The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
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  1. #1

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    From the close up views it looks like primarily forearm rotation (probably with some wrist too) similar to gypsy picking not only in number of notes per string but in the actual movement mechanic. What do you guys think?



    I've also tried to dissect Benson and Dan Wilson but Cecil Alexander seems to doing less compound movements and is easier to see. I'm aware of the Troy Grady stuff but it gets confusing when you try to analyze yourself.

    Cheers

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  3. #2

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    Cecil Alexander sells a 45 minute picking masterclass video on his website: Picking Masterclass — Cecil Alexander


    A friend here in London has taken some Zoom lessons with Alexander and considers that the improvement to his picking and facility has been significant as a direct result.

  4. #3

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    I checked out his website just the other day in fact, prompted by an instagram post where Alexander said a few things about his picking technique. He said his technique is similar to Benson's in how he holds the pick. He uses an upstroke escape motion with a rest stroke for the downstrokes. And he'll add a hammer-on or pull-off to make a line work if for example he wants to start on a downstroke but play three notes per string. IIRC he said he uses wrist motion. (If you're on Instagram you can probably still check the video out).

    I too am aware of Troy Grady's stuff but it's a whole other thing trying to apply that to improvisational music. My own picking motion, such as it is, I think based on a mixture of wrist and forearm, but all that matters is that it feels smooth and fast.

    I am just trying to get my head round improvising within these picking rules, developing a vocabulary. I may well fork out for Alexander's picking course out of curiosity (though for whatever reason I find a downstroke escape motion a bit more natural than the opposite).

  5. #4

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    Thanks James- very interesting, esp as he appears to be an alt picker (to my eyes.)

  6. #5

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    For sure, he does the Benson upstroke escape with downward economy and even notes per string descending. Along with 'tricks' (hammer ons, pull offs etc) to make the pick strokes line up in other situations. I guess I'm more interested in the actual movements he makes in his pick strokes. Looks mostly rotational (forearm rotations like turning a key in a lock) with some flexion/extension of the wrist. This movement would be similar to a lot of gypsy musicians but from a different arm/hand orientation producing a different tone etc etc.

    I find it interesting that many people use this 'benson grip' but pick with all sorts of motion mechanics. For example, some are more like a supinated door knocking motion from the wrist as opposed to the rotation I see here. Maybe he does that at higher speeds?

  7. #6
    Thank you so much for this.

  8. #7

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    I think the key to really develop that style of picking is using the rest stroke. It's what gives the stability and makes speed possible.

    Most players prefer a heavy pick, but Benson uses a Fender medium, which is a whole different rebound and sound.

    Each style has its pros and cons in the end..

  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by bediles
    For sure, he does the Benson upstroke escape with downward economy and even notes per string descending. Along with 'tricks' (hammer ons, pull offs etc) to make the pick strokes line up in other situations. I guess I'm more interested in the actual movements he makes in his pick strokes. Looks mostly rotational (forearm rotations like turning a key in a lock) with some flexion/extension of the wrist. This movement would be similar to a lot of gypsy musicians but from a different arm/hand orientation producing a different tone etc etc.

    I find it interesting that many people use this 'benson grip' but pick with all sorts of motion mechanics. For example, some are more like a supinated door knocking motion from the wrist as opposed to the rotation I see here. Maybe he does that at higher speeds?
    I think the underhand grip allows a lot of freedom in how the pick stroke is made

  10. #9

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    It definitely seems so. I actually bought the picking masterclass and there was some interesting strategies to get out of 'rest stroke jail'. Also, saw this post on his instagram with some other great angles of his RH in this linked mini picking tutorial. He definitely has the intention of performing a rotational movement. Just guessing, but it does look like from the other vid that there could be a wrist component also at higher speeds.

    Insta link: Cecil Alexander on Instagram: "How to pick (sorta) fast💨
    Remember that this is just what worked for me!
    If you want to dig a little deeper into this stuff, I have a picking masterclass available on my website (link in bio)
    .
    .
    #alternatepicking #shred #picking #guitarlessons #guitar"

  11. #10

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    Aha! Ok so the even number of pick strokes a string thing is why I don’t see him making those tell tale swiping motions you usually see in rest stroke players. The ascending sweeps that you see GJ players and Benson doing are mechanically simple to do and impressive but come with ramifications that I find harder to deal with.

    - One is the tendency to ‘reverse’ your picking, so you end up having upstrokes on the beat. This is an issue because it breaks that connection between downbeat/downstroke. Players who use that approach embrace the natural accentuation it gives, but it creates a different style of phrasing.
    - the second is that sweeps can rush if you aren’t REALLY careful. Even some of the GJ masters can be prone to this at faster tempos. Not George though lol.

    In fact if you play with only even numbers of notes per string you will be alternate picking and be able to lock into the grid which is what I see/hear with Cecil’s approach to lines etc.

    I wonder if he has a strategy for dealing with descending triads? That’s can be a problem for this picking approach.

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Christian Miller
    - One is the tendency to ‘reverse’ your picking, so you end up having upstrokes on the beat. This is an issue because it breaks that connection between downbeat/downstroke. Players who use that approach embrace the natural accentuation it gives, but it creates a different style of phrasing.
    ^^ This is something I have yet to get my head - or rather, hands - around, because I can see the potential for confusion there. Downstroke-escape players like John McLaughlin also end up having to use upstrokes on the beat at times (e.g. for two-note-per-string pentatonic stuff) and, TBF, it's bound to occur if you're using economy picking. I guess it's not so much an issue if playing straight, more of an issue if swing.

    Anyone else round here have any thoughts on negotiating this issue? I guess the answer would be just to practice it - in the name of flexibility etc.

  13. #12

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    I just wanted to say that Cecil is a monster and has the most fluid technique of anyone in the bop style that I've seen.

  14. #13

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    The reverse picking thing, I would say that's just a practice thing to get used to. Some people prefer downstrokes on downbeats for accenting purposes and are good with that. If you are going to line up picking with string changes this has to become familiar.

    Rushing sweeps especially on those little ones between two strings in a scalar line is definitely a thing and I think everyone does it a bit. Maybe just cross pick at med swing tempos. Seems like modern GJ and benson picking player like cross picking going to a higher string better than the other way around.

    There's nothing specifically said in his masterclass about descending triads but I assume it's all tempo based. Maybe don't even play them at up tempos ? Cecil could probably downstroke his way around 200+bpm just fine.

    As for the mechanics of playing descending triads, just off the top of my head:
    1. Play on two strings and line up the picking (one string w one note and one with two notes). This is more of a drag on major 2nd inversion.
    2. In the context of a phrase and a triad played across three strings, pull off/hammer on/slide into to the top note, upstroke on middle note and downstroke on lowest note (Cecil calls this 'the scoop').
    3. backwards sweeps


    The caveat with all of this is changing your picking is hard and will mess with your time/feel/hand/body connection for a time. The benefits I see are a faster top end speed than cross picking (for most people? maybe?), simpler movement that may be more reliable/require less maintenance and a more fluid horn like phrasing while maintaining some weight to your tone (as opposed to the 'lots of legato' sound).

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by Christian Miller
    Aha! Ok so the even number of pick strokes a string thing is why I don’t see him making those tell tale swiping motions you usually see in rest stroke players. The ascending sweeps that you see GJ players and Benson doing are mechanically simple to do and impressive but come with ramifications that I find harder to deal with.

    - One is the tendency to ‘reverse’ your picking, so you end up having upstrokes on the beat. This is an issue because it breaks that connection between downbeat/downstroke. Players who use that approach embrace the natural accentuation it gives, but it creates a different style of phrasing.
    - the second is that sweeps can rush if you aren’t REALLY careful. Even some of the GJ masters can be prone to this at faster tempos. Not George though lol.

    In fact if you play with only even numbers of notes per string you will be alternate picking and be able to lock into the grid which is what I see/hear with Cecil’s approach to lines etc.

    I wonder if he has a strategy for dealing with descending triads? That’s can be a problem for this picking approach.
    The technique used is sweeping from low strings to high strings and cross picking from high strings to low strings. I got this from Rodney Jones back in the 90's when I studied with him and I see it with guys like Cecil, Dan Wilson and Peter Farrell. To your point, yes it means downstrokes and upstrokes will no longer necessarily line up with downbeat and upbeat. That was weird for me for a bit but I quickly got used to it. The trick with creating lines that use even numbers of notes when descending takes some planning and practice. I made these 5 patterns (not mine, but I put these pages together) for my students to practice. Once these are mastered, then I show students many ways to add notes, often chromatically, to make 4 or 6 notes per string instead of 2 when descending. From what I've seen from Cecil's videos, he's working on a similar system.
    Cecil Alexander picking technique-screenshot-2023-03-25-9-34-21-am-png
    Cecil Alexander picking technique-screenshot-2023-03-25-9-36-50-am-png

  16. #15

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    Yes his hand go up and down tho, he doesn’t seem to do the sweep thing so much.

  17. #16

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    Btw I actually play both a bit like benson picking and trad pick.

    My impression is that the former is a bit more forgiving in terms of string crossing. I think the pick angle actually helps. I feel I can play a bit better underhand grip actually, but there’s issues with the technique on whole that mean I’d rather play trad grip if possible.

    That said… hmmm. It’s complicated. Dunno.

    In practice I sort of flip between them unconsciously atm which is weird.

  18. #17

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    Ok, let me check out some of his videos and see if I can tell if he’s sweeping or cross picking ascending arpeggios.


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  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by setemupjoe
    Ok, let me check out some of his videos and see if I can tell if he’s sweeping or cross picking ascending arpeggios.


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    yeah I didn’t see him do it but it’s not like I’ve watched him for hours.

    By crosspicking do you mean ddu or alternating? The former works well with rest stroke picking. Tbh I find either a bit easier with under grip (I don’t want to call it benson because that’s a whole can of worms haha) as I say I think having the pick slicing across the strings and the shape of the pick really helps string crossing.

  20. #19

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    I meant alternating picking. Personally I don’t see the advantage to alternate picking if I’m doing an ascending arpeggio. It seems like the hard way to do something that could be much easier. But I am very aware everyone has their preferences.


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  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by setemupjoe
    I meant alternating picking. Personally I don’t see the advantage to alternate picking if I’m doing an ascending arpeggio. It seems like the hard way to do something that could be much easier. But I am very aware everyone has their preferences.


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    I think the point is to lock in to the grid like rhythm guitar. Players who do the down beat/up beat alternate lock thing tend to phrase a certain way, lots of 8th notes, not many triplets etc… which I thought was how Cecil sounded. More like Pat Martino than George Benson.

    this is the way I look at it if it makes any sense

  22. #21

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    So my early education with jazz guitar was the Berklee books and traditional picking techniques. Pick down on the downbeats, up on the upbeats. You’re correct in saying it works well to create a strong rhythmic feel. I did this for years.
    When I starting studying with Rodney, he told me I was rushing which I knew I tended to do when tempos got uncomfortable. That’s when I changed to the underhand (your term :-) technique. My experience has been that sweeping ascending passages using the rest stroke and my hand resting on the pickguard is a relaxed movement and combats the rushing that I used to do. Again, I can only speak for myself.
    Bottom line is everybody gets to find what works for them. The fact that there are so many variations on right hand technique is a strength for the guitar, not a weakness. Imagine if we all played the same way, and how boring that would be.


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  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by setemupjoe
    So my early education with jazz guitar was the Berklee books and traditional picking techniques. Pick down on the downbeats, up on the upbeats. You’re correct in saying it works well to create a strong rhythmic feel. I did this for years.
    When I starting studying with Rodney, he told me I was rushing which I knew I tended to do when tempos got uncomfortable. That’s when I changed to the underhand (your term :-) technique. My experience has been that sweeping ascending passages using the rest stroke and my hand resting on the pickguard is a relaxed movement and combats the rushing that I used to do. Again, I can only speak for myself.
    Bottom line is everybody gets to find what works for them. The fact that there are so many variations on right hand technique is a strength for the guitar, not a weakness. Imagine if we all played the same way, and how boring that would be.


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    I started rest stroke picking over a decade ago and give or take a few modifications that’s still how I play. I find it fits bop lines very well otw. There are some things it won’t do, but they are fewer than one may think….

    Taming economy picking is one thing that we have to work on however. Alternate guys have to deal with string crossing otoh. Choose your poison!

    There is no all in one solution to picking. All solutions have trade offs and compromises. Plenty of great players seem to have studied with Rodney though and there’s no doubt that his approach works really well.

    your choice of technique does affect your phrasing though

    Anyway regarding Cecil, I was just interested that he sounded to me like a high level alt picker and he turns out to be another member of our merry rest stroke clan haha. Fwiw I think you can pick any way you want using benson grip. Adam Rogers springs to mind.

  24. #23

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    True, but having the hand under the strings and pulling the pick toward the hand with the downstroke does tend to favor (favour?) sweeping. I take your point though that it’s not a prerequisite.


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  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by setemupjoe
    True, but having the hand under the strings and pulling the pick toward the hand with the downstroke does tend to favor (favour?) sweeping. I take your point though that it’s not a prerequisite.


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    well it’s just easy to do and useful so it’s a tell tale of that school of technique, and of rest stroke players in general. Tal Farlow, Dan Wilson, George, Django, they all do it. You’ll see me do it Fwiw. So I was surprised I didn’t see Cecil do it. Anyway, it’s not the most interesting thing in the world haha

  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by Christian Miller
    Btw I actually play both a bit like benson picking and trad pick.

    My impression is that the former is a bit more forgiving in terms of string crossing. I think the pick angle actually helps. I feel I can play a bit better underhand grip actually, but there’s issues with the technique on whole that mean I’d rather play trad grip if possible.

    That said… hmmm. It’s complicated. Dunno.

    In practice I sort of flip between them unconsciously atm which is weird.
    Interesting about your experience with both grips. I wonder if you move the same way with each grip?

    As far as underhand vs conventional pick grips there's also a number of motion mechanics associated. Seems like Django style players are taught a rotational mechanic similar to putting out a match while the benson pickers all have slightly different mechanics but some are very similar to Django style. There's also the degree of arm supination that could change the motion used for example, Dan Wilson is more supinated than Cecil, his wrist motion may have more flexion/extension than deviation.

    I keep bringing this up bc I think the actual movement the wrist or arm makes plays a big role in the ease of technique, relaxation etc and there seems to be a forearm rotational aspect to all these underhand player's forms too which makes me think it's closer to gypsy picking than I previously thought.