Types of Motion Mechanics

For almost every possible method of generating the reciprocating movement of alternate picking, there are examples of players who use it to great effect. The bad news, if we can call it that, is that the huge variety of systems in use by experts suggests that there is not likely a single “best” method for motivating the pick.

[ expert examples ]

John McLaughlin using wrist deviation
Steve Morse using wrist flexion and extension
Eddie Van Halen using forearm rotation
Eddie Van Halen also using wrist flexion and extension

Common Motion Mechanics

Polling suggests that the most common sources of picking motion stem from core movements of the arm and hand: elbow flexion and extension, forearm pronation and supination, and wrist deviation.

Distinguishing between wrist movements is probably less obvious for non-experts, so the wrist movement category probably represents blends of deviation and flexion/extension movements.

Finger motion – less common as primary motion mechanic. More common for pickslanting and edge picking adjustments.

[ poll results ]

Multiple Motion Mechanics

That’s right, you can even use multiple motion mechanics for different kinds of licks. In fact, when you look at great players, it turns out that this is probably more the rule than the exception. Here’s Steve Morse again, but this time, using elbow flexion and extension:

Here’s Yngwie Malmsteen using his famous finger motion:

…and here he is again using elbow flexion and extension, like Steve:

Not only is it unnecessary to lock down your technique to one single type of picking motion, but it’s almost impossible to choose one that simply doesn’t work at all. In the bigger picture, many different motion mechanics can be made to work, even at the highest levels of playing ability.

Choosing a Motion Mechanic

If you’ve played guitar for any length of time, you may already use a system for moving the pick back and forth which feels second nature to you. The motion mechanic is often the first place players look when they’re having trouble with picking technique. If you suspect that your current motion mechanic, whatever it happens to be, is wrong, or broken, and that you might need to re-learn it, or even switch to a different one entirely, you are not alone. Fear of the broken motion mechanic is an extremely common worry.

Instead, the real point of learning more about picking motion is to better understand the methods you may already be using, so that you can use all the *other* techniques we’re going to layer on top of them.

Of course, if you’re a new player, you really will have to choose a motion mechanic from scratch. And we’ll give you some tips for doing this as we check out the different options that are available.