USX Motion Checklist — Get Your Wrist Motion Happening

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Ok we just added a page to the Pickslanting Primer with some pretty detailed, step-by-step instructions for getting USX wrist motion to happen. This is the textual counterpart to the Pickslanting Primer’s first motion tutorial chapter, and it covers everything I can think of that you’d need to do to completely duplicate what I’m doing when I use this motion.

In general, the Pickslanting Primer will become more Wikipedia-like over time, with important terms linked to the places where they are covered. This will eventually include an index so you can look up key terms. What it will not provide is a glossary. Mainly because I don’t think that’s a good idea. The best way to learn about this stuff is to watch the lesson chapters and try the motions hands-on, or to spend a while reading about the concepts involved. A one-liner in a dictionary isn’t really helpful for presenting things in context. But with an index it should be a moot point anyway. A couple clicks gets you to the right place.

If you are still working on these motions, and you get a chance to try out these instructions, please let us know if you think they’re clear and of course whether or not they’re working for you. We’ll update the Primer, including its wiki-style pages, as often as we need to, to get everything over the hump of actually doing this stuff.

Let us know.

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Huge fan of checklists. Thanks!

Two things that are a bit unclear to me:

  1. What’s the anchor point at the other extreme, i.e when playing on the low E string? When I try this, and just play like pentatonic sixes from top E to low E, my arm tracks to where both the thumb- and pinky-heel are on the body of the guitar. Is that right?
  2. If you’re starting a line on the low E string, with palm muting, what part is muting that string? The guide makes it sound like the pinky-heel should be doing that job, but if I put my pinky-heel on the low E string the only way I’m hitting the string with the pick is with radial instead of ulnar deviation.

Good question! In the interest of simplicity, I left that out. I’m happy enough if a beginner can get this going, one note on the G or B strings, just to start.

Yes, correct, technically, you would move to a body anchor and there would still be no muting of the note you are actually playing. If you’re doing muting on the low string, then you probably have a radial offset and that’s not the form we’re looking for here.

In general, I think a lot of people screw up their form trying to get muting on the note they’re actually playing, and thus misunderstand how the picking motion is supposed to work. My best guess is that just going for noise control muting to start with, and a fast fluid picking motion, is the first step that will get everyone closer to actually doing the movement correctly.

This is good information too, though! Once you think you can do it on the G or B string the next thing to do is to try other stuff. Since you’re trying this form because famous player X is using it and he can palm mute on the low E string, you might conclude that you’re doing it wrong when you can’t, not realizing that he’s using a slightly different technique to do that.

Yeah, it’s ridiculuously complicated. It took basically years of interviews and trial and error to figure out what matters and what doesn’t, especially when relatively few players are the “textbook” type example where they use mainly one form most of the time. Some do, like Albert Lee for example. But he’s not muting those low notes so you’re not going to see those changes.

For good metal players, what you will often see is they switch motions entirely to get the muting. They’re do more of gypsy-style forearm-wrist blended motion when they really want to lay on those low strings, and then they’ll switch to something more wrist or elbow oriented for the upper string lead playing.

For a good example of how to have your ulnar offset and muting at the same time, here’s Andy Wood:

I pulled this out during editing a couple years back, short as it is, because this is a great example of how you can do both. i.e. With the lowered approach angle so your palm heels are basically still touching the string you’re playing.

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Previously my USX has been forearm rotation kinda like Yngwie does it, except I haven’t ever gotten it reliable or fast enough (max is about 16th’s @ 170bpm). I randomly skip notes or get sudden sub-second tension moments that screw the rhythm and flow even in one string tremolo. My DSX also had a bit of forearm rotation and knocking-at-the-door motions and wasn’t strict wrist deviation.

Playing odd notes per string things that require 2wps was difficult because changing between USX and DSX was cumbersome because of the totally different feels between the two motions.

So, I saw the USX Motion Checklist and also the Downstroke Escape chapter, and set the goal to master pure wrist deviation without any rotations or other extra movements for both USX and DSX.

I managed to get the DSX (https://troygrady.com/primer/wrist-motion/chapter-4-downstroke-escape/) happening quite well and relaxed in about 3-4 practices during 2 days or so. But the USX is not so easy for me. Troy says that it should feel relaxed with no tension, but I need to apply quite a lot of tension (in this muscle for one I believe as I get the burning sensation after a while: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extensor_carpi_ulnaris_muscle) to keep the motion straight. If I try to relax, rotation movement is immediately introduced which I want to avoid. I can do relaxed wrist deviation USX if I keep the tempo very very slow (16th’s @ 30bpm or so).

With DSX I also had to use tension at first to keep the motion straight and pure wrist deviation, but I slowly learned to relax little by little, and now I can do 16th’s @ 170bpm or so. Going faster tension creeps in.

I guess my question is, if someone has never done pure wrist deviation, should the motion still feel relaxed and fast in the first day? And if so, how do you know because you might have built the neural pathways and developed muscles to do it and other muscles that stabilize the movement (keep it from going off the rails into rotation) already?

And another question, has anyone else went through the tension first before learning to relax it later? Obviously care should be taken to practice only short periods at a time.

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Thanks for the feedback here and great questions!

In general when you are new to a motion there is the potential for awkwardness. You may only be able to do a motion a few times before it becomes something else or you try to use other unnecessary muscles and feel ‘tension’. But those few times should be smooth.

Over time you learn to do it for longer and longer phrases with smoothness and no interference. So the thing to look for is can you do it at least a few times at the faster speed with no tension? If so good, you are on the right path.

Re: USX vs DSX, these motions are almost identical. There is very little difference in muscle use and essentially no difference in form. If you can do one well, there should be no change in that feeling when switching. So don’t try to ‘do’ too much. You’re just changing the angle at which the wrist is moving, nothing else.

In fact they are so similar that I recommend taking the one you can do and immediately moving on to musical phrases. Especially longer ones of at least a couple bars where you can get going and stay going. When you can do these uninterrupted and smooth, try mixing in some phrases where there are small bits of upstroke string changes but try not to overthink them. See if you can figure out by feel how to play those sections accurately, mixed in with the DSX motion.

Intellectually, you and I “know” what needs to happen there, and that knowledge is extremely powerful. You know some small change in motion needs to happen and it might feel a little different, but that it should still be smooth and not interrupt the flow too much. See if you can feel your way through making those particular string changes happen.

In this way you can maybe use the thing you have to go in the back door of the other thing you want to develop. And maybe it won’t even matter that much if you build out some awesome DSX vocabulary lines.

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Yeah, that was the main driver why I decided to learn the pure deviation movements. However at this point, the DSX feels different as I can rest (and even push a little) my arm, wrist and heel of the palm against the guitar body and bridge to help avoid any rotation whereas USX requires a slight flexion which pulls the arm in the air a bit causing surprising difficulties because of the different feel. But I’m working on it.

And forgot to thank you in my previous post, now I’m quite happy with my DSX, surprised I got it down quite quickly following your excellent instructions.

I will incorporate the tips you gave next time I play, so thanks again!

There should be no wrist flexion in the USX form. The downstroke starts with the wrist straight on the flexion-extension axis and straight on the deviation axis. That’s the key that keeps the forearm out of the equation. As soon as you flex the wrist, there is a tendency to rest on the pinky side of the hand. This effectively blocks the ulnar side of the movement. The only available range of motion is the radial side, and to get enough range of motion on that side, the arm turns.

Instead, keep the wrist in line with the arm, exactly the same as you do for DSX. Here’s what this centralized form looks like when I switch between the two motions:

I consider this checklist and video possibly the most significant of all that CtC has ever produced. This is entirely personal, of course. I’ve tried probably all techniques shown here, at least briefly, during the past year. They all work, but I am not able to connect them.

For me, to use the same form in USX and DSX is the Keys to the Kingdom. However I shove my pick to the strings, I can do some form of picking, but to consistently move from one motion to another is impossible without this exact form found in the checklist.

I’ve come to recognize that I am not able to do just USX or DSX. I need the occasional trip to the upside-down world and my form was very much different for USX and DSX.

My conclusion is that if your hands are the size of a dinner plate, you may well stick to just one slant. Anchor your fingertips to the body and give yourself time to switch strings. If your hands are not so big, keep your fingers curved, not touching the body and move your wrist up and down the bridge to track strings. Use ulnar offset for the picking motion.

Hand size is not an issue at CtC, but I think it probably is as much an issue for the right hand, if not more so, than for the left.

Glad you found this helpful. We’re learning more all the time, and we’ll arrive at something this clear for every motion we teach eventually.

Not sure what you mean about hand size. I’m not a very large person and I have no problem playing with a gypsy or Yngwie style where we only do certain kinds of string changes. It’s just another language with a slightly different vocabulary. No preference on my part - the more the merrier.

It seems to me that to reach low E and A strings is difficult, if your hand does not have enough width, when you keep some anchor point at the guitar body with your fingertip(s). No one has done a study, probably, but I would bet that people with small hands generally don’t anchor and people with big hands often do.

I know I am not contributing anything very meaningful to this conversation by talking about hand dimensions, but my current view is that it might be more important for picking hand than the other. Has to do with how wide your hand is. Finger length is not an issue, really.

Totally a contribution! Positioning is an important topic.

Re: hand size, I am one of those slightly smaller-handed people. I can reach a three-string distance more or less comfortably from one anchor point. So I don’t move much if I’m playing acros a three-string group. If I have to play across more strings than that, I’ll move. But once I get to the new location, if I have to reach a three-string distance, I tend to stay there anchored in the new spot.

What I’m not following is the connection to doing the two different wrist motions from a centralized arm position. It’s not clear to me that this is related to hand size or anchoring. Just as an example, if I want to play in a Gypsy-type style, where I only do upstroke string changes, I’ll do it with the anchoring approach I’m describing above. I can get all six strings that way. There is no need to use the opposite wrist motion to do that, even though I have smaller hands.

On the flipside, if I want to use both wrist motions, I can use the same anchoring approach. But now I’m just making the two different wrist motions on whichever strings I’m close to. I don’t think my hand size influences whether I choose single-escape or both escapes.

Let me know if I’m understanding what you’re getting at!

We made several minutes of updates to the USX chapter of the Pickslanting Primer this weekend to include feedback from all the recent and very valuable discussions we’ve been having in “Technique Critique”. Those edits have been uploaded and you can watch them now:

For example, the whole “body contour” problem, leading to unwanted wrist flexion, was a big hole in our instructions. It would be super easy for someone to hold the guitar the way they always do, and not be able to figure out why their arm position doesn’t look like the one we’re using in the lesson, or why the motion doesn’t work the way they want it to. Here’s what the “contour problem” looks like:

And here’s what the solution looks like:

In the video lesson, we now demonstrate the motion with this overhead shot so you can see exactly what it’s supposed to look like when done correctly.

We also address how to use a trigger-style grip without the knuckles dragging on the strings, and without needing to lift up the fingers uncomfortably to avoid this problem. And finally, we’re now super duper clear about the range of motion needed to perform this motion, with visual overlays for the straightness of the wrist and a note about not going beyond this point.

The USX motion checklist has also been updated to include details on all these points, with images for each of them:

Many thanks to those who have contributed feedback on all this, and especially to those intrepid explorers who posted videos and asked questions. If you don’t get feedback from users, then you really have no idea if your stuff is actually working. So that feedback is super valuable and all of it goes right back into the product as quickly as we can get it in there.

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For some reason hadn’t seen that most excellent Switching Escapes video. It illuminates unfortunately that I had my DSX wrong, I had slightly pronated arm instead of your slightly supinated! Took me a few days to get the DSX somewhat doable with supination, nowhere as smooth and steady as with pronation sadly. The tip of the pick tends to dive under the string on the upstroke and get stuck easier. (And as a side note, I had to give up using the trigger grip here because on the upstrokes the string sometimes penetrated under the fingernail of my index finger if I wasn’t extra careful and it hurt a lot lol?)

Also after viewing the updated checklist and many days of trying USX I’ve realized I simply have to hold up my right arm in the air to keep the wrist straight to avoid flex and thus avoid rotation, even with a guitar with only a very slight contour. This allows only one point of anchor which is the palm, and also makes the shoulder tired with burning sensation after only 10-15 seconds which seriously limits the practice time. Hopefully the shoulder will become stronger eventually, as my previous forms have been “lazy slouch” types without any supporting muscle activity. Even with this form and without flex it’s hard to avoid rotation or knock-on-the-foor movement, currently I’m up from the 30bpm speed to 60bpm but any higher will instantly introduce unwanted movements or stop escaping. In any case, it’s a slow progress and I’m hoping at some point it will click and I can do the jump to 150bpm+ speeds.

You shouldn’t be keeping the arm in the air without contacting the guitar! Nobody plays that way that I’m aware of and I’m sure you’ll get tired trying to keep your arm that way. Sorry for the confusion on this — that was just a way of helping you visualize what straight looks like so you can find a comfortable anchor position that comes close to that.

The guitar I’m using in the lessons has a Fender arm contour and there may be very slight flexion in my form which is fine. A few degrees is ok. The idea was to communicate clearly that a pronounced ‘Gypsy flex’ is not what we are looking for, and to provide a simple explanation (elbow behind the body) for why that sometimes happens.

Regarding speed are you talking about 90bom sixteenths? That’s way too slow. If for some reason you can’t move faster than that, then this suggests there is something wrong with the motion and I would stop trying “work it up to speed”. Instead, find a motion you can do more quickly from the start because that is the one that is working better.

Edit: Sorry, I was on the train and replied before reminding myself what thread I was replying to! I had visions of you trying to play guitar with no anchor point and burning out from exhaustion and wanted to make sure yoiu didn’t do any more of that.

The name of the game at this stage is finding motions that you can do that are working. You’ve had some successes here. There is nothing wrong with a pronated form if that’s the one that’s working for you. We have a whole chapter on that in the wrist lessons because it works. David Grier, Molly Tuttle, Oz Noy, and Frank Gambale all play that way part of even all of the time in Molly’s case, so you’re in good company.

Once you get anything that’s clicking at all, transition to building out musical vocabulary. The smoothness and consistency will come with time so long as you are feeding these motions with variety and keeping an eye on how smooth they feel. I’m hardly the fastest player in the world and probably not even the fastest player on this forum. But I have tons of options in the 140-180bpm range where lots of music happens. On average just given the stuff we have to demonstrate and teach, I will make much more use of those tempos than the relatively less common times when I have to play a shred pattern at 200-210bpm.

I mean, how fast is this really? 150 maybe? Within your wheelhouse with your pronated form if you want it.