Establishing Your Picking Motion

Picking motion is the core of your picking technique, and it can take many forms. In fact, most players eventually develop multiple picking motions, along with the ability to switch between them on the fly, depending on the type of phrase they’re playing. They often do this semi-consciously, but it’s time to make that process more deliberate:

Introduction to Picking Motion


Key Concepts

In this lesson, taken from a live broadcast for Cracking the Code subscribers, we take a practical look at common picking motions: wrist, elbow, and forearm. We look at how these movements work, and examine their anchoring and muting approaches, and interaction with common pick grips.

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 of course that ties into the kinds of phrases you can play. Wait a minute — certain picking motions only work for certain kinds of lines? Crazy, but true.

So in other words, this overview is a great hands-on introduction to the concept of pickslanting. More specifically, what we’re talking about here is slanted picking motion, and how it can cause pickstrokes to get trapped in the strings, or break away from them. We’ll also start to understand that the visual appearance of the pick itself, and whether it appears slanted or not, is actually a separate thing that is mostly controlled by your choice of grip. 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, and it may not even the one you like best. That’s important. When it comes to establishing fluid motion, it’s critical to be as open minded as possible. We’re going to use speed, on simple repeating phrases or even single-note tremolo, as the diagnostic test. If you’re much faster with one motion than another, even if it’s not a motion you currently use, suspend your disbelief. That motion is working well, and can be streamlined and utilized.

There are players out there who have played for decades and have never 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 joint motion or motions you use to achieve that are secondary. So let’s try them all, and may the best motion win!



  • 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 downward pickslanting pickstroke and Andy Wood’s upward pickslanting pickstroke

Pick Grip

  • Describe an extended finger grip
  • Describe a side-finger grip
  • Attempt extended and side-finger grips of each picking motion

Picking Motions

  • Attempt pronated elbow picking
  • 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
  • Describe forearm pronation
  • Describe forearm supination
  • Describe the forearm rotation movement
  • Attempt pure forearm rotational movement in the air, away from the guitar’s body
  • 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, sound, physical effort, motion size, or any other characteristic