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Advanced Alternate Picking Question For Those Who "Think Too Much"

jesussaddle

Power User
Any guitar teachers / picking experts? Or just an alternate picking guitar player who can write me a response : ) There's this one question that continues to trouble me. (Possibly this is one of the longest picking questions online..I hope someone responds with a YouTube video!).

I recognized some time ago that when I play two notes per string, and then shift to the next fattest string, and so forth, that starting pick direction matters. For example, starting on the sixth string, when starting on an upstroke it is much easier to play fast, since the hand motion right before the next string happens to be in the direction of the string being shifted to. E.g. Starting on the low E, upstroke on low E, downstroke on low E (towards A), then string cross and upstroke on A, etc.) This seems easy! But starting on a downstroke would mean that when you're about to cross strings the hand is actually moving away from the string it needs to cross over to (A), making it more difficult.

Reversing this, when I play two notes per string, starting on the 1st string (E) and then shifting to the next thinnest string (B), it is apparently much the same, again, since the hand motion right before the next string happens to be in the direction of the string being shifted to. This is when crossing several strings in a row.

But when I need to alternate 2 notes per string, back and forth on 2 neighboring strings, I find the following (Do you as well?):

This is in playing a pattern of 2-note-per-high E, followed by 2-note-per-B string, then repeating. For me, starting on a downstroke followed by an upstroke on the first string, before shifting to the 2nd string, and then moving back to the first string, it happens to be harder than the opposite way, of starting on an upstroke. Even though every other string cross this puts one's hand motion in the direction of the next string to be played (the hand is making an upstroke on the first string right before changing to the 2nd string). Reiterating, this is in playing two notes per string on E, 2 notes on B, then 2 notes again on E, etc.

It would appear that its the motion of moving back to the initial string that makes it hard. And I'm beginning to think it is relative to whether it is an upstroke or downstroke instead of whether its inside or outside picking. In other words it depends on whether the pick is leaving a string and bouncing downward (hard), versus leaving a string bouncing upward (easier). It could be that those downward bounces are more difficult. (i.e. inside picking, but up-&-then-down inside picking specifically). Downward bounces, as in upward, then off the B string towards the high E, are hard for me maybe because my first finger, that must compensate and catch them, has less muscle than would my thumb, which would be used in the case of upward bounces. It seems ridiculous that gravity itself is a factor, meaning that the pick bouncing downward is helped rather than slowed by gravity, as it would be if it were bouncing upward off a string, as after striking the high E and moving towards the B. Mainly I think this is all relative to hand strength, so people with strong or larger hands would not notice as much. That's where I could use feedback. Is this really just an issue of first finger weakness?

I.e. on the 2nd string you have a downstroke followed by an upstroke, and then its necessary to cross back to the first string while inside picking, with the hand heading away from the next string, but being slowed and bounced downward towards the E to some degree by hitting the B string. This is where its questionable. Why is this difficult specifically, when doing exactly the opposite move, from E to B, is easy?

If you reverse that exercise, and start on the B for 2 notes, then the high E (thinnest string) for 2 notes, one would assume it would be the same, since you still have that opposing direction movement, though this time it happens after the 2nd note (after the downstroke on B there is an upstroke on B, when the next move is to cross to the high E string).

But when playing two notes per string, then going back to the original string and starting over, this gets confusing. For e.g. if I start on the high E as an upstroke, followed by a downstroke on it, followed by an upstroke on B, this is the same difficult move (a switch to the neighboring string while headed in the opposite direction), but now I'm headed to a downstroke on B, followed by an upstroke on E. But it is infinitely easier for me than if it were a downstroke, then an upstroke on B followed by a downstroke on E . Well maybe not infinitely, but I can play the former at least 3 times faster.

I still don't know why an inside downward stroke (e.g. E), followed by jumping to the next higher string (gravity-wise - E.g. B), would be easier than an inside upward stroke (E.g. on B) followed by jumping to the next lower string (gravity-wise - E.g. E). My only conclusion is that it is an issue of where the thumb is and where the first finger is. In other words the first finger is below the thumb physically, so moving to strings that are physically lower, and being propelled downward by that little upstroke on the B string, the first finger is less able to respond and reverse the motion, than the thumb would be if the movements were reversed, and the bounce of the pick would be upward, off the E string towards the B, with the thumb being in charge of receiving and reversing that motion. The pick bouncing downward is WITH gravity, and the pick bouncing upward is AGAINST gravity. So the first finger just has a lot of trouble with those inside picking moves towards the next "higher string" i.e. B to the high E. Because gravity propels the pick downward after its bounce off the B string, and the first finger must catch it (being not so strong as the thumb).

Or do I have this completely wrong? I would like to know if this is true and if there is some solution, other than that impossible Steve Morse two-finger grip, which I can't make work).
 
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Rex

Legend!
The relative ease of one method over another is a matter of what you're used to. Your habits will determine what feels natural to you.

Efficiency, on the other hand, is different. In general, when you're picking one string and heading to another, you want your last pick stroke on the first string to leave you headed in the direction of the next string you're going to play. That's true whether that's an upstroke or a downstroke. If that doesn't feel natural to you, then start out very slow. Plan your pick strokes ahead of time so you'll finish on one string with a stroke that's in the right direction to take you to the next string. Make it stupid-slow if that's what it takes. Over time, your hands will get used to doing it that way, and you'll find yourself doing it that way without thinking about it so much.

I encountered the same problem when I was working out the opening riff to Sweet Child of Mine and certain passages of Ballerina 12/24. What my hands did "naturally" was slowing me down. But that wasn't "natural" at all — it was just bad habits. I slowed it way, way down and stumbled through it like a beginner. After a while, it felt more and more "natural." Now I use correct alternate picking on those passages without thinking about it.

So forget about gravity and bouncing. It's all about habits, and forming those habits methodically. Don't sweat it; you'll get there.
 
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Rex

Legend!
Here's another way to think about the example you gave (two notes each on the B and E string).
  1. Start with a downstroke on your high-E string.
  2. Pick the second note on the high-E string with an upstroke. Continue the upstroke to hit the first note on the B string.
  3. Now sound the second note on the B string with a downstroke. Continue the downstroke to hit the first note on the High-E string.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 as many times as you want.
What you're doing is playing all four notes — two on each string — with just two strokes of the pick. Big gain in efficiency.
 

Ochanomizu

Inspired
I can honestly say that after going through the Sheets of Sounds books for a few years now already, and having adapted my playing to suit, that my speed and accuracy has made leaps and bounds.

http://www.sheetsofsound.net/

Previously I was either strict alternate picking, with the occasional sweep picking and hybrid picking for chordal stuff.

Now I use economy picking more naturally than strict alternate picking. Works for me, but was a bit awkward at first, but after you go through a lot of the exercises, it becomes more second nature. My lines tend to flow a lot better now, and it's actually kinda fun too!

(Sorry, I didn't read your whole post, so hopefully this helps!)


Cheers
 

Matman

Power User
Dweezil is a huge fan of Sheets of Sound. He told me this method allows him to perform on guitar many lines which his father intended only for other instruments.
 
I'd like to chime in for the alternate picking aspect of this after I talk a bit about economy picking.

A few guys here have mentioned economy picking to deal with some of what you're saying, and that's good. I personally love economy picking and also directional picking (which is a fusion of alternate and economy). If you want to see some truly efficient motion with economy/hybrid picking, you need to checkout a guy named Marshall Harrison on YouTube. Fastest, cleanest, most rhythmically precise playing and all with economy/hyrbid picking, which some people say is not possible.

HOWEVER, if you want to be an alternate picker, I have some advice for that. You said quite a bit about gravity and stuff, but I think you may be making too much of that in this case. Remember to think about guys like Paul Gilbert and Shawn Lane who are master alternate pickers that could do pretty much any combination of notes starting with an upstroke OR a downstroke on any string and make happen what they want. They were also pretty relaxed in doing it. I've seen videos of Paul Gilbert being able to OUTSIDE pick two notes repeatedly between two strings with 16th notes at around 165 bpm and his hand was very relaxed. Steve Morse himself sometimes talks about taking a riff and being able to start it with an upstroke or a downstroke and continue it all the way through with alternate picking. This makes it to where you never get caught up by starting either way.

The trick is simply mastering inside and outside picking. I imagine a lot of people have trouble with outside picking because you have to cross over a string without hitting it and then pick the string. But, it is still possible to do this very fast and relaxed. What you have to do is take any riff that crosses strings and make each pick stroke FEEL just like the other, and you may have to practice it slow for a while to get this effect. Whether you move ascending or descending starting with an up or down, you make the motion of all your pick strokes feel the same. For instance, do the famous Paul Gilbert 3-note per string/1-note on the next string lick. Let's just say to start on the low E string and pick a C# (9th fret), D (10th fret), E (12th fret), and then move to play just ONE note on the A string: an F# on the 9th fret and then repeat back down so the whole sequence is C#-D-E-F#-E-D-C# and repeating. Start it with a DOWNstroke and it may help to think about it in triplets. Now, the important part is the FEEL of it, like I said earlier.

You may think, "Oh no, I have to pick that E with a downstroke then cross the string and pick the F# with an up and then cross BACK over and pick the E with a down again!" Seems like a big waste of movement and hard, right? But, if you simply slow down and try to make your hand feel like the string cross is exactly the same as playing several notes on the same string, I PROMISE it will become easy.

It's a bit tough to explain this online, but just go slow enough to where your downstroke on the E when it crosses to the A string is ONE fluid motion with no stops inbetween and make sure the plane along which the pick goes is a straight plane to skip the string and then as SOON AS you pick the one note on the A string, you do that same thing to come back. One fluid upstroke with no stop. I really hope I'm conveying how if you just make it a purpose to make them feel the same (as if you were really just picking notes on ONE string), you will begin to feel like there is actually no difference between a string cross or the same string or an inside pick or an outside pick. I say this from experience and last year, I couldn't pick worth a poo. I still have to master it in a live context, but I can say with confidence that my pickstrokes with either inside OR outside are beginning to feel like the same thing. And I can also promise you that guys like Shawn Lane could not easily play 16th notes at 190 bpm if the strokes didn't all feel the same. There's just no time for wasted movement at that speed!

Does that help at all? Maybe if you'd like, I could show you a video.
 

dgg9

New Member
I recognized some time ago that when I play two notes per string, and then shift to the next fattest string, and so forth, that starting pick direction matters.

It matters, but there's really nothing you can do about it. If you improvise, there's no way you're going to be able to engineer, in advance, how many notes per string you're going to play, and also the initial up/down stroke approach. IMO, you can either strictly alternate pick, or add the exception that you pick in the direction of the new string. I do the latter. Select one, and practice.

One reason you sometimes find yourself unable to do things with regard to switching strings is that, if you always practice by starting out one way (say, if you start a scale, going upwards, you always start with a down stroke), then, when the unpredictable nature of improvising has you starting those same notes with an upstroke, you'll find it clumsy. Try practicing scales/riffs/whatever by starting both ways: upstroke, then again with downstroke.
 

jesussaddle

Power User
Re sweep and economy picking, I'm still not very good on those 'back and forth between the same 2 strings' moves like Frank Gambale; Sweeping across several strings and then reversing is much easier IMO than reversing after only 2 strings. Pick angle changes when reversing direction to go back to the prior string, maybe that's my problem; the angle should only change slightly, making it less of an adjustment?

As for hybrid picking and Zucker's two sheets of sound books, yes I definitely would like to get them - I suppose I will soon enough. BTW in "Speed Picking" by Gambale, there are some really helpful things he does where he adds a little alternate picking move inbetween his strict economy picking right where it makes sense to do so. (I hope that term is right here, I mean, e.g., where you cross strings without switching from an upstroke to a downstroke.) I'm really not that interested in Neo Classical playing, and think fusiony stuff can be much more rhythmically creative. That's why I'm looking to find out what the simple things are that are challenging, so I don't just end up sweeping a bunch of big shapes in stupidly boring rhythmic patterns, that has no improvisational flexibility or creativity or live-ness. Look at the violin playing of Grapelle, or the rhythmic flexibility of the didgeridoo and drumming of wild marmalade http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqjVOj3-1Aw

As for alternate picking, I find that playing pre-rehearsed patterns isn't that tricky, if they're built up over time. But It helps for me to work on little difficult moves. And what I'm trying to establish is whether this particular move is MORE of a problem that the basic problem of leaving the last string while the stroke is going away from the next string.

Maybe if you'd like, I could show you a video.

I actually think a video of this one picking challenge, played at like 145 bpm or so, would be a huge help to alternate pickers. I would appreciate it so much!

Specifically what I'm having trouble with is those two note per string licks that are exactly like this : a) Downstroke on 329.63 Hz E string (L.H. 7th fret), b) upstroke on same (L.H. 5th fret), c) downstroke on B string (L.H. 8th fret), d) upstroke on B string (L.H 5th fret), e) downstroke on high E string again (L.H. on 7th fret), .i.e. back to beginning. Its the point between the d) step and the e) step that is slowing me down, and this move, from the B string back to the high E, is actually an INSIDE PICKING move. When I add a third string into the pattern, I can alternate pick pretty fast regardless of which direction I start on, but back and forth between ONLY two strings seems MUCH harder.

You know, its funny, I just thought of Malmsteen's video where he plays the same lick "slowed down" and really doesn't slow down much at all. As a neo-classical player he's one of the best, and first, but as a teacher, words can't describe how bad he is. But then, metal players are s'posed to be evil, aren't they? It would be good if a guitar teacher made a video where they play the difficult moves while gradually speeding them up, and actually get up to a very fast speed cleanly. Paul Gilbert does this I think. Shawn Lane is just SO fast that he couldn't be knocked for not slowing down that much. To him I'm sure he WAS playing very slow (and it is a whole lot slower than Malmsteen). In Shawn's case though it would have been helpful if the camera were mainly on his right hand....(you know, its those hammer on's from nowhere...)
 
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jesussaddle

Power User
IMO, you can either strictly alternate pick, or add the exception that you pick in the direction of the new string. I do the latter. Select one, and practice.

I think the idea of picking in the direction of the new string is cool.. I'm not very good at it though, and when the note you want is on that next string over, and you're already headed the other way. that's where if you're me you just alternate pick.

There was this rock star who sold his soul to the devil, and the devil was quoted as saying, "Really, really fast slurries of notes aren't pretty enough to be mesmerizing on their own; if you want to hypnotize them to worship me, you gotta use the tremolo bar on harmonics".
 
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shredstock

New Member
That Yngwie video is a classic. I know exactly what you're talking about. There's a Lukather video where he tries to play something slowly, flubs it, and says something like, "Some things its just not possible to do slowly"
 

Rex

Legend!
Pick angle changes when reversing direction to go back to the prior string, maybe that's my problem; the angle should only change slightly, making it less of an adjustment?
Pick angle needn't change at all unless you're going pretty fast. In that case, I find that my pick angle often rotates (just a bit) during the first note of the new direction. In other words, after an upstroke, I strike downward on the string and let the string itself push the pick to the other angle. Part of that is wrist rotation, but a lot of it is a soft grip on the pick. I try to minimize tension as much as possible, gripping the pick just tightly enough to maintain control of it. Muscle tension equals stiffness and slowness.


...what I'm trying to establish is whether this particular move (alternate picking) is MORE of a problem that the basic problem of leaving the last string while the stroke is going away from the next string.
It's more of a problem if you're approaching your speed limit. Economy picking lets you play faster than strict alternate picking, unless the passage cooperates (meaning that strict alternate picking is the most economical pattern for that passage).


I actually think a video of this one picking challenge, played at like 145 bpm or so, would be a huge help to alternate pickers.
I'm not set up to record video, but I tried the passage you described, using both alternate and economy picking. At 145 BPM, it was very playable with either technique, with no change in pick angle. But I found that I could go faster using economy picking than I could with alternate picking.

Note that I usually hold the pick rotated at a slight angle to the string (I'm guessing 5 degrees or so). This lets me ride the edge of the pick for both upstrokes and downstrokes, and gives me pretty much the same feel for both.
 

Rex

Legend!
There's a Lukather video where he tries to play something slowly, flubs it, and says something like, "Some things its just not possible to do slowly"
I almost agree with Mr. Lukather: some things are more difficult to do slowly, but not impossible. Playing a passage slowly — particularly with a metronome — is great training, not only for your rhythm, but also for your ear. It gets you used to listening to what the band is doing, and that helps the music.
 

jesussaddle

Power User
I'm not set up to record video, but I tried the passage you described, using both alternate and economy picking. At 145 BPM, it was very playable with either technique, with no change in pick angle. But I found that I could go faster using economy picking than I could with alternate picking.

Thanks for trying it. BTW, could you let me know if, for alternate picking, you find it easier to start on the upstroke for that particular lick (which I do find much, much easier)?

Note that I usually hold the pick rotated at a slight angle to the string (I'm guessing 5 degrees or so). This lets me ride the edge of the pick for both upstrokes and downstrokes, and gives me pretty much the same feel for both.

That's about what I do also.

My experience is that for both alternate picking and economy picking, the less notes per string and the less strings involved add to difficulty (because more notes per string equals more restfulness, I guess...) My hands are pretty small, but there are some things that can be played quickly on a single string, using fast position shifts, that cannot be as fluidly played using ANY method of crossing strings. So crossing strings is certainly my main weakness. And its the wider intervals that make crossing strings essential.

I think Al Dimeola is the original alternate picking guru. He shows the benefit of alternate picking over sweeping when the goal is bringing out syncopated accent patterns during arpeggios. But in his lessons he lets it be known that even he deviates from alternate picking when playing certain triplet patterns

This is turning out to be a very helpful forum these days.
 
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jesussaddle

Power User
I almost agree with Mr. Lukather: some things are more difficult to do slowly, but not impossible. Playing a passage slowly — particularly with a metronome — is great training, not only for your rhythm, but also for your ear. It gets you used to listening to what the band is doing, and that helps the music.

I totally agree, there is no substitute for slowing things down. Especially if you try to add a lot of syncopated accents, or some swing to your playing, say a ratio of 5.5:4.5, between subsequent sixteenth notes. Its only in slowing it down that I find I can work on the musicality, as opposed to just rote, inflexible and unexpressive patterns that have nothing to do with what the band, or my heart, is playing.
 
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Rex

Legend!
BTW, could you let me know if, for alternate picking, you find it easier to start on the upstroke for that particular lick (which I do find much, much easier)?
Downstrokes do come easier. It's the first thing we learn when we're beginners, and if you go to strum a chord with a single hit, 99% of everybody will use a downstroke instead of an upstroke. Downstrokes make it easier to put snap into what you're playing. But if you practice with upstrokes, it becomes no big deal, and you learn how to put snap and feeling into both directions. It's all about habit. With practice, upstrokes will become second nature.


My experience is that for both alternate picking and economy picking, the less notes per string and the less strings involved add to difficulty (because more notes per string equals more restfulness, I guess...)
I totally get what you're saying about single-string picking being easier than multi-string picking, and even moreso when you have to cross strings. For one thing, there's more distance to travel, and that constrains your speed. But I think the bigger issue is your sense of where you are on the guitar. When you confine your playing to a single string, you know where that string is, because you're playing it right now. But when you move to another string, you have to move your pick to another point in space. You lose that quick, easy reference to where you are, and you have to think about it a bit more. The trick is to eliminate the need to think about where that next string is. And you do that through practice.

It's like driving a car. Remember the first time you ever got behind the wheel, or your first time driving in traffic. You had to figure out how far away that car ahead of you really was, how wide your car really was, or when you had to start your turn. But after you had some driving hours behind you, you were able to execute a turn, or even an emergency maneuver, without thinking about the details.

Guitar is the same way. Unfamiliar stuff looks and feels clunky. Ease comes with practice.

Don't sweat the small hands. I wish I had monster paws like Mr. Vaughan — it would make some things easier to play. But the hands I have can do some good things too, when I give them a chance to learn. And hand size isn't much of a factor with your current challenge.

Trust your practice (a metronome would be hugely helpful here). If you put in the time, and give it the kind of thoughtfulness that you've shown in this thread, you'll get where you want to be.

+1 on Al Di Meola. He's a killer player on both electric and acoustic.
 
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