Alternate picking feedback

Discussion in 'Music Theory, Lessons & Techniques' started by MartinMTL, Aug 28, 2017.

  1. MartinMTL

    MartinMTL SS.org Regular

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    Hey guys!

    I have for the past year or more felt that I have run into a roadblock with alternate picking. I can't seem to improve my speed for scale-based runs, or even single string tremolo picking. Like, I'm maxing out at 150-160bpm (16th notes). Doesn't even qualify as tremolo picking.

    I've recently looked at my technique and am wondering if it's a mechanical issue. Should I keep doing what I always have as seen by the first example? Or is it way more efficient to do more of a rotation with the wrist as seen by the second?

    It feels awkward to me now, but by rotating the wrist I feel like there would be way less tension. Thoughts? Really would appreciate the help!

    Video for example:
     
  2. Spaced Out Ace

    Spaced Out Ace 0 0 1 0 0 6 5 0 3\

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    Would be better if we could see how you have the pick itself oriented.
     
  3. Element0s

    Element0s Low Fantasy/Black Denim

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    I've been an "Up and Down Wrist" guy (like the first example) for a long long time and I'm in the process of switching to the rotational motion. It's awkward as fuck but I've been drilling it 2-3 hours a day since Sunday and I'm already noticing improvements.

    The biggest challenges are tracking the strings that you are playing (because your centre of gravity is totally changed) and keeping the motions consistent.

    Take a simple shape that you can play easily on the left hand and set a metronome to "Dead Slow". Like 50 BPM (or 100 BPM in 8ths). I recommend doing these patterns on the thicker strings to start.

    [​IMG]

    Try orienting yourself in a similar position of Sir Django here, but with whatever variations you need to become comfy.

    Ok. So start by downpicking the simple repetitive patterns you've picked out using quarter notes. Use the wrist-turning, door-knob motion. Resist the urge to palm mute for now. Focus on an open, unmuted tremolo approach. Probably feels like shit, right? Like you're waving with zero tactile reference for where your hand is actually moving? This is good. The awkwardness means that you are learning. You are basically re-programming your DNA here, mate.

    Here's my strategy: Turn every down-pick motion into a Rest Stroke. Meaning that as your pick sliced down and strikes your target string, it will come to rest against the next string below it. Play all the notes in your chosen pattern this way. Just beat the fuck out of those downstrokes. Keep your forearm anchored against the body of the guitar, but keep your actual wrist/palm/fingers out of the way in a relaxed fashion. If you find your arm trying the hug the guitar for dear life, find a piece of soft foam or ball up a dry cloth and place it above the bridge and under your picking arm. We are re-orienting your centre of gravity. Your new centre of gravity is the string itself.

    This rest-stroke idea gives your picking hand a TARGET to aim for, and something tactile to "feel" when your hand is basically floating freely off the guitar. It will also give you a stronger attack which I think sounds better in rock/metal playing, if that's what you're aiming for.

    Once you've drilling this and dialed this in at your Stupid Slow tempo, try changing to alternate-picking. DON'T try to alternate-pick every note in your simple pattern just yet. Sit on one note for a couple beats and just focus on the back/forth motion of your forearm. Again, use the rest stroke idea: your down-stroke slashes through your target string and rests on the string below, then essentially bounces back on the up-stroke. Stick with this until it feels easy, however long that takes.

    If you're like me, then you might have a bad habit of gripping the pick too damn hard. This will make it difficult for the pick the cut through the string and will result in your hand just flopping like a dying fish across the guitar and will result in tension, stress, more accuracy and possibly injury down the road. You need a pretty light grip to make this work. I'm actually using 0.60 Dunlops for training this. I've gone back to my standard 1.5mm picks here and there and found myself easing up on my grip so that I can emulate the flex that the thinner picks have in order to smack the string around faster. This is the result I'm wanting.

    Once you've got the hang of 8ths, then you'll want to chuck in 16ths. This might be hard as fuck at first. I wouldn't try to do full-tilt 16ths right off the bat. I would sit on a note and do maybe | 8th - 8th 16th16th - 8th - 8th 16th16th | or similar. Change the pattern up, reverse it, put the 16ths in weird places. NEVER FORGET THE REST STROKE. The rest stroke is the GLUE that sticks this whole operation together. If every stroke is a rest stroke, then every stroke is travelling the same distance, which means that you're taking the random, flailing, uncontrolled aspect out of the motion that feels so awkward to you.

    I'm still in the early stages of practicing this, but I assure you that it's been a night/day improvement that you will see in DAYS if you do it right. Not Months, not weeks, but fucking DAYS.

    Good luck dude!
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2017
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  4. gorthul

    gorthul SS.org Regular

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    I had the same problem in the past, I also maxed out at around 150bpm and my picking was very inconsistent and did not sound good. I made the same mistake of doing the wrist adduction / abduction movement and my forearm was also in a degree greater than 10° from the strings.
    For a long time I thought that there was some secret I was missing or I simply was not born to speed pick, since everyone tells you to no pick from your elbow, but your wrist. However, the right way is to actually use a combination of hand pronation and supination while keeping the wrist in a fixed position, it should not move at all. By doing so you are actually picking from your elbow, but you're not using flexion and extension but the movement is only generated by moving your radial-ulnar joint. Imagine that you're having a slight tremor in your hand, that's actually the movement you want to utilize for your speed picking.
    Additionally, you should keep your forearm almost paralell (or less than 10° at least) to the strings with your hand sitting on the bridge of your guitar. Do not use the forearm contour on your guitar, your arm is not coming from the above but from behind the guitar, just as in the picture above posted by Element0s. By doing so you're reducing the angle of your pick towards the string, thus making it easier for the pick to just glide over the string because surface resistance is reduced.

    I'm no expert regarding tremolo and speed picking yet, but by using this I've been able to play the I Am The Black Wizards main riff a few days ago pretty cleanly. That was impossible before.
     
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  5. Metropolis

    Metropolis SS.org Regular

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    I suggest you to look things about pick slanting, pick angle and proper resting points for yout wrist and forearm, and find what style is most comfortable for your playing style.
     
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  6. Spaced Out Ace

    Spaced Out Ace 0 0 1 0 0 6 5 0 3\

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    This, which is why I asked about his pick orientation. Any advice I give won't matter without knowing this.
     
  7. Metropolis

    Metropolis SS.org Regular

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    Yes, those are far more crucial things for speed and playing mechanics. Most players tend to use combination of up and down and circular wrist movement depending on situation. It should be something that comes naturally, nothing physically forced or too over thinked.

    This was also quite good advice.


    Ben Eller has made video about similar excercise Element0s was writing about. Excercise starts around 5:18.
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2017
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  8. MartinMTL

    MartinMTL SS.org Regular

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    Thanks guys!

    Yeah, while I feel like my playing is actually quite clean, it really has maxed out. I can't post a vid or picture right now of my pick position (I'm on the road), but it is definitely a sharp angle. 45 degrees at least. But not much slant. Sorry, not really sure how to explain any more... I know pictures would really help there! I'll see if I get the time to post that.

    That technique that Element0s explained seems to be the way to get to high speeds without a lot of tension actually, but like he said it definitely feels awkward as fuck right now. Anybody else pick like this, or have experience in switching to this technique?
     
  9. Alternative-Perspective

    Alternative-Perspective SS.org Regular

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    Why didn't you post a video of you actually playing? You are just moving your wrist. That says nothing to me.

    There is always going to be some tension, but it should be kept under a certain threshold.

    I don't pick the way Element0s described. Frankly, I don't understand why these things are overcomplicated. Alternate picking is such a simple concept.
     
  10. Element0s

    Element0s Low Fantasy/Black Denim

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    Simple in concept but not always simple in execution unless you've got an innate knack for fine motor skills and control. Which I certainly don't. The various angles you can wield the pick at, plus the muscle group you use to wave the pick and and forth can have a pretty big impact on what is easy/difficult to play in terms of alternate-picking and you'd be amazed at how many people don't understand this unless you explicitly show it to them
     
  11. Alternative-Perspective

    Alternative-Perspective SS.org Regular

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    The angles and the muscle groups don't have that much of an influence, I dare say.
    Difficulty is not determined by the picking patterns themselves but by the fingerings employed on the fretboard.
     
  12. MartinMTL

    MartinMTL SS.org Regular

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    Very insightful.

    Really though, the fingerings on the fretboard have never been the roadblock for me at all, just the right hand mechanics. Different people are better at different things. Just like I know people who can blow over Coltrane changes no problem, but can't alternate pick for shit. Difficulty is determined by the strengths and weaknesses of the player.
     
  13. Alternative-Perspective

    Alternative-Perspective SS.org Regular

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    So how do they play over "Giant Steps"? Using only alternate-picking? Or do they sweep their way through the arpeggios?
     
  14. Element0s

    Element0s Low Fantasy/Black Denim

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    Maybe for some. I personally have a really difficult time locking in with a picking pattern and keeping it running like the consistent machine that it should. My fretboard struggles are another story ;)
     
  15. Alternative-Perspective

    Alternative-Perspective SS.org Regular

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    The day you understand that both struggles are connected is the day you will solve them both...
     

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