One of the most common inefficient motions in picking technique is stringhopping, a picking motion in which the muscle usage doesn’t actually alternate.
Not all picking motions which appear to move back and forth actually alternate their muscle usage. Stringhopping is a family of wrist joint motions in which the muscles used to produce the escape are the same on both the downstroke and the upstroke:
In this stringhopping example, the muscles responsible for the side-to-side motion are alternating, but the muscles responsible for the up-and-down bounce do not. Those muscles, the flexors and extensors, are used on every pickstroke, and quickly tire out.
Stringhopping is often noted for the vertical appearance of its escape path, in which the pick escapes nearly perpendicular to the plane of the strings. When stringhopping is performed quickly, the technique exhibits a bouncy appearance which is often easily visible even without slow motion video.
In itself, this vertical escape path is not the primary source of stringhopping inefficiency, and not all motions which create a visible U-shaped trajectory are inefficient. Instead, it is the fact of the muscle reuse which does not permit a complete cycle of recovery, and requires each of the muscles in the joint’s antagonistic pair to work on every pickstroke.
Fatigue and Speed Limitations
Even though stringhopping looks like alternate picking in terms of the reciprocating direction of the pick’s motion, it isn’t a true alternate picking motion at the level of the muscle usage. Players who inadvertently learn stringhopping as a primary motion instead of a true alternate picking technique typically complain of a feeling of pronounced muscle tension, rapid onset of fatigue, and an inability to play fast.
In common practice, stringhopping techniques reach a speed ceiling in the range of approximately 110 to 130 beats per minute sixteenth notes, with notable fatigue onset occurring within seconds of initiating the motion. This is far below the speed ceiling we observe in table tap tests of efficient alternating joint motion, anywhere from 180 to 220 beats per minute sixteenth notes. With training, such motions can typically be performed continuously for a minute or more, especially at the lower end of this speed range, since the rest period is more evenly matched to the exertion.