Trapped vs Escaped pick stroke - TONE

I take online acoustic guitar lessons with Bryan Sutton, who is one the greatest bluegrass acoustic guitar player of all time. He says one of our important single string articulations for accenting the musical phrase is a downstroke versus an upstroke. He says the downstroke is rich and full bodied, while the upstroke is thinner sounding.

I tried this and this tonal difference is true. But it is true when I downward pick slant, but what I found is that I can reverse this tonal difference when I upward pick slant and get a fuller tone on the upstroke.

So here is what I think is going on.


With a downstroke using a downward pick slant, where the downstroke brings the pick below the strings, the downstroke actually pushes the string slightly towards the body of the guitar, and after the immediate release of a downstroke, the string has an initial acceleration vector that travels away from the body of the guitar. The strings initial energy is away from the guitar, away from the frets, away from the bridge, and away from the nut.


With an upstroke using a downward pick slant, where the upstroke brings the pick above the strings, the upstroke actually pulls the string slightly away from the body of the guitar, and after the immediate release of an upstroke, the string has an initial acceleration vector that travels toward the body of the guitar. The strings initial energy is slamming toward the guitar, into the frets, into the bridge, and into the nut.

The string travel and tone is reversed if you switch to an upward pick slant.



This is true, and a great observation. “Pleasing” alternate picking — to me, and I suspect, to most players — has a pulse, where the two pickstrokes don’t sound identical. When they sound too similar, it can sound fatiguing, like really repetitive banging on a single note.

You are correct that there is a pickslanting component to this, but it’s not about upward versus downward pickslanting. Remember, when you use pickslanting, it’s not just the pick that it slanted. The entire motion path is also slanted. Relative to each other, they are about 90 degrees. So when you use “dwps”, let’s say, at 10 degrees, you do that because the motion is also tilted 10 degrees in the opposite direction. In effect, you have dialed out the effect of the tilted motion on the sound of your attack by changing the pick’s orientation. That is the purpose of pickslanting.

If you were to do this exactly on the money, at 90 degrees, downstrokes and upstrokes would sound identical, and you would get the hammering effect. If you are off by a tiny bit, you will have an angle of attack that’s — just hypothetically — 89 degrees in one direction, and 91 in the other. The 91-degree pickstroke would be your accented pickstroke, and the 89 would be your smoother pickstroke.

Depending on which way you’re “off”, you can cause the accent to be on whichever pickstroke you want. You can have “DWPS” with an accented downstroke, or “DWPS” with an accented upstroke. And you can do this with nothing but small grip changes, because you only need a degree or two of being “off” to create the accents, or to smooth them out. We actually demonstrate how to do this right here:

I love this passage.

Speaking of tone and a similar principle of slight offsets producing beautiful things, I’ve been playing around with an 80s style dual stereo delay, and a 415ms / 425ms delay in series sounds so good. Better than 2 x 420ms with extra modulation.

Many things in life are like this :slight_smile: Beautiful together because they’re slightly different.

“The trapped stroke is rich and full bodied, while the escaped stroke is thinner sounding.”

Is that the generalization? I think the trapped stroke can have more energy for a lot of people, but I’m not sure.

That’s it!!! Good one, Simple and clear.

A Trapped Stroke sounds fuller and richer than an Escaped Stroke which sounds thinner.

This is for acoustic guitar, my electrics are packed away. I’m guessing that it won’t be true for electric.

Before commenting, everyone should grab their acoustic guitar and test this.

Well, Bryan’s downstrokes are escape strokes. So somebody’s lying here!

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Bryan does do escaping downstrokes when speed demands that. But he also uses trapped downstrokes all the time, for the express reasons of getting a better solid tone which stands out. In fact, he does full on rest strokes with the pick slamming trapped into the string below the string he just picked.

Sorry! That was an attempt at humor. I know nobody here is “lying”. Apologies for the clumsiness.

No doubt if you are picking strongly enough to cause a rest stroke, it will be loud. I agree with that completely.

What I assumed you were talking about here, and please correct me if I’m wrong, is how within a continuous picking motion with no overt accents, there is still a dominant pickstroke and a softer one. If so, then yes, I have noticed this, and I think it’s pretty interesting because I think a lot of us, myself included, think of alternate picking as a stream of evenly played notes, when in fact, that’s not what it appears to be when great players do it.

In the case of Bryan’s technique, there is a great video someone filmed over his shoulder at a clinic where you can see pretty clearly what’s going on. When he’s playing more slowly, he uses a double escape motion, and when he gets any faster it becomes the single-escape motion that we would have called “uwps” and which I now perhaps more generically think of as simply a downstroke-escape motion.

Was he referring to the pulse of these two motions as having the fuller-sounding downstroke? If he was, then neither of them are trapped. So however he’s getting that fuller sound, he’s getting it some other way. That was what I was getting at.

Yes, by all means please delete his response, and thanks for posting.

I would only ask that you pick up your Martin, get a solid pick, and listen closely to trapped versus escaped single downstrokes.

On Acoustic, I don’t care how hard I press into an escaped downstroke, it never has that full round tone of a trapped downstroke. Try the D string. It’s not just volume.

Let me know when your experiment is complete.

I don’t know what to say about that video, but Bryan has us practicing trapped downstrokes, where we pick through the string onto the lower string and it’s a tone difference, not only volume.

I’ve done this experiment many times, especially when filming the pick design and function section we put up in the past few months and trying to figure out how pick attack really works. I can get a whole range of tones on our studio D28 and BueChip / Primetone-style pick, just by changing the angle of attack as I outlined above. I can get downstrokes and upstrokes, both trapped and escaped, to have lots of bass, less bass, and everywhere in between, just by varying the angle of attack and the edge picking parameters.

I can’t really tell if there’s anything categorically different about the tone of a pickstroke just because some move in a particular direction. There may be! But I think you’d need a really controlled measuring environment to know for sure, with a machine doing the plucking for total consistency. And someone with a science background, and not a dope like me, doing the test.

Here’s the video of Bryan’s playing:

This looks essentially identical to what we see in the overhead shots of David Grier’s technique that we filmed recently:

These guys are both essentially uwps players who do not, as a rule, make trapped downstrokes outside of overt accents. [ Edit: i.e. Once they get beyond slow-ish speeds. At lower tempos where efficiency matters less, both players do all sorts of things. ] If Bryan thinks his downstrokes are more full-sounding even during continuously smooth alternate picking, then I think the pick attack geometry is what’s giving it to him, not rest strokes or non-resting trapped pickstrokes.

I agree with @strum’s initial observations about pushing the string into the body with a downstroke or away from the body with an upstroke. (Even if it turns out that this isn’t what Bryan Sutton or others actually do 100% of the time.) When I studied classical I was taught to push the string down into the soundboard rather than to pluck the string in order to achieve a fuller, richer tone often with more volume. Obviously there are lots of variables at work but I still think this generally holds true for pickstyle playing as well.

I’m willing to be wrong on this! I’d also like to apologize again to @strum for derailing this thread. What I thought was being discussed here is why downstrokes and upstrokes can sound like they have differing attack even when you’re just humming along continuously in a phrase with otherwise no particular attempt to accent certain notes. I think that’s not what was actually being pointed out.

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I’m willing to be wrong too! I think these general rules apply - especially on acoustic instruments - but I’m sure things are probably way more complicated in the wild.

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ON topic: Bryan and most of the players we love in bluegrass do seem to use different mechanics depending on the goal of a phrase… solos are sometimes sacrificing “maximum tone” in favor of creating certain flourishes… and Bryan is an interesting case study, because he does do a lot of the motions that we obsess over in the rock thing. I think it might be worth noting the way we see a motion used in the head of a tune as opposed to a solo cutting loose. I think everyone is going to break every rule sooner or later, to good effect.

OFF topic: How have you enjoyed the lessons with Bryan? I am punishing my way through some resources I already own, but I was thinking of going through his online material and perhaps pursuing some lessons once my schedule opens up a bit this fall. I am sort of torn between the Chris Eldridge lessons and the Bryan Sutton lessons… (sorry to get off topic… totally appreciate it if you want to message me your response instead of clouding the waters, assuming you have a minute.)

Thanks @johnhorneguitar. I also signed up for classical lessons, and I have the bad habit of pulling the strings up like a claw. I didn’t put 2 and 2 together and see this as the reason why that technique was considered bad technique, other than being told it was bad.

No worries @Troy, but please explore this more for acoustic instruments.

@Chris_Ptacek Short answer, “I really like”, but I don’t want to advertise another site on Troy’s site, so I will PM you.