picking techniques

If you’ve ever seen any of Troy Grady’s Cracking the Code videos, which dissect and reverse engineer (mainly) shred guitarists’ speed picking techniques, you may have been left wondering how to incorporate it into your own playing, or even what to do with so much valuable information on picking, downward and upward pick-slanting, two-way pick-slanting, string-hopping, and many other terms for techniques you may not have known even existed. So, having watched, analyzed and put into practice many of the techniques in Troy’s videos, I ended up coming to a different conclusion.

Signature Picking
I’ve always felt a guitarist’s picking technique is rather like their signature; no two are the same, and reproducing someone’s signature is a tricky task to say the least. What I noticed throughout the videos is that while a lot of players have many of the mechanics in common, their picking style and touch remains fairly unique, as do the purposes for which they came up with these techniques in the first place; and this is the crux.

After watching several of Troy’s videos on a variety of different players, the theme that runs through all of them, and he says it himself, is that these picking techniques are really picking solutions to be able to either play at ridiculous speeds, achieve a certain sound/effect, or the most ingenious, efficient way to navigate the fretboard (at warp speed).

What’s more, these are personal picking solutions which means that they just might not work for you; so, don’t worry if you didn’t seem to get anything from Troy’s videos. Even picking techniques as similar as Eric Johnson’s and Yngwie Malmsteen’s are not interchangeable simply because they use the same mechanics; I believe there are a lot more factors involved. The upside is that Troy covers virtually all the mechanics of picking so that you can try them on for size and hopefully come up with your personal picking solution. And this is really what it’s about: finding the picking solution that allows you to accomplish whatever goal you set yourself as far as technique or shredding goes.

What I like about Troy’s videos is that fact that, unlike a lot of other speed picking material, he’s not giving you the hard-sell on just one technique, or saying that there is only one way to do it; he has painstakingly reverse engineered many fast players’ techniques so that you can see how they solved it and take inspiration, swipe ideas, or learn some of the tools you can use for your own journey into shred land.

My Personal Picking Solution
What you’re essentially looking for then is the easiest, most efficient and above all, effortless way for YOU to play fast. Let me stress that there’s no right or wrong mechanic here; there is of course bad or sloppy technique, but I’m assuming you’re already a tight player.

So, I went through the various mechanics Troy goes into to see whether a) I was already doing them, and b) they could somehow improve my picking technique or be part of my ‘picking solution’.

Downward pick-slanting – This is the mechanic of slanting the pick downward (towards the floor) so that after an upstroke the pick is not buried in the strings, which makes it easier to change strings (on an upstroke) or incorporates the actual string-changing movement into the upstroke itself. While this is a very efficient way to navigate string changes at high speeds, I found slanting the pick (that much) to be a little uncomfortable, and as my picking technique is heavily rooted in economy picking, I don’t need to change strings exclusively on an upstroke. I was already doing it to a certain extent, but more as part of the sweeping motion you tend to use in economy picking.

Upward Pick-slanting – As you may have guessed, this is the opposite of downward pick-slanting and tends to get used on the higher strings. I found the same was true here – I was already using it to a certain extent, but not as explicitly as Troy explains it.

Two-way Pick-Slanting – This is a combination of the above mechanics and can best be seen in Troy Grady’s exploration of Martin Miller’s picking technique.

I could see I was already doing two-way pick-slanting, which is inevitable with fast economy picking across all six (or however many) strings, and I noticed the tell-tale rotation of my picking hand wrist when moving across the strings, but I hadn’t considered it for passages that cross fewer strings.

Other Factors
What you also notice through Troy’s investigations and interviews with high-speed players such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Eric Johnson, Michael Angelo Batio, Steve Morse, and many others is that most of them are at a loss to explain how their own technique works, or what they’re actually doing to be able to play that fast. This means that the driving force behind these techniques, or mechanics, is expression rather than the ability to play fast for the sake of it.

In Conclusion
Having tried all these other mechanics of fast playing, I ended up sticking with economy/sweep picking Frank Gambale style, which was my original picking technique, only with a better understanding of the mechanics of it and how to make it tighter.

Incidentally, if you’re interested in learning Frank’s amazing economy/sweep picking style, you can find it in his Monster Licks-Speed Picking DVD.