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Thread: Scalpel Picking

  1. #1

    Technique Scalpel Picking

    Hello,

    Since i heard about scalpel picking, i viewed some videos made by guys who are into this technique. There was a guy named Pepper Brown who talked a lot about it, but i wasn't really impressed. Also i know that Howard Roberts used this technique and recommend it to all his students. But i still thought that "twitch" or Gypsy style of alternate Picking is the fastest.

    But a few days ago, i watched an awesome Video from Pasquale Grasso. This guy explained his Picking technique and he also discribed Scalpel/Circle Picking. Everything he said made really sense and now j am trying to practice on this technique. But for me it doesn't feel that i come to an fast picking result sometime. For some reason i am really slow in moving my thumb and index finger for and backward or to move it in little circles.

    Is this technique so good as pasquale says, or it is only good for people who have a natural talent for picking like this. ?

    Greets and thank you

    I hope you understand me - english is not my mother tongue
    Last edited by ginod; 05-12-2016 at 03:27 PM.

  2. #2
    I've been experimenting with it as well. I've only been doing it (or some version of it) for about a week and I can already play Donna Lee and most of the other matierial I was able to play before. I think the important thing is to make sure that your first finger and thumb act as a separate unit from the rest of your hand / wrist.

  3. #3
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    I'm not clear on what "scalpel picking" is. That term is a new one on me.
    If the technique is described, some may recognize it as something they now do (or once did) but call something else.
    Learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference. Marcus Aurelius

  4. #4
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    Like Pasquale said it's not for everyone. Howard Roberts was having everyone at the early GIT switch to scalpel, but so many had trouble with it and complained he said just trying it, if it doesn't work, do whatever works for you. It is a very economical way to pick, but not everyone can build up speed with their thumb it requires.

  5. #5
    I find every style is worth practicing, like benson, gypsy, or kenny burrell style picking. Then you can just play without worrying about the picking.

  6. #6
    To be honest I think this is terrible advice....I hope you don't take offense to me saying that.

    It's almost like saying learn to write with both hands so that you can capture inspiration when it strikes. In fact...I think focusing on one method of picking is actually what allows you to just play without worrying about the picking.

  7. #7
    It is usually holding the pick between the side of the tip of the index finger and the center tip of the thumb, typically with the index finger tip pointing into the guitar and the tip of the thumb pointing to the head stock... there are some variations on this.

    The picking action is made by flexing the thumb joint behind the thumb nail in and out in conjunction with flexing the index finger joint behind the fingernail in and out... since these motions are in two orthogonal planes the pick tip can easily describe a circular or elliptic motion which intersects the curved plane of the strings, making hopping over the strings naturally easy.

    The critical mechanism for this technique is that you need to touch the guitar with at least one picking hand finger from which the pulling and pushing of the picking resists... the picking action with a free floating hand will tend to load and wiggle the hand. By setting the fourth finger (typically) the hand itself acts through the set finger to help focus the pulling and pushing of the pick against the strings.

    From a mechanical perspective, if you think of your hand as the "sprung weight", your set finger acts as the "shock absorber", but in this case it a smart shock - the thumb and finger flexing are happening simultaneously with opposite little forces of the hand and set finger, so that the action of the pick is applied neutrally (without a backlash from the hand itself).

    It uses these little applied counter forces in the hand and set finger to minimize detail artifact forces at the pick that may disturb or impair the picking accuracy and articulation. Because of this, it is very fast and clean.

    Apologies for appearing to begin writing a book here... ... I am self taught and immediately "invented" and used this picking method decades before I ever heard its name or knew it even had one; same for economy picking. I kinda "know all about it" as a result. The combination of scalpel economy picking looks a little peculiar (it looks as if all the notes are being produced by a hand that simply is not moving enough to do all that) because there is no motion at the elbow, virtually none at the wrist, and just a little at the thumb and finger, which is hard to see unless you are up close.

    Hope this helps
    Last edited by pauln; 05-13-2016 at 01:21 AM.

  8. #8
    [QUOTE=ginod;650359]

    Since i heard about scalpel picking, i viewed some videos made by guys who are into this technique. There was a guy named Pepper Brown who talked a lot about it, but i wasn't really impressed.

    "Pebber" Brown---not Pepper. I think he might have taught Buckethead for a while.

    (And your English is very good, and there is no need for you to apologize. But if someone does a search using "Pepper" it might not come up...as "Pepper" is such a common term.)
    Last edited by goldenwave77; 05-13-2016 at 11:29 AM.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by pauln View Post
    It is usually holding the pick between the side of the tip of the index finger and the center tip of the thumb, typically with the index finger tip pointing into the guitar and the tip of the thumb pointing to the head stock... there are some variations on this.

    The picking action is made by flexing the thumb joint behind the thumb nail in and out in conjunction with flexing the index finger joint behind the fingernail in and out... since these motions are in two orthogonal planes the pick tip can easily describe a circular or elliptic motion which intersects the curved plane of the strings, making hopping over the strings naturally easy.
    Great description. Thank you for taking the pains to be so clear.
    For a long time, I rested the pick along the top side of the index finger, with the index (tip) pointing toward the strings. I had trouble keeping the pick in place.
    As for the thumb, mine is the banana sort, so it is easy to "lock" the way Benson pickers tend to prefer. To cock and uncock it the way scalpel picking requires feels odd but I admit I've never put in the time to learn it and become comfortable with it.
    Learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference. Marcus Aurelius

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by pauln View Post

    Apologies for appearing to begin writing a book here... ... I am self taught and immediately "invented" and used this picking method decades before I ever heard its name or knew it even had one; same for economy picking. I kinda "know all about it" as a result. The combination of scalpel economy picking looks a little peculiar (it looks as if all the notes are being produced by a hand that simply is not moving enough to do all that) because there is no motion at the elbow, virtually none at the wrist, and just a little at the thumb and finger, which is hard to see unless you are up close.

    Hope this helps

    No apologies necessary, great post.

    I too, invented my own picking style, but mine sucks and it's not worth teaching anybody.

    But I got a giggle a few years ago when somebody told me I hold the pick similar to "Benson" picking, because I didn't even know that was a thing, at that point. Ah, ignorance IS bliss.
    Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by mr. beaumont View Post
    But I got a giggle a few years ago when somebody told me I hold the pick similar to "Benson" picking, because I didn't even know that was a thing, at that point. Ah, ignorance IS bliss.
    Corey Christiansen said the same thing when some people told him his approach was similar to Benson's. He had no idea.
    Learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference. Marcus Aurelius

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes View Post
    Corey Christiansen said the same thing when some people told him his approach was similar to Benson's. He had no idea.

    It's funnier for Corey, because he can pick circles around 99% of the population.

    Truthfully, the only thing I do like Benson is crook the thumb and angle the pick back while holding it between thumb pad and more of the side of the index finger pad.

    For kicks, when y'all were doing the Benson picking thread, i tried the "Mel Bay" way (or whatever it is_ with the side of the index finger and the pick angled the other way) and it felt like I was at my first guitar lesson again, because I couldn't do ANYTHING.
    Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/jeffreymatz

    "Jazz is like life...it goes on longer than you think, and as soon as you're like 'oh, I get it,' it ends."

    --The Ghost of Duke Ellington

  13. #13
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    The best lesson that you hear from many great players and teachers, "do what works for you".

    Listen to yourself, look and analyze your own picking, experiment and repeat as needed. I say this because people get so obsessed with system du jour spending so much time, when just some listening, watching, and experimenting could find what works for them. I'm not say don't try new things, but don't go crazy just because it's the trendy thing to do.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by mr. beaumont View Post
    For kicks, when y'all were doing the Benson picking thread, i tried the "Mel Bay" way (or whatever it is_ with the side of the index finger and the pick angled the other way) and it felt like I was at my first guitar lesson again, because I couldn't do ANYTHING.

    I have a hard time with that one too. Herb Ellis picked something like that though, and he was one of the greats. (He angled the pick, though, and didn't pick every note.) However they may have been shown by their first teachers, it seems that every Name Player who plays guitar clean and fast angles the pick and uses the smallest pick strokes possible. The fastest players seem among the most relaxed.

    More and more, I see the grip as part of a larger concern, the whole 'mechanism' of gripping the pick, anchoring (or not), how one situates the guitar (strapped under the collar like a lobster bib, slung way down low, atop the thigh of a crossed leg), whether one picks from the elbow, wrist, or using the finger/thumb motion called scalpel picking, and the sort of guitar one plays. So it's not just 'how does she hold the pick?' but 'how is she holding the pick in relation to everything else involved in picking the sort of guitar she's using?'
    Learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference. Marcus Aurelius

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by NoReply View Post
    The best lesson that you hear from many great players and teachers, "do what works for you".
    But when you realize what you know how to do no longer works, you're in a mess. To take a common example: people who start out strumming open chords and singing simple songs may find that when they want to add single note lines that they're clumsy about it. They're used to large, uneven motions, which won't do. Maybe they practice scales or simple riffs a lot and get better at that. But now when they want to strum, it's not the same. And also, the riffs they can play are okay at mid-tempo but when things heat up, their technique falls apart. They don't know what works for them---they just know that 'this' (-whatever they're currently doing) does not.

    I sometimes think it is more a matter of sticking with it, getting something right by happenstance, realizing (in a rough and ready sense) how it was done and then making a habit of that. Easier said than done! ;o)
    Learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference. Marcus Aurelius

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by JazzMuzak View Post
    To be honest I think this is terrible advice....I hope you don't take offense to me saying that.

    It's almost like saying learn to write with both hands so that you can capture inspiration when it strikes. In fact...I think focusing on one method of picking is actually what allows you to just play without worrying about the picking.
    Seriously? It's just different ways of picking with the same hand. There are plenty of ways to play the instrument, I don't see anything wrong with learning all of them.

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by fritz jones View Post
    Seriously? It's just different ways of picking with the same hand. There are plenty of ways to play the instrument, I don't see anything wrong with learning all of them.
    I can count on one hand the number of players that consistently switch between different styles of picking. Is it perhaps nice to have them at your disposal? Yes... However, I don't know what OP's situation is, but I would never recommend any of my students learn a new way of picking when they haven't even mastered their current one yet.

  18. #18
    do you remember what Pasquale Grasso video that was?

  19. #19
    I found that the surgical scalpel cut through the strings after a short time.....
    Last edited by Robertkoa; 03-10-2018 at 07:45 PM.

  20. #20
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    I have always been interested in the way Pat Metheny holds the pick. I don't think I've ever heard anyone talk about it.
    - Lawson
    "Whenever you come near the human race, there's layers and layers of nonsense." - Thornton Wilder, Our Town

  21. #21
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    Never heard about "scalpel" picking, but I believe this is the way I pick.

    Ended up there as a result of trying to avoid using any unnecessary muscles/movement, and keeping motion as close as possible to the point of string contact. To me it makes everything more relaxed and controlled, yet powerful. The twisting of index/thumb moves the pick and adjust angles as necessary. Very economical and quick, and works perfect for alternate, economy, sweeping or whatever.

    It's obviously not only those two fingers moving though. There's twisting of the wrist involved in the motion, but it's hard to spot when watching.

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  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alter View Post
    That’s a helpful video. Thanks for posting it. I’ve done some scalpel picking, then. I recognize that motion.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    Learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference. Marcus Aurelius

  24. #24
    I first learned of what I call circle picking from a Guitar Player interview with Roy Buchanan in the 70's. He described the picking motion and I attempted to copy it. That is where I learned to pick at an angle, a couple of years later, I met Robert Conti and I adopted his picking style which is mostly alternate wrist picking. I never good get used to his thin pick.

    I have come back to picking after a couple of years focusing on fingerstyle and as a result of the fingerstyle influence I don't don't do a lot of anchoring or resting on the guitar and I do a lot more hybrid picking as well. Today I still have a bit of the circle picking technique but it isn't something that I think about, it just happens.

  25. #25
    Pebber Brown is a really knowledgeable player and his stuff is great, but I wish he wasn't so long winded. That video could have been done in five-ish minutes. :P

  26. #26
    This is Wyatt Rice, Tony's little brother. I too use scalpel picking which I came to via just trying to figure out what works for me, never knew other people did it or that there was a name for it.
    Ignorance is agony.



  27. #27
    Quote Originally Posted by lawson-stone View Post
    I have always been interested in the way Pat Metheny holds the pick. I don't think I've ever heard anyone talk about it.
    This from an Adan Levy interview
    METHENY ON HIS ILLOGICAL PICKING

    When you hear Pat Metheny's fluid improvised lines-often zooming by at a swift clip-it's hard to imagine he believes his picking technique leaves much to be desired.

    "When I watch Pat Martino play, his picking technique is the most efficient thing I've ever seen," says Metheny. "There's very little movement, and it's very practical. My technique is absolutely illogical."

    "People often ask me why I hold the pick backwards. The reason is I could only get Fender Thin picks in Lee's Summit, Missouri, where I grew up. I couldn't stand the way those picks sounded, so I learned to hold them backwards-with the round edge towards the strings-and to bend the edge a little between my thumb and two fingers. That made the thin pick sound more like a medium."

    "I didn't see any really good guitar players when I was starting out, because there weren't many around my town. When I finally did see guys who could really play, I thought, 'Wow, I'm picking all wrong!' But by then it was too late, because I was already making records. I do think about taking a month off and studying with someone like Frank Gambale, because there are things I can't quite do, which I could do if I had a more efficient picking technique."
    Ignorance is agony.



  28. #28
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    Another Pebber Brown video on scalpel / Sarod picking

    This focuses on how to hold the pick (for these styles of picking).

    Learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference. Marcus Aurelius

  29. #29


    This guy has what I consider to be the best and most concise video about "scalpel picking" etc. It's specifically geared towards metal, but the technique is also good for jazz as I'm sure we've all realised by now.

  30. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shadow of the Sun View Post
    This guy has what I consider to be the best and most concise video about "scalpel picking" etc. It's specifically geared towards metal, but the technique is also good for jazz as I'm sure we've all realised by now.
    Interesting. The part about the index finger, not the thumb, initiating movement is something I had not heard before, but when I have played around with this, that's what it feels like to me.
    Learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference. Marcus Aurelius

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