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  1. #1

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    To each their own, as usual.

    Picking Tips for Single‐String Playing (revised)

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  3. #2

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    Quote Originally Posted by MatsP
    To each their own, as usual.

    Picking Tips for Single?String Playing (revised)

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    Picking techniques seem to fall into a few basic categories. The ones we end up using may be due to instruction, or uninstructed trial and error, or just personally emerge spontaneously from time on the instrument. Maybe many of us look back and have no idea how we got to where we are today.

    1. Rest your forearm very lightly on the guitar body. You’ll need to be able to move your hand freely.


    2. Make a lightly closed fist, and rest the pinky side of your palm lightly near the bridge across all six strings, leaving a small space for the currently played string so that it won’t be muted. Then it’s just a matter of lowering your hand a tiny bit in order to play muted. You can of course move your hand closer to the neck if you don’t need to play muted.

    I believe the closed fist is the source of several picking problems; lack of pick/string position registration control, lack of longitudinal pick angle control, inhibition of finger/thumb articulation, and diminished precision and clarity with faster playing.
    Perhaps I am misunderstanding, but I'm not seeing how the closed fist allows for palming across all six strings, and I'm not seeing how to do so and leave a small space for one
    string not damped (e.g., palming the 6, 5, 4, 2, and 1 strings, leaving the played 3 string not damped). I'm also not seeing why (assuming it works) that this could work near the bridge but might not work closer to the neck. For that matter, I'm not seeing why I would want to play so close to the bridge. Maybe I'm missing something?


    3. Let your wrist be straight at the start of a downstroke, and bend it slightly towards the pinky side at the end of the stroke. Go from there back to a straight wrist on the upstroke. This is called “ulnar deviation”, for the record. Don’t flex your fingers. Try to keep it tight. You don’t need the plectrum to deviate more from the string than absolutely necessary. Don’t dig in too deep with the point of the pick, that will create unnecessary resistance.

    If this were meant to apply to strumming, I would agree. Now in my case, when single string picking, the flexing of the index finger and thumb is all about how I pick. I don't pick from my shoulder, elbow, forearm, wrist, or hand.


    4. Move your hand up and down along the line of the bridge depending on the played string.

    I'm assuming what you mean here is the position of the hand moving parallel to the bridge in order to place it over the string to be played. An advantage of not using a closed fist is that the pinky finger may touch the guitar as a registration reference (like a rack and pinion system, including the pinky serving as the steering damper). For me, this is a very precise and fast method of shifting hand position over the strings.

    I always encourage discussion of picking here and I hope you take my observations and questions in the positive spirit with which they are offered. I also hope others interested in this will join in with their experience and observations. À chacun son goût, is wisdom indeed.

  4. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by pauln
    Picking techniques seem to fall into a few basic categories. The ones we end up using may be due to instruction, or uninstructed trial and error, or just personally emerge spontaneously from time on the instrument. Maybe many of us look back and have no idea how we got to where we are today.

    1. Rest your forearm very lightly on the guitar body. You’ll need to be able to move your hand freely.


    2. Make a lightly closed fist, and rest the pinky side of your palm lightly near the bridge across all six strings, leaving a small space for the currently played string so that it won’t be muted. Then it’s just a matter of lowering your hand a tiny bit in order to play muted. You can of course move your hand closer to the neck if you don’t need to play muted.

    I believe the closed fist is the source of several picking problems; lack of pick/string position registration control, lack of longitudinal pick angle control, inhibition of finger/thumb articulation, and diminished precision and clarity with faster playing.
    Perhaps I am misunderstanding, but I'm not seeing how the closed fist allows for palming across all six strings, and I'm not seeing how to do so and leave a small space for one
    string not damped (e.g., palming the 6, 5, 4, 2, and 1 strings, leaving the played 3 string not damped). I'm also not seeing why (assuming it works) that this could work near the bridge but might not work closer to the neck. For that matter, I'm not seeing why I would want to play so close to the bridge. Maybe I'm missing something?


    3. Let your wrist be straight at the start of a downstroke, and bend it slightly towards the pinky side at the end of the stroke. Go from there back to a straight wrist on the upstroke. This is called “ulnar deviation”, for the record. Don’t flex your fingers. Try to keep it tight. You don’t need the plectrum to deviate more from the string than absolutely necessary. Don’t dig in too deep with the point of the pick, that will create unnecessary resistance.

    If this were meant to apply to strumming, I would agree. Now in my case, when single string picking, the flexing of the index finger and thumb is all about how I pick. I don't pick from my shoulder, elbow, forearm, wrist, or hand.


    4. Move your hand up and down along the line of the bridge depending on the played string.

    I'm assuming what you mean here is the position of the hand moving parallel to the bridge in order to place it over the string to be played. An advantage of not using a closed fist is that the pinky finger may touch the guitar as a registration reference (like a rack and pinion system, including the pinky serving as the steering damper). For me, this is a very precise and fast method of shifting hand position over the strings.

    I always encourage discussion of picking here and I hope you take my observations and questions in the positive spirit with which they are offered. I also hope others interested in this will join in with their experience and observations. À chacun son goût, is wisdom indeed.
    As I said, to each their own. I have come to the conclusion that this is what works best for me at least. There is no need for fingers on the finger rest or guitar body, since the picking depth reference is the wrist and pinky side of the palm brushing the strings, or, if you play the lower (thicker) strings, the guitar body. The latter works well on guitars where the distance between the strings and the body is small, such as Fender. On other guitars you may need to float freely with your hand.

    Regarding not being able to palm across the strings with a lightly closed fist, that’s not true. Just lift the finger side of your hand a bit, just like when you’re writing, i.e. no arched wrist. Problem solved.

    Regarding flexing your fingers, that’s a big no-no among most of the really fast pickers, and something that I've actively tried to get rid of. The motion should ideally be in the wrist exclusively. I’m pretty sure you don’t perform tremolo, which really is the basis of all alternate picking, by flexing your fingers Picking Tips for Single-String Playing (revised)

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    Last edited by MatsP; 06-24-2021 at 04:53 PM.

  5. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by MatsP
    As I said, to each their own. I have come to the conclusion that this is what works best for me at least. There is no need for fingers on the finger rest or guitar body, since the picking depth reference is the wrist and pinky side of the palm brushing the strings, or, if you play the lower (thicker) strings, the guitar body. The latter works well on guitars where the distance between the strings and the body is small, such as Fender. On other guitars you may need to float freely with your hand.
    The pinky on the pick guard is not for controlling picking depth; it is for controlling which string over which the pick is positioned.

    Quote Originally Posted by MatsP
    Regarding not being able to palm across the strings with a lightly closed fist, that’s not true. Just lift the finger side of your hand a bit, just like when you’re writing, i.e. no arched wrist. Problem solved.
    You have not explained how damping across the strings with your palm allows for a single string to be played and sounded not damped (e.g., playing the G string and damping the others).

    Quote Originally Posted by MatsP
    Regarding flexing your fingers, that’s a big no-no among most of the really fast pickers, and something that I've actively tried to get rid of. The motion should ideally be in the wrist exclusively. I’m pretty sure you don’t perform tremolo, which really is the basis of all alternate picking, by flexing your fingers.
    Flexing the index finger and thumb is part of the picking technique family that uses no wrist movement, which includes Chuck Wayne picking, circular picking, and scalpel picking. These are among the fastest of picking techniques, tremolo included.

  6. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by pauln
    Picking techniques seem to fall into a few basic categories. The ones we end up using may be due to instruction, or uninstructed trial and error, or just personally emerge spontaneously from time on the instrument. Maybe many of us look back and have no idea how we got to where we are today.
    One major determinant of picking technique for me is how I hold the guitar. I think this is a big factor in hand location relative to the bridge. It also contributes to the angle at which your hand sits relative to the strings, and it influences whether / where you touch the guitar with any part of your picking arm or hand. And physical size combines with this to define a player's comfort zone - I'm a thin 6'2" and wear a 36" sleeve.

    I've always preferred to play sitting, with the guitar on my left leg and a foot rest of some kind under my left foot. I either use a stool with a convenient rung or a chair and a simple foot rest (a folding metal footrest at home and the small accessory bag in which I carry spares, tools, tablet, etc on a gig). This pretty much defines my picking technique by making some moves natural and others somewhere between awkward and uncomfortable. And, as I play fingerstyle a lot, it gives me flexibility to use pick, fingers, or hybrid with the same hand position. I also play with the guitar top leaning into me a little, so I can see the fretboard if I want to look at it. I once embarassed myself and the vocalist I was accompanying by hitting a beautiful chord half a step low - having immediately slid into the correct one did nothing to assuage my shame, even though no one in the audience seemed to notice.

    Although I dislike standing up while playing, it's necessary for blues gigs, and even the occasional jazz or commercial date, if there's no room for me to sit and stretch out. I find myself holding the guitar a bit differently when standing, although I keep it somewhat higher and further to the left than most players to come closer to how I hold it when seated. When I want or need more of a bridge tone for blues, fusion etc, I lower the neck a bit and move my hand back toward the bridge. This puts the pick more perpendicular to the strings and offers a natural wrist rest against the top. It facilitates muting and damping, leaves my pinkie free to rest on the top below E1 if I feel like doing that for some reason, and lets me pick with my hand free of any other top contact if I wish (which is how I pick most of the time).

  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by nevershouldhavesoldit
    One major determinant of picking technique for me is how I hold the guitar... (when standing) ...I keep it somewhat higher and further to the left than most players to come closer to how I hold it when seated.
    That is how I do it; keeps my left wrist straight even when playing up the neck, and maintains a natural position for my right hand in front of me.

  8. #7

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    I find it best not to think about it.

  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by pauln
    Flexing the index finger and thumb is part of the picking technique family that uses no wrist movement, which includes Chuck Wayne picking, circular picking, and scalpel picking. These are among the fastest of picking techniques, tremolo included.
    There’s no chance in the world that you can flex your fingers as fast as moving your hand from the wrist. And you don't get the same power in the attack either.

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    Last edited by MatsP; 06-25-2021 at 05:24 AM.

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by pauln
    The pinky on the pick guard is not for controlling picking depth; it is for controlling which string over which the pick is positioned.
    It shouldn’t be needed for that purpose, and it easily adds unnecessary tension in the hand. Furthermore, it limits your choice of guitar. Some guitars with the strings high above the guitar body don't sport a finger rest.

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  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Litterick
    I find it best not to think about it.
    That might work at moderate tempos, but as you speed up you’ll undoubtly need to find the most relaxed and efficient technique. I’m sure fast pickers like Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin have gone through a lot of trial and error to get where they are.

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  12. #11

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    As a general rule I’ve heard it said that the human body doesn’t actually like to make alternating movements with the same muscle group; it tends to go into spasm. (This is generally true for many instrumental and vocal techniques.)

    So a different quality of down stroke and upstroke movement is used by some techniques. For example, one can pick downstrokes with a wrist deviation and upstrokes with a small forearm rotation. This can be made to work much faster than simple up/down wrist deviation. If you are an advanced wrist deviation oriented picker, it is quite possible you already do this with being conscious of it; a common theme in technique.

    (When classifying schools of picking Tuck Andress IIRC tends to assume that motion quality is the same up and down; Troy Grady demonstrated that this is not always so.)

    Alternating forearm rotation works well also, because it’s a rotation, and that’s generally easier for the body to do than alternating straight movements. You can do rapid tremolos with rotation.

    I suppose circle picking is also a type of rotation which gets rid of those jerky, spasm-inducing direction changes. (People often seem to overlook that Kenny Burrell actually has great picking chops, because he’s labelled as a ‘tasteful player’; but he totally does, and that’s how he does it.)

    Tuck Andress also discussed wrist oscillation, which is only useful with a Benson style pick stance but is also easier for the body to do.

    Re positional sensing; pinky anchoring is used by some. Rest stroke picking sort of obviates the need for this. Some do a wrist or palm anchor. Some brush the hand/knuckles over the strings without anchoring. You can find examples of killer players doing all of these things, so I tend not to be too judgmental about this or that school.

    I’ve gone through periods of being very systematic about picking, but I know some players with great right hands who say they have never really worked on their picking. I think naturally technically adept players are good at ‘going with’ the body.
    Last edited by Christian Miller; 06-25-2021 at 10:02 AM.

  13. #12

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    I believe posting a vid would help ... I'll post one just because I'm saying ... anyone giving advice on technical skills should. That back up what you preach thing.

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by MatsP
    There’s no chance in the world that you can flex your fingers as fast as moving your hand from the wrist. And you don't get the same power in the attack either.

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    Maybe moving your hand from the wrist is your fastest technique, but flexing fingers works well as mine with a clean and clear reserve through 16 notes per second (eighth notes at 480 bpm). Jazz guitar soloists generally avoid performing much past half that speed for reasons of taste, me included.

  15. #14

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    There's a lot to @Littlerick's comment. Don't think too much about it. Just remember to relax. When you start thinking too much about things, you easily end up working against your body.

    It's a complex combination of movements. It's not wrist only, flexing fingers only etc. Myself, I can feel a core movement of wrist/arm twist (the obvious movement when watching gypsy players) but there's also quite a bit of thumb/index+middle finger work going on. None of it is particularly obvious when watching.

    I've been thinking way too much about that right hand myself, and it really hasn't done me any good. What's good is time and focused practice Repeating those movements again and again and again and again and....
    Last edited by Runepune; 07-05-2021 at 10:16 AM.

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by Christian Miller
    Re positional sensing; pinky anchoring is used by some. Rest stroke picking sort of obviates the need for this. Some do a wrist or palm anchor. Some brush the hand/knuckles over the strings without anchoring. You can find examples of killer players doing all of these things, so I tend not to be too judgmental about this or that school.
    This benefit of rest stroke picking seems to get less press these days, since a lot of people come for the "now I can play that Yngwie lick" features. But it's definitely one of my favorite things about it.

  17. #16

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    That said, I've been spending some time in bizarro world. Upward pickslanting. For a couple reasons:

    1. Fooling around with swybrid picking. The finger plucks are more helpful ascending, so it's better to opt for one-way economy picking descending. It's fun stuff. I wouldn't use it as my primary picking technique, but I would love to be able to do some of the hybrid picking stuff that Greg Koch does.

    2. Two-way pickslanting. Still haven't given up on the idea of two-way economy picking. It can be so smooth and buttery. The trouble comes with lines that have a lot of micro-changes in direction. That's when I throw in the towel and revert to my base, dwps.