Single Escape Plus Swiping
A simple way of expanding the capabilities of a single escape picking motion is to play through muted strings using swiping.
Single escape picking motions are some of the most common motions in picking technique, used by everyone from John McLaughlin to Yngwie Malmsteen. The distinctive vocabularies of these players are filled with clever ideas, like John’s four-note pattern and Yngwie’s six-note pattern, constructed with even numbers of notes per string. This allows them to capitalize on the efficiency of escape motion for high-speed string changes.
But what if you want to play an odd number of notes on a string? Many common musical phrases, like straight-line scale playing, involve doing precisely that. As it turns out, doing this with single escape motion is possible with a clever hack: swiping.
DSX And Swiping
A great example of the way escape motion and swiping can work together is the alternate picking technique of shred pioneer Michael Angelo Batio. Mike’s core motion is DSX, with downstrokes that escape and upstrokes that trap. In the Antigravity Seminar, we discover that Mike uses strategic swiping on some of those upstrokes to move to a lower string without escape motion:
Much like Jorge Strunz’s stealthy swiping, listening to this example at normal speed gives no indication that Mike is playing through any muted strings. It’s only when you view this close up that the mystery is revealed:
The first string change in this repeating six-note pattern is a downstroke, and as you can see in the clip, downstroke string changes are no problem — the pick just sails right over the E string. But the last note of the pattern is an upstroke that returns to the B string, and swipes right through it in the process. Thanks to Mike’s use of left-hand muting we don’t hear the swipe, but in slow motion the string clearly moves as the pick hits it on its way to start the pattern over.
The benefit of this approach is that it takes a phrase which wouldn’t ordinarily be playable with single escape motion and makes it possible. Rather than devising a more complicated solution that combines different motions, the motor system satisfies its need for simplicity by using a single motion for the entire phrase.
The power of this becomes especially obvious across longer phrases where the technique can be used repeatedly. A classic example in Mike’s vocabulary is descending scale playing, which he performs entirely with DSX motion and occasional swiping:
Just like the repeating six-note scale pattern, this amazing blast of descending scalar speed utilizes swiping to transition from higher strings to lower strings whenever the string change pickstroke is an upstroke.
Specifically, the final phrase of this lick is six full strings of a diatonic scale fingering with three notes on each of them. The first string change, from the E string to the B string, is a downstroke. Downstrokes in DSX motion are escaped, so that string change is no problem — the pick simply drops down on the B string and continues picking. The second string change is an upstroke from the B string to the G string, so that one is handled via swiping. Just as in the scale pattern phrase, no change to the picking motion is necessary, Mike just picks right through it. The third string change is once again a downstroke, handled via escape stroke. The next one is another swiped upstroke. And so on, across all six strings of the instrument.
Three-note-per-string scale playing has long been a hallmark of elite-level picking technique, and Mike in particular is known for his accuracy in doing this. His solution to descending scale playing is ingeniously simple, converting what could be a tricky coordination challenge into a simple application of just one picking motion.
USX And Swiping
Gypsy maestro Joscho Stephan uses swiping to play the exact same repeating six-note phrase Mike does, just with the mechanics reversed, using USX motion:
Listening to this at normal speed, you’d never guess that Joscho was playing through a muted string. To detect it, we’ll have to drop into a slow motion closeup.
Again, Joscho is using USX motion, where upstrokes escape and downstrokes trap, so this time the swipe pickstroke is going to be a downstroke. That means the third note of the phrase, the downstroke on the B string, is the note to look out for. Right after Joscho plays that note, watch in slow motion as he pushes through the high E string to get to the other side:
After the swipe, Joscho plays the final three notes on the top string: up, down, up. This leaves him in the escaped zone, perfectly positioned to drop right back down again and start the pattern over again.
It’s really pretty remarkable how quiet the swiping is in this phrase — there’s very little sound being made by this at all, not enough to be detectable at normal playing speeds.
In both Joscho and Mike’s scalar swiping examples, they’re using swiping on the pickstroke that lines up with their pickslant. In other words, Joscho is using a downward pickslant, so he swipes on the downstroke that moves toward the higher string. Mike uses a very slight upward pickslant, but UWPS nevertheless. So Mike’s swipe pickstroke is the upstroke that moves toward a lower string, the same way the pickslant points.
Lining the swipe up with the pickslant makes use of the same mechanics we saw when we looked at sweeping, where the reduced angle of attack promotes sliding. The pick is essentially making a trapped motion, moving in a straight line through the strings, but because of its slant, it has less tendency to forcefully grip the next string and pluck it. The difference between swiping and sweeping is that we’re just muting the second string so we don’t hear it.
Their use of single escape motions with pickslanting is why Mike only swipes when descending and Joscho only when ascending. We’ve seen Jorge Strunz use swiping in both directions, but recall that Jorge uses a trapped motion with a zero-degree pickslant and a high degree of edge picking. So Jorge’s mechanics are essentially symmetrical, allowing equal amounts of sliding in both directions. It’s worth pointing out that when Jorge swipes, we can still see the strings being plucked in slow motion:
So the symmetry of Jorge’s pick attack and motion are not enough by themselves to make the swipe quiet, but instead work together with Jorge’s effective use of fretting-hand muting to really deaden the noise.