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What is two-way pickslanting, and how does it work?

By July 16, 2018 November 5th, 2018 Lessons

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 forearm 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 famous for doing. So we thought, ok, that forearm 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”:

Chapter 8 - Down, Up, Rotate


So yes, in the Antigravity way of doing things, the “rotate” movement is accomplished by a combination of wrist and forearm adjustment. The Pickslanting Primer goes into a little more detail on the forearm and wrist 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) forearm movement at all. Here’s the incredible Andy Wood playing the ascending sixes pattern in our live workshop with him. Forearm movement is almost non-existent:

Ascending Sixes Positions

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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:

Ascending Sixes Positions

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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” or “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 using them. 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 further, we learned that 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:

First Sixes

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The Pickslanting Primer example uses a flatter picking path to begin with, so less forearm turning is necessary. The turning motion of the forearm is not quite gone, but it’s much less pronounced:

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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, 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 forearm is needed. And the Andy Wood version of things uses the flattest picking motion, and very little to no forearm 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.

Top Comments

  1. Avatar for Troy Troy says:

    I know we’ve discussed this on other threads a few days ago - in fact this blog post was essentially adapted from one of my responses there. We thought we’d do a nice multimedia-style presentation of this with embedded videos.

    FYI the way the site now works, the forum thread now becomes the comment section for that blog post - which makes it much more searchable and useful anyway. We should have done that from the get-go, so apologies for the two or three comments that no longer appear!

  2. Avatar for Troy Troy says:

    …and here’s some cool slow motion footage of what it all looks like:

    There is still a touch of forearm involvement here, but it’s super minimal. More importantly, it’s not what’s creating the differing escape paths we’re seeing, or the curved pickstrokes that connect them. That’s the wrist doing that. It’s notable how stealthy it is. You really can’t feel any of these changes in wrist motion. I can very easily see how someone who has always played this way would be unaware they were doing so.

    I’m not done baking this cake yet - six months or a year from now I expect all these motions to be more habitual and consistent, if I keep using them.

  3. Avatar for Troy Troy says:

    Not knowing this existed at all was the largest and most immediate problem on my side. At various points in the past I have definitely tried doing what I thought was some kind of “no pickslanting, just moving the hand back and forth” scale playing. That’s what it looks like people like Andy and Paul Gilbert are doing, and so a lot of players probably try to cop that. Predictably, that went nowhere for me.

    Instead, I kind of came at this backwards. In the attached blog post there are two examples of the same lick we filmed a couple years apart and you can see how different the motions look. So somehow, by trial and error, I was learning to dial down the arm and use more wrist. It was not intentional. As a result of our work on crosspicking I became more conscious of this, and that’s when it started clicking for scale type playing. But only very recently, like over the last, I don’t know, year or so.

    So how do we teach this? I actually like the bluegrass roll patterns, as one possible approach. Because they won’t work until you match the arm position with the wrist motion of the correct flatness. Once you figure out what “flat upstroke escape” and “flat downstroke escape” feel like, not only will the roll patterns start to work, but then you can do your usual 1wps types of lines that way. Gilbert sixes, Yngwie six-note pattern - if you’re a rock type player, for example.

    Of course you could go the other way - try to do the flat 1wps lines first and then connect them. But if you do them separately, then you can’t really tell if you’re doing them both from the same exact arm position - which wrist-only 2wps requires. The roll forces you to do that, because you’ve got your escaped downstrokes and upstrokes in the same phrase.

    That’s one suggestion anyway!

  4. Nice picking!!! My 3NPS mechanics changed dramatically after switching to X-picking. And just like yours, it appears like there is no slanting.

    But I would say that the difference in the path of the pick between outside and inside strokes is more because I am articulating slightly more when I string transfer. An analogy might be a vert ramp skateboarder who only goes above the coping of the ramp once every three direction changes. So in effect, each of the 3 changes is following the same path… but every third is just going a bit higher.

  5. Some of these things may have been mentioned already, but in the context of Hank’s video I thought I’d post a couple things that helped me when I was shedding 902 stuff hard for the last couple weeks, things beyond “assume the position and do basic 3-string rolls:”

    1. Do bigger rolls. It helps with string tracking. Four strings is perfect to roll back and forth over, say, m9 chords with 5th omitted HINT HINT THIS CHORD SOUNDS GREAT

    2. Don’t be afraid to have a resting hand position that feels slightly pronated, if you’re naturally a DWPS guy. I had a hell of a time getting 02 “UWPS” licks to work until I realized that I was way too supinated and had to pronate my forearm on every ascending string change (i.e., garage spikes, I think?). It was more like 901 or something and it felt terrible. As soon as I said “fuck it, I guess I’ll try rotating thiswa-- oh there it is.”

    3. This one’s more general: WRITE. ETUDES. Come up with cool ideas and play them using the technique (regardless of whether they’re “crosspicking” lines or “1WPS” or “2WPS” lines). It lets you turn your analytical brain off and just pay attention to what your hands are feeling as you write, and builds vocab meanwhile.

    Someone please yell at me if this is the wrong thread to drop this in.

Continue the discussion at The Cracking the Code Forum

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