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Mailbag: Picking / Smoothing It Out

Introduction and first question


Alrighty, it seems that even though I wrote like 4 articles about alternate picking, there still seem to be a few things I should mention.

Yes, I DID say that "Break It All Down" was the last one about picking, but hey, first of all, some things about picking have been discussed in the forums since that one was published, and 2.) if Ozzy can play SEVERAL "final" tours, I can write at least one more "final" article about picking, can't I?

And well, after we discuss these other points, why don't we take a look at what's next?!? Because, once we have the picking-thing working out, we can just as well take the next step and try to combine fast picking stuff with legato-parts... (refer to Good morning, left hand!)

But before we get to the fun part, let's do some work and discuss those other things about alternate picking. There are some details I might not have mentioned yet, or at least not emphasized as much as they might need to be emphasized.

Question 1: How to pick? Wrist or Elbow?

Well, this has been discussed in the forum. I also got a bunch of Email about it, so let's talk about it.

First of all, just like I said in the forum, I don't think that there is only one RIGHT way to do it. There are several ways to pick, either from the elbow, the wrist, or, utilizing movement from the thumb and index finger, there's "circular picking" (not to be confused with "circular breathing"... this is not Yoga!)

Now, to make this clear once again, I do use a picking motion mainly from the wrist. I was taught that way back at the GIT, and even before I used it, since it felt most comfortable for me. Also, I had seen many of my favorite players do it that way ( i.e. Paul Gilbert ). Let's take about those three possibilities...

1. Picking motion from the elbow

This is not really seen a whole lot (at least I think so), but I saw Vinnie Moore play that way, and he sure is playing fast!

The wrist is kept pretty stiff, while the whole forearm plus the hand is moved from the elbow.

I don't use this, but I of course won't keep you from using it or even trying it. But be careful. I once tried this for a while, and I got severe problems with my elbows, muscles and sinews (I guess some kind of a tendonitis). I just consider this to be not the most economical way of picking.

2. "Circular Picking"

This is another approach. I got the name "Circular Picking" from a book by Dave Celentano which I bought years ago. I heard of several players using this way of picking. This is how it works:

Both your elbow and your wrist are pretty much held stiff, while you "pivot" the pick by moving your thumb and index finger. This seems to be the most economical way of picking. I always had hard times adjusting to it, though, and I also felt as if it was pretty difficult to do fast picking on two adjacent strings at the same time (playing fast doublestops i.e.)

Some people tend to use a combination of wrist-movement and circular picking. It's up to you to try this and find out for yourself whether it works for you.

3. Moving from the wrist

As I mentioned several times before, this is the way guys like Paul Gilbert are doing it. I really feel most comfortable with this way of picking, and I really recommend it to you.

A part of my forearm is kinda resting on the upper part of the guitar, above the bridge. The hand is floating (more on that later), and I move loosely and relaxed from the wrist. The pick is slanted (which IMHO improves tone and helps to gain speed)

How to pick the best way to pick for yourself?

Well, that's left up to you. If you already decided and feel comfortable with any one of them, there ya go. You might wanna check out one of the other methods, but I usually think "If it works, don't fix it!"

One thing though... I remember that I once really hit a plateau... my picking worked well, but I was kinda stuck speed-wise. I was able to play sixtuplets at about 90 bpm, but I wasn't able to increase speed beyond that. It seemed that my right hand was "maxed out" at that speed. It was really frustrating.

I then looked at my right hand, experimenting with different angles, trying to figure out whether I was really picking in a way that would enable me to speed up.

Then I did an experiment. I picked only one note on the high E-string, and tried to pick it as fast as I could, not caring about accuracy etc. And guess what? Even though I really tried hard, I couldn't speed up a lot with the way I was holding my arm and hand.

So I kept picking and really picked hard and as fast as I could. I changed the way my arm was angled, I tried to relax the wrist.

Then I finally found the right way, and I was able to pick that one note REALLY fast. Now, what I had to do was
- memorize the exact way of picking, every detail (angle of the arm etc.)
- slow down again, starting from scratch, speeding up again slowly, now aiming for accuracy.

So, before you hit a rut with your picking, just try to pick as fast as possible to see whether you'll be able to speed up at all with the way you're currently playing. If you don't try my "pick the heck out of it"-method to find a better way, memorize it and use it in the future...

The floating hand >>