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The Difference Between Pickslanting and Edge Picking: An Explainer

By January 8, 2015 Lessons
pickslanting vs edge picking

Here’s a question we get all the time: what’s the difference between pickslanting and edge picking?

This seems to be a source of frequent confusion. The two are very different, and do completely different things, but since both involve pick angles and rotation, this can be hard to intuit without a direct visual comparison. The above image is from an animation coming up soon in Episode 3, “Eric the Right”, and is designed to make the difference as clear as possible.

Defining the Terms

Edge picking is a method of attacking the string with the edge of the pick rather than the flat face. When you do this, the sloping shoulder of the pick lets it slide over the string instead of getting stuck. The pick’s wedge shape is the reason this works. The key point to understand about edge picking is that almost every player uses it, even those who don’t think or know consciously that they do. It’s simply very difficult to play guitar at all with zero degrees of edge picking!

LEARN FEARLESSLY: Downward pickslanting licks like this one must switch strings after upstrokes when using alternate picking. Sweeping adds flexibility to the toolbox, but only on downstrokes. This is the Eric Johnson and Yngwie system at work.

Pickslanting, on the other hand, is a string switching mechanic. Downward pickslanting, which we’ve covered at length in the first two episode of Season 2, enables the pick to escape the plane of the strings every time you play an upstroke. This eliminates the awkward jumping from string to string — which we call “stringhopping” — which you would otherwise have to do to get to a new string. This type of jumping, or stringhopping, is inefficient, and that’s why elite players don’t use it when they’re playing their fastest.

If downward pickslanting allows upstrokes to break free of the strings, then upward pickslanting is exactly the reverse. If you’ve watched our Antigravity seminar, then you’ve already seen upward pickslanting at work in the amazing techniques of Michael Angelo Batio, Vinnie Moore, Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, and Paul Gilbert. Of course, we’ll also see upward pickslanting in later episodes of Cracking the Code Season 2.

Finally, for the ultimate in head-spinning confusion, some players use both upward and downward pickslanting in the same phrase. This allows the pick to break free of the strings on both upstrokes and downstrokes. The sophistication of doing this, and the difficulty of discovering these movements by feel without explicitly practicing them, is the reason why playing a simple three-note-per-string scale can sometimes seem like such a herculean feat. We call such elite practitioners “two-way pickslanters” — and in fact all of the players mentioned above fall into this category.

THE ANTIGRAVITY LICK: Two-way pickslanting in the Antigravity Lick allows seamless navigation from string to string after both upstrokes and downstrokes.

The XYZ’s of Picking

The key here is that pickslanting and edge picking are separate processes which occur on completely separate axes of movement. We can extrapolate a coordinate system from the body of the guitar, taking a line parallel to the strings as our X-axis, a perpendicular line intersecting all strings as our Y-axis, and a line protruding perpendicular to the body of the guitar as our Z-axis. In this system, we can describe pickslanting as rotation around the X-axis, and edge picking as rotation around the Z-axis.

Most often, pickslanting in the X axis is achieved by rotating the wrist. In fact, many players discover that they have a natural — forgive the pun — inclination toward either upward or downward pickslanting based on hand positions that were burned in, subconsciously, early in their playing career. Judging from the number of elite players who use downward pickslanting, it is probably the more common of the two strategies.

To make matters confusing, edge picking is achieved through a combination of both finger and wrist mechanics. Because the two are related, it is common for players to make subconscious adjustments to their edge picking angle as a result of changes in their pickslant.

THUMB BUMP: Vinnie Moore’s visually distinctive bent thumb is a classic indicator of upward pickslanting.

For example, in the Antigravity seminar, we notice that a visible bend, or “bump” in the thumb is often an indicator of upward pickslanting. The trick is that the thumb bump isn’t how upward pickslanting itself is achieved. Instead, it’s a way for the fingers to adjust the edge picking angle to compensate for the pickslanting angle. Nevertheless, because upward pickslanting and the thumb bump very frequently happen together, we can use the thumb bump like a type of forensic evidence to understand picking mechanics that we can’t always see directly. The amazing Vinnie Moore is a great example of this. As soon as he clicks into high-speed mode, the thumb bump immediately appears, his pick locks into upward pickslanting. It’s visually very distinctive, and a classic example of upward pickslanting in action.

It’s Not About Speed

Here’s probably the most important point of all: neither of these things has to do with speed, any more than the tires on your car have to do with the power of your engine. Picking speed is a completely separate issue altogether, and involves moving the pick back and forth using a variety of different physical methods. Edge picking simply reduces the resistance of that movement. And pickslanting allows that movement to transition from string to string with perfect accuracy. The key is that all three of these can happen simultaneously — in fact, there’s no way around it!

If you’re starting to get the idea that picking technique isn’t one problem but really a collection of them, then you’re exactly right. Stay tuned for more episodes of Cracking the Code as we continue our investigation of this fascinating topic.

About Brendan Schlagel

Brendan wears many Code hats, including interview production, website wrangling, marketing strategy, and product design.

27 Comments

  • André says:

    First of all, thanks to this great inside look into developping awesome guitar skills!
    I’m at the point of changing my whole guitar playing style like holding the pic, using the 45° angle and so on.
    Your Videos did a great job on motivating me to start getting professional and knowing how to play fast.
    My problem just now at the time is, that i learned a lot about upward and downward pickslanting and all these different techniques..
    But at the moment I’m so much at the beginning, I’m not even quite shure how actually to hold the pick for the best control.
    I actually had problems with my pic holding, so that i realized i had to change it in order to get faster and gain more control over my playing.
    So i learned that it is a good idea to use the bended index finger with the thumb ( http://basicsofguitar.blogspot.de/2009/11/how-to-hold-pickplectrum-when-strumming.html )
    instead of straight index finger with thumb, how i did it before ( http://www.guitartutoronline.com/images/02_basics/hold_pick_incorrect01.jpg )

    Maybe i missed that part, or you left it out because you thought thats already clear to everyone.
    I saw in one video, that Yngwie uses the 45° angle to the other side as most players would do.
    That actually feels a little weird to me, is there a trick? Does the holding position of the fingers change compared to the normal 45° angle?

    Also do you know if John McLaughlin does it the same way with his technique?
    Since his technique is so crystal clear i try to learn his technique from the bottom on.

    Maybe you could involve that question either in your videos, or make a small article on that on the blog?
    I would be very thankfull! I think if you make a photo or even a video in the perspective of the player himself, so how he sees his picking hand himself –
    that would be the best angle to understand as a player how to imitate that.

    Thanks a lot to you guys, you rock!!

  • Geoff Waddington says:

    I get the edge picking concept completely and, as Troy says, we all use it consciously or unconsciously. One thing that I’m not sure about, however, is why everyone insists on edge picking with the LEADING edge as opposed to the TRAILING edge. What are the advantages of the former against the latter? Does anyone know / have a view? My query steMs from the fact that I have often used the trailing edge, but, if there are obvious advantages to using the leading edge, I’d be glad to know about them…..

    • judd oakes says:

      I know this is somewhat stale but thought i would chime in. If you use the trailing edge for your edge picking and it is comfortable for you to do so then do it. There are a few players that do this. Neal Schon from journey does this very thing. George Benson does this as well. Most players i think have a feeling that the pick will fly out of their hand if they pick to hard, but shouldn’t be a problem with practice. But try the other one after awhile you will get the hang of that too.

    • Barny says:

      Geoff, I was on trailing edge for a while and just started on leading edge. Eric Johnson’s ‘Total Electric’ shows circular picking. It is easier mechanics wise with leading edge to get good range and reach for circular picking.

      So far, I prefer trailing edge pick hold for the security of pick hold. But I found it limited me on my speed to 60% of the recorded speed of the fast run in Trademark. I am giving the forward edge a try to break through this ceiling.

  • Jeff says:

    TBH Troys vids have rocked my confidence and shown me the light ..1. fast picking was never my bag when I found out I could do the similar with fast hammer ons pulls off for legato and two handed tapping .. 2. I have been an exclusive trailing edge picker for 36 years now..I wonder now if I should apply the rule of only ever changing a string after a downstroke .. rather than an up stroke? or do the same rules apply as for a leading edge picker.. or have I got it all wrong .. and edge picking will never deliver the same results as downward pick slanting.. if some one can explain simply to me .. or do I downward pick slant with a leading edge .. I’ve so engaged in the story.. the theory now has me lost.. I feel like I’m trying to learn how to walk again

  • judd Oakes says:

    Jeff-Edge Picking and Pick Slanting happens on 2 different Axis and edge picking just means you would choose to pick with the side of the pick rather than the front or flat part of the pick. As Troy stated everyone more or less does this to a certain extent whether you choose to use the leading edge or trailing edge is dependent on your thumb orientation. If you pick and it looks almost like hitchhiker thumb then the down stroke would hit with the trailing edge whereas if your thumb was bent down towards the floor this would be the leading edge . The pick slanting part is the orientation of the pick as it relates to the pick orientation that is parallel to the strings. Say the strings are the X axis and say well if you are an upward pick slanter than the backend the pick is more in the positive Y direction where as a downward pick slanter would be more in the -Y area. An upward pick slanter would be able to do a downstroke and have the downstroke clear the next adjacent string however when doing an upstroke the pick would bury itself into the next string below it almost like a reverse rest stroke. The opposite is true with downward pick slanters. Whether you do trailing or leading edge the downward or upward pick slanting component is not affected.

  • Jeff says:

    Judd really appreciate the time taken for the response and explanation.. I think I’m slowly getting a feel for it going through a descending fours across an octave pattern.. they say nothing worth knowing is ever easy .. so gonna get OCD with it and a metronome .. its gonna be a 6-12 mnth goal methinks to get to a decent BPM level of 190 .. keep on rocking brother

  • Moamen mirghany says:

    I appreciate the work and effort you’ve put into this, this is huge and substantially changed the way I looked at picking, I always thought that it was all alternate picking and the more you practised the more accurate you got. Never have I thought of all the elements and factors that you explained in Cracking the Code. the thing is though, I struggle to fully understand downward pick slanting. I understand that it’s easier to change strings after an upstroke but is that the only thing to it? Do I have to hold the pick differently? Do I have to change my hand/wrist movement? How do I hold the pick at an 45 angle? And what do I do in case of a 3 note per string situation? I feel like there’s something I am missing and I really want to get this right as it obviously would skyrocket my accuracy. Again, thanks for taking the time to explain all this stuff.

    • judd Oakes says:

      Moamen Whether you use your forearm rotation, wrist deviation, elbow deviation, to do alternate picking is a separate function from either downward or upward pick slanting for the most part. Straight even number groupings per string like pentatonics can be done efficiently with one way pick slanting either downward starting on a downstroke and ending on an upstroke or upward pick slanting which would require starting on an upstroke and finishing on the same string with a downstroke. However the key is that when doing the doward pickslanting the forearm or hand is rotated or supinated away from the guitar an arbitrary angle so that when you strike the string on the downstroke the pick is buried and on the upstroke it rises out of the plane of the strings, the Opposite occurs for upward pick slanting whereas the forearm is rotated into the guitar so that when you do a downstroke that it exits the plain of the strings and upstrokes bury themselves. FOr odd notes per string then both downward and upward pick slanting must be used. If you start on a downstroke and end on the same string with a downstroke then an upward pickslant must be used then when you change to the new string where you start and end on a upstroke this should be done with downward pick slanting. the 45 degree angle could be the downward or upward pick slanting or also edge picking although each happens perpendicular to each other.

    • Brendan Schlagel says:

      Hi Moamen — and thanks for the great answer, Judd!

      Just want to add that you can find much more explanation + visual demonstration of these concepts on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/troygrady In particular make sure you watch the first 3 episodes of Cracking the Code S2. There are several sample chapters from our Masters in Mechanics seminars you can watch as well (and for the most comprehensive explanation, we recommend checking out the Masters in Mechanics subscription, particularly our Volcano, Cascade, and Antigravity seminars!)

      The most important thing to keep in mind, as Judd mentions, is that it’s most efficient to switch strings after escaping the plane of the strings — which you can do w/ either upward OR downward pickslanting. And for odd # note groupings you can combine them w/ what we call “two-way pickslanting”. There are other solutions for this too, e.g. crosspicking or using some combination of DWPS w/ sweeping / legato (see: the Yngwie “Volcano” method). Plenty of players are primarily one-way pickslanters; plenty others use two-way pickslanting all the time.

      Anyway, it can get complicated and there are often many different mechanical solutions for a particular thing…many ways of holding & moving the pick that can work. We touch on a lot of this stuff in our YT videos so that’s the best place to start learning more of the basics. The Masters in Mechanics seminars have our most in-depth explanations; we also plan to add more demos / examples to the Season Pass, which is our “core curriculum for picking fundamentals” product.

  • Mariano Mazzieri says:

    It turns out I’ve been using the trailing edge ever since I play guitar. When I watched Cracking The Code, Troy never quite explains why he abandoned trailing edge picking, so I began wondering what were the differences between the two and this is what I found out this far:
    * Trailing edge produces a more aggressive attack and therefore the sound seems more defined, while leading edge causes a softer attack and it also affects the tone a bit.
    * Pinch harmonics seem to be easier to produce with the leading edge, at least when you’re doing down-strokes. I find that upstroke pinch harmonics are trickier and more unpredictable regardless of the edge one may use.
    * Trailing edge picking allows stronger grip as the middle finger can join the index to apply pressure against the thumb without interfering with other strings.

    I’m wondering now how these things influenced our playing when we started playing our first rhythm parts… and then how that affected our solo playing when we were already used to play rhythm in a certain way…?

  • Timo says:

    Does anyone here does not use edge picking? I never liked the sound of it and I can’t play as fast as mab but I never needed these techniques. maybe I use pick slanting but I don’t know. But it’s possible to acquire speed with no edge picking right? I don’t have trouble crossing strings because I use the mininum of the plectrum that I need. I do feel I can go faster if I would learn edge picking but I really don’t like the feel and sound of it. Anyone feel or do the same or should I really learn edge picking?

  • judd Oakes says:

    The minimum plectrum thing or choking up on the pick is a little red hearing for it does not really help you cross strings better it just makes the problem perhaps a smaller problem as Troy has stated before. Pick-slanting and edge picking happen in two different planes. One does not need to use edge picking in order to use pick slanting. Edge picking does however decrease the drag of the pick as it slices though the string so it may be easier to glide through the strings faster per say. Pick Slanting is a string switching mechanic and needs to happen in order to cross strings efficiently. Most of the time when I do more complicated single notes per string runs cross picking arpeggios I straighten the edge picking out and focus solely on the rotation of the pick slanting so that it clears the strings it needs to. Sometimes I don’t give it enough and I swipe the next higher string or lower string but cannot really decern this, I just happened to notice it by looking at my picking hand. Hope this helps.

  • monkface says:

    I confess I absolutely do not understand. I haven’t watched all of the vids and I’m not sure where to begin, but so far what I’ve seen makes no sense to me and I’m not seeing it. Maybe i’m dumb and I’m a tad frustrated but I’m clearly missing something. Any help would be appreciated!

    • Brendan Schlagel says:

      Hey, sorry for any confusion. Hard to help without knowing exactly what you don’t understand, but you should definitely start by watching a few of our videos. Head to our YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/troygrady) and watch the three episodes of Cracking the Code Season 2, as well as the Vai “Crossroads Diminished” video. Lots more free videos you can check out but those are the best ones to start with and should help clarify this. To dig deeper you can also check out Masters in Mechanics — our flagship seminars (Volcano, Cascade, Antigravity) are super in-depth, several hours each on these concepts. But the free material should be enough to give you a solid basic understanding! If you’re still finding some aspect of this confusing after watching our material, shoot us an email with more detail and we’ll try to help.

  • monkface says:

    Welp. I’ve tried and I’ve tried. I’ve watched a bunch of videos, I’ve searched for articles, I’ve incorporated the technique in my playing, I’ve analyzed it within my own playing and I just don’t see it. I absolutely must be missing something. I hear it described as powerfull and necessary yet I don’t get it. I think I may understand it, but I’m not sure at all and any principles I may think I understand do not apply when descending. So I’m not sure if I’ve actually stumbled upon the actual technique. I don’t really know where to begin and I wish there was just a simple exercise that demonstrated this. I often think rather than showing a video of someone playing it very fast and then a slow motion video that’s only slightly slower, why not just play it very slowly in real time and explain the motions and mechanics behind it? I guess I’m just gonna have to give up or find someone to explain it ckearly. I don’t care if I feel stupid if it turns out to be easy, I just want to learn. Thanks for your time.

    • Brendan Schlagel says:

      If you send us a note w/ more detail on where you’re getting stuck, we’ll try to help! To confirm, you’ve watched all the episodes of Cracking the Code, yes? The most important concept to understand is pickslanting, which is just tilting the pick such that it escapes the plane of the strings after certain strokes (upstrokes, in the case of downward pickslanting), to make switching strings more efficient. The Yngwie and EJ episodes cover that pretty thoroughly. No need to worry about edge picking for now, in case that’s what’s throwing you off here…

      Are you unclear on some aspect of how pickslanting works? When you say you “just don’t see it” what exactly are you referring to? We’re happy to answer specific questions, but want to make sure you’ve done the homework first and watched enough of our stuff to get familiar w/ the basic terminology & concepts we talk about. Otherwise it’s hard for us to help.

      And as I mentioned, for super in-depth explanations you can check out our seminars. Or you could grab the Season Pass, which comes with an hour-long intro called the “DWPS Pack” that you may find useful. We do plan to add more demos / examples to the Season Pass as well.

  • monkface says:

    Hey, thanks for your patience and reply! It’s hard to explain without actually showing it. If I downward slant the pick and do a downstroke (in fact what would you recommend as an exercise? 2 notes picked per string?) and then an upstroke does the pick end up “inside” the string? Is that where im aiming for? As opposed to a more straight, more perpendicular pick where the pick ends up on the other side of the string, causing me to go back over the string to hit the next string which is wasted motion. I see this concept except it doesn’t work when I descend. When I apply this technique I fail to see the advantage which means I’m just doing it wrong or missing a crucial aspect.

    • judd Oakes says:

      if you only do downward pick slanting that means only even notes will leave you at an advantage because of the Down, Up, Down Up way of alternate picking. When you do this correctly you will notice the pick will bury itself in the strings and rest stroke on the next higher string. When you perform the upstroke you will pick the same string you just played and the pick will them rise above the strings and miss the other string thus letting you switch to a new string with relative ease. So doing pentatonic stuff where two notes per string is good since this will give you maximum efficiency . Just remember not to play perpendicular to the strings you rather want to slice into them like a golfer swings into his golf ball. The best way to do this is to lean your forearm out away from the guitar so more underside of the forearm is seen and rotate into and out of the string. Hope this helps

  • monkface says:

    It does help and this is the concept that I arrived at but I wasn’t sure. And partly why I wasn’t sure was because down slant on a descending run doesn’t appear to have that economic advantage. What’s the answer there? Upward slant? Also three notes per string doesn’t seem to work with this technique -for that I just use economy picking anyway. I guess I’ll experiment with other combos but I still don’t see a downward slant descending advantage. The upstroke basically ends up in the same place as if I were playing perpendicular. Thanks for your patience with my lumpheaded questions but frankly none of this is addressed in any vids I’ve seen. If there is one could you
    Please tell me?
    MC

  • judd Oakes says:

    if you do an even number of notes and use downward pick slanting then this is efficient either doing ascending or descending runs because the pick rises above the string. you might feel that you are further away from the string that you want if you are ascending but it is not really relevant. some people think so but eric johnson is pretty fast with his downward slant either way. When you down three or other odd note groupings per string this delves into the world of two way pick slanting where on one string you are upward pick slanting starting on a down stroke then downward pick slanting on the next string that starts on an upstroke. And upward pick slanting is the exact opposite of downward pick slanting. You should be able to read into this more some of the above replies to learn more about this.

  • monkface says:

    I just don’t see the principal applying when descending. I still have to cross over the string to then down pick it after the upstroke. Which is the same if I’m doing it downward slant or holding the pick more perpendicular. Does that make sense? It strikes how incredibly easy this would be if someone were to make a video slowly and easily explaining the principle in all its forms.

  • judd Oakes says:

    watch this video on string hopping and you will see what you will have to do if you pick perpendicular. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdLq0IVTXMc

  • monkface says:

    I’m not trying to be rude but I know the perils of perpendicular when it comes to string hopping. I’m trying to avoid it with the slant. I’m just going to start doing it and see what happens. I have yet to get a clear concise demonstration of it so it’s sorta guesswork at this point. I know it’s just doing it but analyzing doesn’t show a whole lot of difference at various points.

    • Brendan Schlagel says:

      Hey, hope you found Judd’s replies helpful here, he’s spot on w/ everything so far (thanks Judd!)

      The reason I keep asking whether you’ve watched all the episodes of Cracking the Code is because we do go through pretty thoroughly how pickslanting works and why it’s necessary, with plenty of demonstrations! After watching those, should be clear why this applies both when ascending or descending, for even # notes per strings — when you’re using DWPS the pick escapes the plane of the strings to make switching to *any* string easier after an upstroke. This is for DWPS specifically; as Judd mentioned for odd # notes per strings, you’d get into two-way pickslanting, or other solutions like we show w/ the Yngwie “Volcano” example).

      If you tell us something like “I’m confused when you say [x] at minute [y] in S2E3” then we can help — but it’s not yet totally clear you’ve done your homework and you can’t expect us to keep answering questions if you haven’t put in the work to go through our material. And that doesn’t even require buying our stuff, since we have DOZENS more free videos on YouTube you can check out 🙂

  • Paul says:

    Hi guys, thanks a lot for the “Cracking the code” series, it really made me think about my playing style. (And as it turns out, I’ve been playing with an upward pickslant and using the trailing edge)
    I just have one stupid question: when using DWPS do you play with the pick at an angle (dwps AND edge picking), or as flat as possible?
    This question has been ringing in my head since a saw the videos, an answer will be much appreciated.
    Cheers.

    • Brendan Schlagel says:

      Hey Paul, thanks, glad you’re enjoying our material so far. Yes, pickslanting and edge picking can be (and most often are!) used together. There’s no one “right way” to do it — just as there’s a range of pickslanting techniques (dwps, uwps, 2wps) and string-switching mechanics (elbow, wrist, forearm rotation etc), different players use varying degrees of edge picking. As mentioned in this article, each does a different thing (edge picking reduces resistance of movement; pickslanting facilitates fast/accurate string-switching) and both are important components of picking motion. We recommend experimenting to see what works best for you!

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