Tremolo critique

Hi all! I’ve been playing for almost 20 years and I’m a recovering “string hopper.” I’m eager to put that bad habit behind me and enjoy this instrument again.

I’ve spent a couple weeks playing with tremolos and I still feel a bit stuck.

I believe I have some issue with elbow motion. When I have a tremolo going that feels comfortable and effortless (which is rare, but it does happen), my forearm feels relaxed and it feels like my elbow isn’t really engaging. It feels like forearm or wrist motion. But as I switch strings or try to play a sequence of notes, my forearm tightens and my elbow engages. On lower strings, as you’ll see in the video, my elbow tries to kickstart the tremolo and then it continues to fight whatever other motion(s) I’m using.

My questions are:

  1. what motion(s) am I using?
  2. how do I prevent other motions from interfering?
  3. if I can get a fluid tremolo on single strings, how do I slow it down or tame it for actual playing?
  4. any other feedback that might help me make progress?

Looking forward to your feedback.

I see what you mean about elbow creeping in.

I’d say you have a good start on a forearm-wrist blend similar to Doug Aldrich. Definitely seeing “upstroke escape” trajectory in any case.

Not sure I have a good answer re: “prevent other motions from interfering”. Anecdotally, I find that using a slightly more flexed wrist posture (starting to look a little more like a “gypsy jazz” style setup) tends to invite the forearm rotation aspect to dominate more, which might help quiet the elbow if that’s your goal. As you get a feel for it, you may find you’re able to replicate the motion you want even without extra wrist flex in your setup.

Re: “how do I slow it down or tame it”: I think there are two things to think about. First is, if you’re goal is to play fast, you can immediately make attempts to coordinate your fretting hand with your picking hand at high speeds. If your fretting hand can’t keep up, try reducing the picking speed a little at a time, still trying to mimic as closely as you can the motion that you know can feel smooth at high speed. A textbook example would be to try to get “Yngwie sixes” (or any even-number repeating pattern) working on one string.

If you aren’t so interested in fast repeating licks, you probably at least want to experiment with gradually slowing the tremolo down, trying to mimic as closely as you can the way the movement feels when you’re doing “fast and smooth tremolo”. Once you get a handle on keeping that smooth, reliable motion with a single note, you can gradually add complexity.

In parallel to any of the above, I think the universal CTC advice is: don’t put off trying to work on musical phrases that you know you want to play. Most of your practice time should be dedicated to stuff you like that’s “musically useful”.


Thanks! This is very helpful. I’d appreciate any details on how to slow down the tremolo, while keeping the same relaxed motion. I’m finding this surprisingly difficult. As soon as I slow it down, it feels like an entirely different motion and I can sense I’m relapsing into “string hopping.” Any tricks to nudging down the tempo while still feeling the same relaxed fluidity of the tremolo?

One suggestion would be to film your fast movement. Then if you film unsuccessful attempts to slow it down, you might see how the slow form is diverging from the fast form.

I didn’t experience the problem you’re experiencing, but based on pure conjecture, I’d suggest matching a metronome to your fast technique. Then if you’re able to play your fast tremolo over a metronome, try dialing down the metronome tempo (and your picking along with it) in small steps until you can quantify the tempo range where the problems occur. Contrasting that with your “successful” fast attempts, both in feeling and in what the camera tells you, might help you find a way to get the results you want at the “problem” lower tempos.