What's wrong with my picking?

Hi everyone,

My name is Rob and I’m new to the forum. I have been playing the guitar for fifteen years now and picking has always been my biggest weak point. This is my first post on this page, but I’ve been familiar with the Cracking the Code concepts since I first stumbled upon Troy’s Youtube channel seven or eight years ago. About a year ago I finally decided to make an account and work though the Pickslanting Primer. This helped me a lot to gain more insight and theoretical knowledge about picking, but I have trouble applying that to my playing.

This has also made me a bit hesitant to ask for help. I do understand how the different picking forms are supposed to work. I am also aware of the importance of finding a balance between the pickslant, motion path and picking pattern. Unfortunately, I just don’t know how to make those things work for me. For the last seven or eight years I feel like I tried everything. I have tried using different grips (side, angle pad, pad, middle finger), making different movements (fingers, wrist, forearm, elbow), changing my sitting position, use more supination, use less supination, changing the amount of edge picking, et cetera. It’s like I have all the pieces of the puzzle, but I can’t piece any of them together. Hopefully the forum can provide some help with this.

Some sort of wrist movement feels the most natural to me, but like with all movements, I feel like I have a lot of trouble actually getting through the string and sticking to the right motion path. This makes my picking feel very forced. I tend to tense up my right arm (I am right handed) during playing and I feel sore in my rear delt, tricep, wrist and forearm afterwards. Sometimes I feel my wrist and elbow clicking and popping. I also have trouble finding a comfortable pick grip. When I speed up, my index finger almost collapses and I lose my grip on the pick. Weirdly enough, my guitar teacher says that he can’t see me tensing up. My physiotherapist couldn’t find anything either. Neither can I when I film my own playing. The following video shows me in my normal sitting position:

This is also my maximum picking speed. I can pick (sorta relaxed) at around 100 bpm. Anything higher than that tends to burn me out. I understand the importance of ‘starting fast’ and I have tried to find a fast motion by bumping up the metronome, but I get really tense by doing that. In the table tapping test I could tap at around 200 bpm, so I guess it has to do with my technique. Anyways, here are a couple of close ups of my playing:

And another one:

I noticed that the pick has trouble getting through the strings. It seems that there are garage spikes on both the upstroke and downstroke. My theory is that this lack of smoothness forces me to tense up and use my triceps (or other bigger muscles) to power through the string. This would also explain why I tend to lose my grip on the pick. The resistance might just be too big to maintain a normal grip. The rest of the motion doesn’t look that strange or dysfunctional, as far as I can tell at least.

Does anyone else see anything odd about my picking? Am I doing the motion wrong? What causes the garage spikes? I would like to keep on trying, but I don’t know where to start or what to adjust.

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Your second video looks like crosspicking from the wrist to me (which is great! I’m trying to work out how to do that currently). Are you are able to rolls comfortably? If 100bpm 16th notes is the fastest you can go, that makes me suspicious of stringhopping, but that video doesn’t look like it to me.

The third video looks to me like you are doing USX (the downstrokes seem to get buried in the string below) but using a reverse dart-thrower motion. I was doing a more extreme version of this and have been working on fixing it. Have you tried changing the angle your forearm takes by resting a different part of the base of your hand on the bridge? In other words, you could try either the Andy Wood setup (he rests the pisiform bone, which is hard to describe in words, but is the bony prominence of the wrist on the pinky side of the palm, on the bridge) or the Molly Tuttle setup (which from memory involves resting the base of the thumb- the thenar eminence- on the bridge and will result in your forearm rotation rotating in the other direction). I think the amount of supination/pronation you use might help you end up with a good DSX motion.

Like you, I struggle to recognise what’s wrong with my own playing, and it took a TC with Troy to point out what I was doing. I’d suggest that if nothing else works, put one in.


Thank you for your time and your suggestions!

Yes, I do a lot of one note per string lines in my playing. 100 bpm is my maximum speed in everything. So, doing 3 or 4 nps rolls has always felt the same as doing a tremolo line on a single string. You might be onto something in that the movement could be jumpier than it looks on camera. I don’t know how to describe it exactly, but the feeling is more like slamming into the strings.

I will definitely try to change my forearm angle. I had I lot of trouble in past figuring out what part of my hand should rest on the bridge (I come from a classical background with a floating wrist), but your descriptions are very clear. It doesn’t hurt to try again.

Thanks again for your suggestions! Hopefully Troy is able to help you with your own playing. It can sometimes be difficult to translate the CTC concepts into what you’re feeling and doing.

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I’d be suspicious of a motion that won’t go past 100. Stringhopping or not, your hand looks relatively coordinated so there shouldn’t be a reason that holds you back from going quite a bit faster than this

Me too! Be careful though because their (i.e. classical guitar instructors, in general) mentality of only playing everything perfectly and never advancing the speed until you feel completely in control are the exact opposite of how you unlock fast motions. It might even be what’s holding you back. Imagine you can only walk but you really want to be able to sprint. You’ll never get there by gradually walking faster. There is a point where walking becomes jogging and it’s a totally different motion. There’s a point where jogging becomes sprinting and it’s a different motion. The only way to find out what these motions are is to dive in. It might be a little messy, but at some point you’ll feel something different and then you can work with it.

The other thing I’d say from watching your videos is that the pick looks like it’s getting stuck on the strings. That extra resistance might be another issue. It could make you feel like you can’t go any faster. Have you tried a slightly more pointy pick and introduced some edge picking? Or other changes, such as different grips or even different motions entirely? Not sure if you’ve been through the Pickslanting Primer or not, but all this stuff is detailed in there.

The overall theme is that if we keep doing what we’re used to, we can’t expect any changes. Motions that can’t go fast won’t magically one day become fast, no matter how many reps we throw at them. Motions that go fast will be fast from nearly the very beginning. The hard part is then taming the motion, understanding it’s implications (i.e. if it escapes on up/down strokes and pairing the proper phrases with it) and making great music with it. Don’t get stuck on the easy part, which is finding the fast motion. Troy shows us several, try them all and if one doesn’t work, move on to the next. I know you’ve got at least one in you, just about everyone does :slight_smile: If you can do a scratch off, or scramble eggs, rapidly smash a button on an arcade game, knock on a door urgently, fan a small cloud of smoke away etc etc etc…you’ve got a fast motion that can more or less be translated into picking. Good luck!! You’ve come to the right place to learn speed!

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I think your motion isn’t centered. Your wrist can deviate further towards the pinky (ulnar) than the thumb (radial), so the starting position of your wrist should be cocked slightly towards your pinky.

4:35 - 5:15 is the relevant portion of the video.

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Thank you both for your feedback!

I also noticed that the pick is getting stuck. Perhaps you’re right in that introducing some more edge picking could solve this.

Thank your for your suggestion! Deviating a bit more towards my pinky would force me to pick at a greater angle. This might be a good way to introduce some more edge picking (also mentioned above by others).

If I remember correctly, I stopped experimenting with this because my wrist was getting too cocked toward my pinky and the pick was almost approaching the strings vertically. This wasn’t really comfortable. However, now that I think of it, I guess I could also work on this by changing my approach angle. I feel like my arm is coming in relatively parallel to the strings. In order to get some amount of edge picking, I need to deviate towards my pinky. If I were to increase my overall approach angle (by coming in more vertically from the elbow), my wrist would have to bend less while keeping the benefits of edge picking. I will try to experiment a bit more this week.


Yeah. Since your pick tip is a little “rounder” that may dull the tone more than you’d like. That’s why pairing with a slightly more pointy pick may be another good change.

I don’t remember ever seeing this suggestion in a critique, but pick depth could be another reason the pick gets stuck.

Then there is also what Troy calls “pick point”. That is the degree of where the pick is pointing (i.e. straight towards the head of the guitar vs slightly toward the ceiling or floor)

Lastly, grip tension. Relaxing the hold on the pick some can alleviate some resistance.

The main thing is to try changing many things and taking note of the difference you feel until you can tremolo at least 160 - 180. That should be attainable with no feeling of excess tension when the motion is correct.

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Try changing something. I lose my chops if the action is too low, sometimes high action is easier. Looks like your pick is really stiff, mayby you should try a really soft pick, grab it tight and let the tip flex. Paul Gilbert uses a 0.5 mm pick - there are no rules. Try picking from your elbow. You might get some new ideas. I’s a good idea to experiment if you’re struggling instead of trying “more of the same”.

I recommend you( in no particular order other than A):
a) do the tapping tests in the primer
b) try a bunch of random ways of holding the pick, angling the wrist angle and anchoring the hand, even if you don’t want to
c) try just being a total spazzoid with whatever picking position feels comfortable, like flail about and make noise
d) try strumming, because you can’t strum fast without being relatively relaxed, oh…and let it sound like total shit as long as its fast.
e) If strumming helps, do that for a bit. Think about what it feels like, and try to make the strums smaller, strum 4 strings, down to 3, down to just 2. Just try to minimize the movement, even if this doesn’t end up being your final picking position, you can alter that later.
f) once you find something that you can do fast and shittily, start brute forcing for small intervals, or you could say speed bursts, either way play at the most relaxed tempo, than sharply burst into speed, when it gets tense gradually back down to the relaxed tempo and try to be MINDFUL of what that relaxation response feels like.
g) okay if you’ve read all this, good job, however THIS is the most important part, okay…you ready?..take a deep breath right now… okay the most important thing is…have fun, make it fun, don’t beat yourself up, don’t compare yourself, don’t micromanage imperfections, trust the process and breath. besides, getting frustrated, disappointed, impatient, etc you name a negative emotion, it stifles the process of myelination and only makes the process even longer. When you get down, or your having a bad day, or it just doesn’t feel good theres 2 options depending on the severity of the negativity

  1. tell yourself you’re okay with not playing your best today or that its okay that its not a great feeling practice session and proceed with having fun or doing your best or even shortening the session.
  2. if it’s a real bad day, just say, hey i’m having a really bad time and that’s okay, I’m gonna take a break today, get some good sleep tonight and come back tomorrow refreshed and fully believing I can do this no matter what!


hope that helps

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It’s been a year, but if you never got this worked out, it’s pretty clear to me from your “Single string (fast and slow motion)” video that you are using way too much of the pick to strike the string. You’re digging in too deep. You only need enough of the tip that allows you to still strike the note hard. That’s why your pick is getting hung up. And your pick motion is just WAY too big. Some of those upstrokes are going up to the next string, if not over.