Picking Motion

Picking motion is the core of your technique, and it can take many forms. In this lesson, you’ll learn how to recognize these motions, and how to put them to use.

We’ll learn about fundamental concepts like string escape, take a look at wrist, elbow, and forearm picking motions by examining video examples from a range of great players, and get some hands on practice trying out many motions to find one that works for you.

Introduction to Picking Motion

Video access level: Masters in Mechanics

Key Concepts

In this lesson, we take a practical look at common picking motions: wrist, elbow, and forearm. We look at how these movements work, and examine their interactions with common pick grips and anchoring and muting approaches.

As we do this, we learn about which movements can make a pickstroke become trapped in the strings, or escape away from them. This is a core Cracking the Code concept — whether a picking motion is trapped or escaped determines the kinds of string changes you can make with it, and by extension the kinds of phrases you can play.

We’ll also start to recognize the visual appearance and “slant” of the pick itself — controlled largely by grip — and how this correlates to the slanted angle of your picking motion that allows for string escape. To make this as clear as possible, we’ll take a look at footage from our interviews to see which types of slanted motion paths and slanted grips world-class players are actually using.

Our goal here is to try out as many picking motions as possible, to find the one that’s working best for you right now. It may not be the one you’re currently using, or even the one you like best, but when it comes to establishing fluid motion, it’s critical to be open minded.

We’ll use speed as a simple diagnostic: if you’re much faster with one motion than another, even if it’s not one that’s familiar, suspend your disbelief. That motion has potential.

It’s not uncommon for players to go decades never having experienced what it’s like to have fluid, smooth picking as fast as they can move. So learning what that feels like is your first goal. The specific motion(s) you use to achieve that are secondary. So let’s try them all, and may the best motion win!


Pickstroke Trajectory

  • Describe the difference between an escaped pickstroke and a trapped pickstroke
  • Describe a downstroke-escape pickstroke, aka “upward pickslanting”
  • Describe an upstroke-escape pickstroke, aka “downward pickslanting”
  • Describe the difference between Mike Stern’s pickstroke and Albert Lee’s pickstroke
  • Describe similarities between Mike Stern’s upstroke escape pickstroke and Andy Wood’s downstroke escape pickstroke

Wrist Motion

  • Attempt upward pickslanting wrist motion with a lightly supinated arm position, similar to John McLaughlin and Andy Wood
  • Attempt downward pickslanting wrist motion with a lightly supinated arm position, similar to Mike Stern
  • Attempt downward pickslanting wrist motion with a more supinated arm position, similar to Albert Lee

Elbow Motion

  • Attempt pronated elbow picking

Forearm Motion

  • Describe forearm pronation and supination
  • Describe the forearm rotation movement
  • Attempt pure forearm rotational movement in the air, away from the guitar’s body

Compound Forearm-Wrist Motion

  • Attempt forearm-wrist blend picking motion while resting the wrist lightly on the bridge, similar to Doug Aldrich
  • Attempt forearm-wrist blend picking motion with a flexed wrist and no bridge contact


  • Compare maximum speed of all picking motions, irrespective of note accuracy. Which is fastest, smoothest, and most comfortable?