What is the purpose of starting with tremolo picking?

This site recommends starting your fast picking journey with developing a fast tremolo picking technique. I don’t know why.

When you tremolo pick that is something different than what you might be doing or using when you simply alternate pick a scale or something fast.

What are you supposed to do?

Once you get a fast tremolo picking technique established, are you supposed to play an A minor scale using the tremolo picking technique but you just try to slow down your right hand?

When we say tremolo picking, we really mean “find at least one motion with which you can pick fast on a single string “.

Once you have that, the next step would be to try and sync left and right hands on a bunch of single string licks, trying to use the fast picking motion you just found.

Then, you want to check what type of escape your picking motion has (e.g. it may be downstroke escape), and start working on multi string licks that have only that type of escape

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I think this is the reason you’re asking:

It’s not. There’s no such thing as a “tremolo” motion. It’s just a joint motion that goes back and forth, i.e. alternate picking. Fast motion is fast motion, and many people have trouble figuring out how to do fast motion that is comfortable and smooth, so this is the problem we want to solve first.

Once we have that, we can move on to other subjects.

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He might have the same “block” that I had before I came upon this site and the wonderful Season 1 videos that really opened my eyes. I looked upon tremolo picking as a very specific technique designed to produce one effect: y’know, that cool thing that Eddie does! For some reason, it never crossed my mind that that was also what the right hand had to be doing to execute lightning-fast alternate picking runs. I thought that the right hand was doing a somewhat different motion, I guess.

I think for a lot of us it came down to the mistaken thought process: “well obviously you can’t use tremolo picking as the basis for complex alternate picked licks, because on some licks you’d hit unwanted strings when you want to make a string change and I want to be able to strictly alternate pick ANYTHING, just like PLAYERXYZ (who doesn’t actually do it) does!”

Admittedly, there were some people advocating something that is essentially the “Yngwie approach” that has since been thoroughly described by CTC. Back then it was being discussed under the overloaded label “economy picking”. It’s not clear to me if the economy picking advocates of yore covered all the solutions in the Yngwie approach, or if they were mostly just focused on the general idea that you could accomplish adjacent string changes with “swept” strokes rather than strict alternate picking. Even so, for a lot of us, there was a mythos that many top players could alternate pick “anything” at crazy fast speeds, and anything less seemed like a compromise.

We can also see that what we now recognize as “double escape” picking can be done at impressive speeds, but it’s not what’s happening most of the time when we see people doing face-melting “alternate picking” licks. Granted, you probably see a higher proportion of “double escape” picking in bluegrass compared to rock. But as came up in another thread recently, you have a respected bluegrass guy like Bryan Sutton who finds his way through bluegrass standards while mainly using single-escape picking.

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It’s a little more complicated than that.

The first step is to accept that it may take a while and to have fun with it. Allow things to be messy. I’ll be referring back to this shortly.

Firstly, establish what exactly you’re looking to do. Be specific. No matter how difficult or “unrealistic” you may or may not think it possibly could be. For example “I want to be able to pick anything at any tempo with all dynamic option available to me” or “I want to be able to do everything with ONE grip” etc etc. Basically, be specific before you just start willy-nilly going with “what feels good”. What may feel right may not get you what you want, or at least may be a long and unnecessary road to get there.

Secondly, find players who have the skills you want. Closely look at their right hand. If you’re an over analytical type you may dissect it and determine whether or not the have a “pronated” or “Supinated” arm position. “Trigger finger” “3 finger” or any other sort of grip. Etc Etc. If you’re not so keen on doing all that, than simply start by mimicking their grip. Look at what joints seem to be moving when they play, look at their posture, etc etc. Look at the details.

I recommend simply copying a persons grip because for me, ultimately there really aren’t going to be THAT many ways to accomplish what I wanted personally. How many ways can you hold a pick in which you can mute and play open strings without totally changing the playing position? How are you going to get accuracy if too many joints are involved? Etc etc

So what you’ll notice is that the guys that really 'Have it" have pretty much the exact same grip. The examples I’m going to use are Andy Wood, Kevin Heiderich and Anton Oparin. They all have reached the pinnacle of alternate picking and they all have nearly the same exact grip and joint functionality. They can all mute or play open from the same position and they still have access to their fingers for hybrid picking without having to change grips.

The break down of this grip/joint function in my opinion is

  1. RELAXED trigger style grip. I personally think the way Troy shows it is WAY to tense. At least that’s what i ran into when trying to mimic his way of teaching it. You essentially want to relax your hand to where the fingers fall into their natural curvature and from there place your thumb upon your pointer finger.

  2. REINFORCE your pointer finger with the middle finger. This is INCREDIBLY important. It will limit the amount of involvement the thumb can introduce. Also, I believe it will increase the control of upstrokes by a small percentage. Mainly, we want to limit the thumb joints ability to get involved in our picking. This is MAJOR, do not ignore this. Credit goes to Anton for the gem. Really made a HUGE difference after YEARS of frustration.

  3. MAIN POINT OF CONTACT should be in the Pisiform area of the hand and on the saddles of the guitar where the strings enter., everyone is going to have slightly different anatomy so this is where you’ll have to play around and find something comfortable that doesn’t compromise the pick grip and still allows you to mute and play open strings. There’s room for slight variation here, but refer to the players mentioned as examples.

Now that we’ve established this much, we can almost talk about where TREMOLO comes in.

For developing this method of picking I recommend trying to stick to playing pretty much exclusively from the wrist. Getting too many joints involved will just complicate things.

From here, try to start a tremolo. Stay RELAXED and make SURE you’re picking in a STRAIGHT LINE through the string. Do NOT try to do a “downstroke escape” or an “upstroke escape” focus on picking EXCLUSIVELY from the wrist and picking in a straight line. Watch for forearm rotation creeping in and finger joints getting involved. If you’re having trouble grasping the idea of picking with the wrist joint, think of it like opening a jar of peanut butter. If feels weird you may have too much wrist extension. My wrist doesn’t like to pick from an extended position and prefers a neutral to slightly flexed position. Experiment with that.

Once you feel like you’ve gotten this “okay”, see if you can mute/unmute or play softer/louder WITHOUT change your grip or shifting your hand TOO much.

Get this than someone can explain string crossing.

I have seen many, many YouTube videos where it appears that so many players are picking using their wrist. I don’t think I have that. Picking from the wrist does not feel completely comfortable to me. Steve Stine showed how he picks on YouTube. He described it as kind of like shaking off water. His forearm and wrist were rotating like turning a doorknob. If I could get that kind of motion going I think that would work. But I don’t know if a rotational picking motion can be done on the guitar to pick. I will have to try it and see.

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There’s a LOT of stuff on the site about motion mechanics, different joints for different movements, etc, what’s possible, what’s not. In the “picking primer” I think?

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