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Get Ready To Rotate!

By December 28, 2019 News

The forearm is one of the most important joints in all of picking technique. And in the newly updated Forearm Motion section of the Pickslanting Primer, we’ve rolled out over one hour and forty minutes of in-depth, hands-on tutorials for getting its many superpowers working in your own playing.

That’s right — ten chapters covering not just the core motions, but all the practical stuff you need to get these motions happening right now: pick grip, arm position, muting, tracking, and sweeping. We even cover the Gypsy jazz “flexed wrist” form, including how to make it work on high-gain guitar with surprisingly effective noise control.

Armed And Ready

We may think of the forearm as a part of our arms, but it’s also a joint, a dual distinction made possible by he ingenious design of the bones within it. There are actually two of them — the ulna, which is closer to the pinky side of the hand, and the radius, which is on the thumb-side.

Pink for… pinky!

And the reason the radius gets the cool superhero-sounding name is that it can actually rotate, tracing an arc around the ulna. Rotating toward the body is the motion of “pronation”, and rotating in the opposite direction is the motion of “supination”. But for simplicity we can just think of both directions of motion, collectively, as “forearm rotation”.

The amazing forearm joint: putting the “pro” in pronation and the “super” in supination!

So when you turn your arm back and forth, which some people describe as “turning a key in a lock”, what you’re really doing is operating a joint. And that joint is not actually your wrist joint, but the articulation surfaces between your arm bones. Which is really cool, because when we think of how joints work, we normally imagine hinge-type joints, like the elbow, or ball-in-socket joints, like the shoulder. But the forearm joint works by spinning your whole forearm longitudinally.

Get Ready to Eddie

Because the ulna remains relatively stationary as the forearm rotates, you can use it as an anchor, resting it right on the guitar body, and accomplishing this awesome thing:

The most recognizable forearm motion in guitar

This is, of course, Eddie Van Halen’s iconic tremolo technique. And it is a marvel of mechanics that sounds as good as it looks. Smooth and purring, with consistent tone and effortless energy. Along with tapping, it’s probably the closest thing to learning a “moonwalk-level” trick you can do on guitar. And of all the picking motions, it is the one most visually demonstrative of what pure forearm rotation looks like. In the rotation chapter of the new Forearm Motion section, we show you how to use it not just for tremolo, but for the kind of high-speed synchronized Malmsteen-style single-string phrases that start moving and keep moving for sustained lengths of time.

Coupling Up

The most common use of forearm motion in picking technique is when it operates in a cooperative role, alongside the action of other joints. This type of motion blending, which neuroscientists call coupling, occurs most frequently with the wrist, and can create the kind of sophisticated motion paths needed for switching strings, sweeping, strumming, and more.

Probably the most famous forearm-coupled picking style is Gypsy picking, which we address at length in the new Primer sections. This includes an in-depth investigation of the amazing Joscho Stephan’s effortlessly masterful motion. We address not just the distinctive “flexed wrist” form used by Gypsy players, but even take some time to translate it to high-gain guitar styles, where its speed and string switching capability can make it a powerful weapon.

Metal vs Gypsy: The remarkable similarity of Marty Friedman and Joscho Stephan’s form
Marty Friedman and Michael Angelo Batio have used Gypsy form for high-gain playing for decades, as has of course Eddie Van Halen when he locks into tremolo mode. And one counterintuitive aspect of doing this is how effective noise control can be despite the utter lack of picking-hand contact against the strings. In Chapter 10 we look at a handful of cool tricks for controlling that noise, and it’s really surprising just how quiet you can be once you get them all happening. We’ve made that chapter free on YouTube, and you can watch it right here:

Muting And Tracking

For more traditional muted approaches, the bridge-anchored form of coupled forearm and wrist motion is something of a paradox. It maintains reliable contact with the bridge and strings, permitting Teemu Mäntysaari-style virtuoso metal muting. Not only does this not seem to impede the smoothness of the motion itself, but it even permits tracking across all six strings without needing to move the arm’s anchor against the body. And this is… pretty surprising!

Bridge-anchored forearm-wrist motion provides muting across all six strings

You can see clearly in the closeup Magnet shots in the new footage just how far you can track without altering the forearm-body anchor that most of rely on. This enhanced tracking ability is one of the characterstics of coupled forearm-wrist motion, and especially Gypsy-style “flexed wrist” form, that provides its trademark stable and relaxed feel.

Primed And Ready

How do you watch all this awesome stuff? If you’ve got a Cracking the Code membership, then you’re already set. Just head here and dive right in:

Forearm Motion

This fascinating joint is an important collaborator in many picking motions


If you’d like to pick up a download copy of the Primer, you can do so in our store, and you’ll still continue to receive updates, for life, whenever we add new lessons. We started out with the Pickslanting Primer four years ago and have never stopped improving it.

Top Comments

  1. Avatar for Troy Troy says:

    Just rolled out a nice update to the Pickslanting Primer: 10 chapters and about and hour and forty minutes of forearm motion tutorials. This replaces the legacy “Introduction to Forearm Motion” video which was really just excerpt from a live broadcast we did a couple years back. In other words, we now have a proper forearm motion section to the Pickslanting Primer. Yay!

    Those with accounts can dive right in - all kinds of cool stuff in here. We’ve got one chapter, on noise control without palm muting, up on YouTube which you can find right here:

    I always learn stuff when making these lessons, and this bit about noise control has been a long-standing question since I first interviewed Michael Angelo Batio years ago. I asked him how come he gets no noise when he plays lead, and he said it was because he backs off the gain. But I actually now think it’s because he uses a lot of gain. After all, as you can see in the clip, he did play my amp with the gain maxed, and he was as quiet as ever.

    So, amazingly, it’s really the super-saturated amp that does most of the noise control. Along with a dash of left-hand muting, and decent accuracy, it’s surprising how quiet you can get things to be.

    Also, we put this lick on Instagram while we were still editing:

    It’s now part of the “Noise Control” chapter, and tablature is free on the platform, with a functioning Soundslice player, as well:

  2. Avatar for NTC NTC says:

    I enjoyed the video above, and it’s nice to see noise control, which will appeal to all players of whatever technique, being looked at.

  3. Avatar for tommo tommo says:

    Looking forward to watching it!

    That’s interesting! I haven’t watched yet so this might be answered in the lessons already, but have you tried to reamp the same DI with different levels of gain to check how much noise comes through as a function of gain?

  4. These new videos are great, this is a technique I’ve wanted to use for a while and I’ve found the placement cues given (like having the whole side of the hand touching the strings near the bridge ) very helpful.
    It’s already helped me with some licks I had been struggling with :+1:

  5. Avatar for Troy Troy says:

    This is an upstroke escape motion, so it doesn’t do downstroke string changes. That would be a different motion. But if you’re asking can you use a similar arm / hand position and make a motion that can also do downstroke string changes, yes you can. Here’s our lesson on how to do that:

    The difference is this arm setus up is a little more pronated, and to do downstroke string changes you use a little more wrist extension. So the whole thing feels a little more like a “motorcycle grip” type pump action of the wrist. But it’s still very similar, so these two “modes” can work together as a family of motions. You play USX lines using the one form, and then switch to this slightly different form and motion if you want to pure alternate.

    We’ll eventually do a much shorter, maybe 10-minute chapter on this and add it to section of the Primer. But we wanted to get all this stuff done first since it has all the important foundation stuff like grip, arm position, muting, and so on.

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