You may have heard the term two-way pickslanting in discussions of picking mechanics, particularly when it comes to scale playing. It may even be what brought you to Cracking the Code in the first place. Indeed, the discovery that elite players actually make changes to their picking motion on the fly, right in the middle of a phrase, was groundbreaking. It explained a lot about why exercises like scales are considered fundamental, and yet paradoxically, only the best of the best players seem to be any good at alternate picking them.
The Antigravity Breakthrough
Our first technical investigation of this topic, the Antigravity Seminar, was recorded several years back. It’s nearly four hours long and surveys how a collection of elite players, from John McLaughlin to Paul Gilbert, actually use this technique to play fast scalar style lines. Since that time we’ve learned quite a bit more about how the motions actually work, and this has made things both simpler and potentially more confusing at the same time.
Antigravity details the process of “discovering” two-way pickslanting. The eureka moment was when we noticed that the amazing Michael Angelo Batio was making a sudden arm motion during scale playing, right at the moment of one of the string changes. We soon discovered that this motion was actually part of the way he was making those string changes so clean, as he is legendarily famous for doing. So we thought, ok, that arm motion isn’t something random, it is the technique.
I started practicing this, got good at it, and was finally able to play three-note-per-string scales across all strings smoothly and with perfect accuracy. We named it two-way pickslanting based on the way the pick appears to change its orientation in space, by rotating to one side, and then rotating back. We started teaching it that way in features like the popular original Cracking the Code episode Conquering the Scale on YouTube. It’s also why Chapter 8 of Antigravity is called “Down, Up, Rotate”:
So yes, in Antigravity way of doing things, the “rotate” movement is accomplished by a combination of wrist and arm adjustment. The Pickslanting Primer goes into a little more detail on the arm and hand changes necessary to do this. The Chapters are pretty short, I’d just watch them in order:
Lay Down Your Arms
Now here comes the “gotcha”. After a few more years of doing interviews, we discovered there are players who can do these same types of lines with no (or very little) arm movement at all. Here’s the incredible Andy Wood playing the ascending sixes pattern in our live workshop with him. When he speeds up, the arm movement is almost non-existent:
It turns out that Andy does this by switching between two different picking motions – one for the downstroke string change, and another for the upstroke string change. These motions are angled with respect to the strings, so the pick can escape in both directions. This is how Andy avoids hitting the surrounding strings when he makes high-speed string changes. And indeed, that’s the same way we’ve always known things to operate, and as we describe in Antigravity. What is new here is that both of these motions are performed almost entirely with the wrist. This is possible because the wrist is capable of 360 degrees of movement.
It’s also extremely stealthy.
If you trace the path of Andy’s picking motions in the slow motion version of these clips, you’ll see that the pick is indeed changing its direction of motion at various times. In other words, there really are different wrist movements happening within the course of this line. However without the telltale forearm turning that we saw in Batio’s technique, it’s really not possible to see this from the typical “audience” camera perspective. It just looks like Andy’s hand is moving back and forth the same way all the time.
Moreover, because we’re just switching between different axes of the same joint motion, it’s hard even for the player themselves to perceive that this motion path switching is happening. If you’ve heard players tell you they “don’t use a pickslant”, “don’t pick on an angle”, and those are wrist players, this may very well be why. I can pretty much guarantee you that if I had stumbled across these kinds of movements by trial and error as a teenager, when I was first learning, there’s pretty much no way I would know I was doing it. And I would probably think everyone else who couldn’t play a simple six-note ascending scale phrase was crazy for not being able to do something so straightforward.
It Takes Two
So we then realized that there is a more general meaning of the “two-way” in “two-way pickslanting”. It means having two different picking motions, and using one of those motions for the downstroke string changes and the other one for the upstroke string changes. And it doesn’t matter what type of arm or hand motion you use for that. Like Andy, you can even do it with only pure wrist motion and still get a similar result. If you use the pure wrist approach, the pick doesn’t “rotate” any more – at least not in the sense of “the forearm is turning”. But it definitely does trace a curved pathway, same as the arrows we draw on the screen in the Pickslanting Primer. And anatomically speaking, wrist motion is indeed often referred to as “rotation” even if that’s not exactly what we had in mind when we first started using the term.
The final piece of this was realizing, hilariously, that not only are there players out there that do this, but I myself am one of those players! If you compare the descending sixes example from years ago in Antigravity, with the same example more recently in the Pickslanting Primer, you will see the difference right away.
The Antigravity example uses a more vertical pick path, so there needs to be more forearm turning during the string changes:
The Pickslanting Primer example uses a flatter picking path to begin with, so less forearm turning is necessary. It’s not quite gone, but it’s much less pronounced:
In both examples, I’m doing the same thing Andy is doing – I’m using different wrist motions depending on the string change. I’m just getting a little help from the forearm in the process. I’m using more forearm in the Antigravity example, and less in the Primer example, but in both cases the concept is the same.
Amazingly, what was happening over the several year gap in between filming these two lessons, is that I was learning subconsciously how different wrist movements work, and learning to switch between them without help from the forearm. Eventually, all the way in 2018 a few years later, I got all the way to Andy Wood’s approach of using the wrist by itself, with almost no forearm movement at all:
There’s still a touch of forearm adjustment happening here and there, but it’s super minimal. And more importantly, it’s not enough to account for the different motion paths we’re seeing. The real work is being done by the wrist here, and it’s nearly imperceptible. It’s only when you examine closely in slow-motion that it becomes clear that the upstroke string changes are escaping the strings at a different diagonal than the downstroke string changes.
Where do you go from here?
What this means is that there are different ways to achieve the same or similar result. The Antigravity method of two-way pickslanting uses a more vertical but still wrist-oriented picking motion which is helped out by the forearm at the point of the string change. The Pickslanting Primer version of this is similar, just flatter, so less arm is needed. And the Andy Wood version of things uses the flattest picking motion, and very little to no arm turning most of the time. All these methods work, and you can practice any of them.
If you want to try the Antigravity style, you can watch Antigravity, and also the Pickslanting Primer which goes into a little more detail on how to do the wrist and forearm adjustments when you make the string change.
If you want to try the Andy Wood style of two-way pickslanting, I recommend the recent “Crosspicking With The Wrist” Talking the Code broadcast, which explains how the two different wrist movements work, and how Andy is able to switch between them.
So we’re all one big happy family of picking movements now, right? Right?? Ha. I’m sure we’ll learn something else down the line that causes us to re-think what we thought we knew all over again. But if you’re truly committed to understanding that big, complex world out there, that’s just how it has to be.