearm motions in the new tutorials, especially the flexed one, since it uses basically the same arm position, and is also USX. It’s just a slightly different way of moving that is more wrist and arm turning rather than elbow action.

You can also try different grips, which sometimes just makes things feel different enough that you move differently as a result.

When in doubt link to a clip and we’ll take a look and see if we can spot anything.

If it matters I’d love to chirp in that a Tommy analysis/interview would be awesome!!

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