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Is your picking technique really working? Here's how to tell

By May 2, 2023 May 5th, 2023 News

It’s easy to assume that your playing is sloppy, slow, or fatiguing because you haven’t put in enough practice time. But what if the real reason is that you’re simply doing it wrong? How can you tell the difference?

In our latest update to the Pickslanting Primer, “Choosing A Technique”, we address the critical issue of evaluating the performance of the technique you’re currently using — or the one you’re trying to learn. This update arrives alongside a large batch of additional lessons and usability improvements that we’ve been rolling out in pieces over the last several months.

The Paradox of New Technique

Wolfgang Van Halen’s prodigious “reverse dart thrower” wrist motion tremolo

When we’re learning an unfamiliar technique, we lack a clear reference point for what “correct” actually feels and sounds like. The idea is to learn to move in a way that is natural, while paradoxically not knowing what “natural” even is. You would think we would, because… it’s natural, right? But in actual practice, even if we’ve performed motions quickly and fluidly in everday tasks, we still may not realize just how easy those very same motions are supposed to feel when they’re used as guitar techniques.

Traditional messaging about practice and dedication hasn’t helped either. This just makes us more likely to assume that technical difficulties, as Paul Gilbert might call them, are the result of our lack of skill or training — or worse, a personal failing. This misperception can lead to years of wasted effort trying to improve techniques that can’t be improved, using outdated methods that generally don’t produce results.

The Doc Watson-style rotator cuff picking motion of Billy Strings

Instead, when it comes to instrument technique, you should be as picky as you can be up front, accepting nothing less than optimal speed and comfort right out of the gate. By setting aside small-picture concerns about note-for-note accuracy, and focusing instead on testing joint motion performance, you can solve issues now that will quickly become problems when trying to learn actual music.

The “Choosing A Technique” Update

We’ve been super busy this year incorporating all these ideas into Pickslanting Primer updates both large and small. This includes adding new lessons, and also updating the steps in the main lesson sequence based on results from our latest Technique Critique teaching.

Topics covered in the new “Choosing A Technique” section:

This section also includes a genre-by-genre overview of picking mechanics used by notable players in the following musical styles:

On a related topic, the “Primary Motion” section now includes a discussion of why conducting large amounts of slow-speed practice often fails to work for “burning in” new faster-speed techniques:

The new, simplified “Motion Mechanics” section includes our latest introductions to the following common picking motions:

The Wrist Motion tutorials have been updated with even more hands-on tests and tips from recent Technique Critique teaching:

Finally, we’ve collected all our non-tutorial technical concepts in the new “Technical Reference” section. This creates a unified glossary-style reference for common concepts like escape motion and pickslanting, including advanced topics like “clock face” wrist motion measurements, for those who are interested in further reading. It also streamlines the main instructional sequence, making it simple to figure out what to do next, just by following along in order. You can find the new Technical Reference section here:

Awesome! Where do I find all this stuff?

As usual, all these updates are included in your subscription. They are also free for previous Primer purchasers, no matter how long ago you bought it, and no matter what price you originally paid. Just log in and head over to the Pickslanting Primer, or click any of the links above.

If you have any trouble accessing the material, feel free to send us a note to our support account and we’ll get right back.

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Top Comments

  1. Avatar for Troy Troy says:

    We’ve added a new Pickslanting Primer section, “Choosing A Technique”, which addresses issues common to players coming here for the first time and trying to figure out which steps to take next. Do you like Yngwie. Which technique should you learn? George Benson (a common one)? What technique should you learn?

    This includes some nice sub-ten-minute overviews of the picking mechanics used in different playing styles, which were deceptively tricky to write and edit. Try to condense all of “jazz” or “rock” into one video under 9 minutes, while finding representative visual examples of all the techniques — it’s not easy to do! We like the way these turned out. Hopefully they hit most of the important questions to give new players a sense of familiarity with the overall landscape, while not being overly technical.

    As part of this idea of choosing a technique to work on, we have a few thoughts on evaluating the performance of whatever technique you use currently. This includes both experienced players with years of a particular technique behind them, as well as new players with some burgeoning facility in maybe a couple of motions — possibly even just as a result of the table tap tests — who are trying to figure out which technique to focus on.

    This update includes a ton of additional streamlining of the introductory sequence, trimming some videos down in length to get to the point, and relocating others entirely so they don’t distract from the hands-on tutorial aspect of these important initial steps.

    A good example is the new “Motion Mechanics” section which includes condensened versions of existing “forearm” and “elbow” overview videos, and an all-new “wrist motion” overview that introduces the dart thrower concepts up front in a way that I think is the simplest presentation we’ve done yet of this complicated joint:

    Finally, we’ve relocated a lot of the more “explainer”-style stuff into its own unified reference section, which can serve as a kind of index / glossary to common terms. This includes some well-done lessons, like the entire “Identifying various motions” section, that were simply too lenghty and technical to be placed up front in the intro sequence. They’re now all in the reference section, filed under the relevant joint motion.

    Not evrything is in the reference section yet, but this is something we’ll contionue to update over time as a kind of mirror of the more tutorial-oriented part of the Primer.

  2. Awesome update!!!
    (More characters to get past min threshold)

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