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Test Drive Your Motions!

By January 16, 2021 February 15th, 2021 Lessons, News

Learning picking motion is a tricky process made all the more complicated by having to operate an actual guitar while you do it.  In this exciting new one-hour update to the Pickslanting Primer, we take a big step toward simplifying the challenge with a new collection of valuable hands-on tests.

Motion Tests

Our new hands-on tests are more than just fun ways to measure your speed.  With nothing more than a flat surface and a few common props, you can test drive common picking motions to get a head start on mastering them. The idea is to remove the complexity of the guitar from the equation, while simulating the joint motions themselves as accurately as possible.

As a representative example, here’s our test of Van Halen-style wrist motion that helps demystify the seemingly unorthodox approach of the vaunted master:

Eddie’s approach to wrist motion is often considered practically as unorthodox as it is recognizable. But upon closer inspection, we discover that his motion is actually pretty common in everyday activities — in this case, scribbling with a pen. It’s a simple motion that almost everyone can do quickly, and once that familiarity clicks, it won’t be long before you’re doing it just as comfortably on a guitar.

Tests like this make it easier to understand the sophisticated operation of joints like the forearm and the wrist. But even more importantly, they highlight the difference between difficulty and simple unfamiliarity. Very often, the challenges we face in performing picking motions are due to the foreign feeling of managing the pick, strings, and fretting fingers. Once those are removed, you may discover that previously unapproachable motions weren’t really beyond your actual athletic ability at all.

Speed Tests

As you perform these tests, you’ll also measure your speed.  If you’ve ever wondered if you have enough raw athletic power for fast picking, these tests will also give you a sense of your base capability for fast motion.  And you may discover that you have more than you think.

Perhaps most surprising is the realization that virtuoso levels of guitar speed are often already present in many everyday activities. For example, in our tests, moving fast enough to manage alternate picking at 190 beats per minute sixteenth notes seems eminently achievable, even if that same tempo can seem intimidating on an instrument.

Once again, unfamiliarity is often the culprit. Coordinating the operation of a pick with fretting hand fingers while targeting specific strings or moving from one string to another can make even familiar motions seem awkward. By dispensing with the guitaristic complexities and instead focusing on common activities you already know how to do, you’ll get a better sense of what your real biomechanical aptitude is.

Case Studies: The Tremolo Test

One aspect of this update we’re really excited about is including the type of real-world investigative work that we perform in our interviews, and with players who sign up for Cracking the Code.

“You can’t play faster than bangin’ on one note!” – Michael Angelo Batio

In these real-world case studies of actual Cracking the Code players, you’ll learn how we use a simple tremolo to test picking motions for optimal efficiency at all levels of ability, from total beginners to seasoned veterans. This includes actual “before and after” footage of players solving picking motion challenges, from avoiding stringhopping motions to choosing among competing techniques. We even profile a complete non-guitarist beginner, to see just how far you can get on your first day with a guitar pick.

This type of observation and testing is what separates Cracking the Code from the didactic teaching we grew up with, and we’re super grateful to Cracking the Code users Yaakov, Rivethead, Rob The Viking, Joe Begly, and Cracking the Code team member Tommo‘s wife Kim, who fearlessly volunteered to be a part of this study.

Where Can You Watch It?

This update is included free with the Pickslanting Primer, and you can check it out right here:

Testing Your Motions

Test drive common picking motions with these diagnostic speed tests


If you’re already a Cracking the Code member, hit that link and you’re ready to roll. Just make sure you’re logged in when you do it. If you own a copy of the Primer you can also hit the same link — once again, just make sure you’re logged in to your Cracking the Code platform account. As a download purchaser, you’ll also find download copies of these new lessons in your account, accessible from the menu bar at the top of the screen.

Top Comments

  1. Avatar for Troy Troy says:

    Our new Pickslanting Primer update is live! You can find it right here:

    We’re really excited about this one since it builds on much of the amazing work that @tommo has been doing right here on the forum. This includes a new battery of simplified hands-on tests that players can use to diagnose speed and efficiency issues with common picking motions. These tests grew from our “table tap test”, which we’ve administered informally here on the forum for a while now. But they now include a wider variety of tests that more accurately mimic the joint mechanics of real-world picking motions, and should offer accordingly more realistic gauges of speed as a result.

    Fittingly, this update also includes real-world footage of some of the forum’s great players, who fearlessly agreed to be a part of the case studies we’ve included here. So a grateful shout out to @yaakov, @rivethead, @Rob_The_Viking, and @joebegly for volunteering this birdseye look at the amazing progress they’ve made in addressing core picking motion issues.

    A special shout-out to @tommo’s wife Kim, who volunteered for our case study of beginner tremolo. Kim is a non-guitarist who agreed to grab a pick for the purposes of examining completely untrained guitar motion. I won’t spoil the results, but let’s just say that Tommo’s days of being the most fearsome player in household may be numbered. One can only imagine what fretboard damage his daughters will be doing in ten years.

    If you get a moment to run through any of these tests, let us know how you make out!

  2. This chapter is sooooo good:

    The part about the role of randomness in motor learning is such a big deal.

    And regarding the whole “start with speed” approach, I think the mistake people may take when they try to take Shawn Lane advice at face value, is they aren’t starting with a simple enough motor task.

    The example of the day one beginner trying tremolo is so illustrative.

    Whether you are trying to pick fast, or trying to pick slow, there will be randomness, and you will experience some kind of feedback in terms of how the motion looks and how it feels.

    The great thing about trying to pick fast early on is that it the subtle random variations in your motion are met with immediate feedback: the random things that work at high speed get immediate positive feedback (the smoothness, evenness and speed you can feel and hear), and the random things that don’t work at high speed get immediate negative feedback (feel and sound of unsmoothness, unevenness).

    The seductively evil thing about only trying to pick slow in the early going is precisely the lack of negative feedback re: effectiveness for high speed picking. Any speed-unfriendly randomness in the attempts at slow speed picking gets a chance to become a long term habit because at slow speed it doesn’t set off any alarm bells.

    Andy Wood’s Jurassic Park metaphor in one of these clips is really apt. “Starting with speed” is metaphorically applying evolutionary pressure to your picking practice. Failing to give your motor system the opportunity to learn from the tremolo test is like letting a species evolve without any predators: it allows traits to flourish that are maladaptive to a more demanding environment. Over time (pretty quickly in the video linked above), the tremolo test weeds out the maladaptive random variations and reinforces the adaptive ones. (Here using adaptive and maladaptive only with respect to “suitability for fast picking”).

  3. In a future revision, maybe it would be worth adding a “beginner banjo roll test” chapter to drive that point home. I can imagine someone whose primary interest is bluegrass looking at the “tremolo test” chapter and mistakenly thinking “but this doesn’t apply to the lines I want to play!”

  4. Avatar for Shredd Shredd says:

    Fantastic stuff once again! Thanks so much for making this update, everybody. Will be re-watching with guitar and trying everything out. Very well-worded, clear and inspiring, as it has always been.

    You guys are so good at this! :black_heart:

  5. Avatar for Troy Troy says:

    I don’t anticipate doing lessons on entire “famous” songs or solos. What we did in the seminars is pretty close though, where we pick out specific phrases here and there from players like Yngwie to explain how certain techniques work. To my mind there is no need to go through an entire song or solo note for note once you get the concepts with a few representative examples. “Teach a man to fish…” kind of thing.

    What I was referring to here is doing more instructional stuff on the general process for playing coordinated left and right hand phrases, no matter what the phrase is. The general concept of starting out fast and slowing down gradually, is the same. But it’s always helpful to show examples so people understand very clearly how to implement it.

    On the song front, @Tommo is working on more seminar material that will include a number of awesome songs he wrote in an '80s metal style that are tailored for specific picking motions. We need more musical material that someone who is learning motions can play all the way through, where we know for sure that every lick will work with certain motions with no extra tailoring. This way you can play songs instead of exercises, which is always more fun and to our mind, a better learning opportunity. We’ll be filming that over the first half of this year and we’ll let y’all know when it’s ready to roll.

Continue the discussion at The Cracking the Code Forum

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