USX Motion Checklist
Let’s run through a quick checklist of all the moving parts so you can be sure your setup is the right one for this important first lesson on wrist motion.
Do you have an average, non-injured range of motion in your wrist? Can you can knock on a door fast enough to convince the people on the other side of it that you’re in a real hurry? If so, we have good news! You absolutely have what it takes to perform a wrist picking motion at a professional level of speed and smoothness. It’s just a matter of getting all the parts set up correctly.
For reference, here are two snapshots from the lesson chapter taken from around the 5:30 mark. The first snapshot is the start of the downstroke:
And the second snapshot is the end of the downstroke:
1. Pick Grip
First, take a look at the Magnet side of the image. In this demonstration, we’re using the most compact trigger-style grip, where the pick is placed somewhere between the far knuckle and the middle knuckle, and the index finger is curled back underneath so you don’t hit the strings. For more on this grip, be sure to reference the Primer chapters on pick grip if you haven’t already done so.
This grip isn’t magic and other grips do work. We’ll get to those in Chapter 2, Using More Supination, when we run through different arm and grip setups. But for now, in the interest of eliminating variables, try this grip even if it’s new to you. Sometimes that unfamiliarity is actually a good thing, and can feel just weird enough to break you out of whatever habits you currently have that aren’t working. Changing up grips is a great way to introduce variety to the learning process.
As you do this, just make sure you have enough grip exposure that you can still reach the strings. In trigger-style grips, the index finger doesn’t extend as far, so some of that distance has to come from the pick itself. We’re actually using a Jazz III in this lesson, so you can see that even a smaller pick can provide enough grip exposure when held toward the top. But achieving this exposure amount is probably even more straightforward with a 351-sized pick or a Jazz III XL-sized pick. With those full-sized pick designs, and a moderate amount of exposure like this, you will still have plenty of pick inside your grip to hold on to.
2. Approach Angle
Second, take a look at the left side of the image. If you think of the circular Star Wars t-shirt logo like the face of a clock, the forearm is not approaching the strings straight down from above at 12 o’clock. It’s approaching more around 10:00, or about 60 degrees off the vertical.
In our demonstration, the guitar is a little tilted so that the neck isn’t totally level with the ground. Don’t worry too much about that. Try to replicate the approach angle we’re using here. A few degrees here or there isn’t critical — just get in the ballpark.
One thing you might try is sitting down if you need to. If you play standing up, trying this in a seated position may make it easier to get this slightly lower approach angle. We can always worry about the standing position later. When your form is correct, you’ll have no trouble playing in both orientations with a small strap adjustment if necessary.
3. Anchor Points
If you look at the Magnet shot at the right, you can see we have two contact points. We’re resting on the body with the forearm, also on the bridge and strings with the palm heels. Your resting points might be slightly different, but the key is that there are two points of contact and that’s what we want. Try to replicate this. You’re just resting, there should be no effort required to do this.
As you achieve these anchor points, you will also achieve another important aspect of picking techique, especially if you play a high-gain amp: noise control. All the strings lower than than the one you are playing will be muted by the heels of your palm, through their anchor points. The string you are picking will be unmuted. And left-hand muting will take care of the noise produced by the higher strings. In other words, if you’re fretting a single note as you experiment with this motion, simply allow your fretting finger or fingers to lay gently across the higher strings. This will remove them from the noise equation.
What this setup will not automatically give you is muting on the note you are playing — in other words, muting for dynamics. To get that, keep all aspects of this form identical, but reduce the approach angle and increase the ulnar offset until at least one of the palm heels rests on the string you are playing. Not the side of the hand, but the palm heels. That’s where the muting comes from in this type of wrist motion. Yes, this may require approaching more directly over the bridge, which may not work with bridges that have protruding fine tuners. If that’s you, don’t worry about it right now. Your number one goal is learning how to move quickly and smoothly, and muting for noise while you do that. So stick with the 60-degree approach angle and tackle dynamics muting later on once your motion is happening.
4. Range of Motion
Now look at the left side of the image again. At the start of the downstroke, the forearm and hand are oriented in a straight line represented by the teal overlay. In the second snapshot, at the end of the downstroke, the wrist is slightly bent toward the pinky, or more specifically, toward the ulna bone in your forearm. That’s the motion we call ulnar deviation. In fact, we can refer to any motion of the wrist toward the ulna as ulnar deviation. But in this case, what’s important is that when we’re done, we end up with we like to call an “ulnar offset”. In other words, the slight visible bend in the wrist indicated by the teal overlay in the second snapshot. When you complete the downstroke, this is the slight bend you’re looking for.
So the range of motion for USX wrist motion starts out straight, goes “ulnar”, then returns to straight again. What we don’t want is a range of motion where the wrist starts out bent toward the thumb, which is radial deviation. There is nothing inherently wrong with radial deviation, and in fact, when we get to Chapter 5, The Pronated Option we’re going to see a slightly different form of wrist motion that uses a radial offset. But for the arm position we’re using here, what we’re looking for is a motion that only operates on the ulnar side of the wrist joint.
In short, just follow the teal guides. Straight to start, ulnar at max downstroke, then straight again at max upstroke. This is the McLaughlin, Di Meola, and Andy Wood way.
5. Motion Path
Finally look at the right side of the image again. At the start of the downstroke, the pick is in the air. This is what we call the escaped position, because the pick is not surrounded on either side by strings. At the end of the downstroke, the pick is resting on the B string, which is the trapped position. This pathway from escaped to trapped is the motion path we want. When viewed down the strings, the motion will appear linear, making a straight shot into the strings, to the trapped position, and a straight shot back out again to the escaped position.
As you do this, one thing you can do to help to get the feel of the USX wrist motion is to perform a rest stroke. In other words, at the end of the downstroke, the pick should actually be resting against the next higher string on your guitar. In this case, that’s the B string, and you can see that contact clearly in the second snapshot. As you perform the motion, you should be able to feel this B string contact. If you can’t, push a tiny bit harder until you feel it. But don’t kill yourself — this motion should feel easy. Just allow the pickstroke to continue for long enough that the pick eventually makes contact.
6. Ready, Set… Go!
Once you have all this, do the motion at the speed we’re doing it in the lesson chapter at about 5:35 or so. This is not a fast speed, but it’s a deliberate speed. Almost no muscular force is required to go this fast, and if you get all these moving parts set up correctly, there should be zero feeling of tension.
Film the motion and verify it is correct. In particular, verify that you are hitting the B string and coming straight back out again. Verify there is no stringhopping. Refer to the lesson chapter for a visual demonstration of what stringhopping looks like, just to make sure that’s not what you’re doing.
If you can do this motion at the deliberate speed we’re using here, with no stringhopping, and it feels smooth, then it’s time to really test whether it’s correct. How do we do that? With speed! Refer to Chapter 7, Starting With Speed for how to perform this test.
7. DSX Motion
Finally, one more thing. Keeping your form exactly the same as it is in this attempt, try the downstroke escape motion outlined in Chapter 4, where we introduce DSX motion. The only difference is that for the DSX motion, the pick now escapes on the downstroke and not the upstroke. In other words, if you’re picking on the G string, the downstroke escapes over the top of the B string, and it’s now the upstroke which is the trapped pickstroke. In fact, the upstroke is now also the rest stroke, resting against the D string.
No other significant change in form is necessary to switch from USX motion to DSX motion, which is why trying it can be a useful test of whether your form is correct. Two chances to do something right are better odds than one! Just in case, we’ll review all these setup details again, including pick grip, at the very beginning of Chapter 4, as a refresher.
Give this a shot and let us know how you make out!