To start, here's our suggested picking list.
Single Downs = - pick single tones all down
Single Ups = - pick single tones all up - this isn't common, but a good training exercise.
Double Downs = - pick each tone twice down-down (1, 1, 2, 2, etc)
Once we have control over our pick and are comfortable with this beginner list, we focus our training on #4 and #5. So, after octave 31, we will set this list aside and move to #4 and #5.
Double Down-Ups = - pick each tone twice down-up, (1, 1, 2, 2, etc) - repeated tones.
For odd numbered Down-Ups: when we play 'Down-Ups' in odd numbers, the pattern will alternate downs and ups for each new tone. Such as: picking each tone 3 times, picking will be down-up-down, up-down-up, etc.
Single Down-Ups = - pick single tones, down-up
This list can be applied to any scale. Run through the sequence with a scale that you know. Then, as your accuracy is dialed in, focus on points 4 & 5. Push tempo with these. A metronome is a dear friend with training. And, as with everything, we explore, experiment, and invent. This lets us know how our training is paying dividends.
The video demonstrates our surface choices for picking single strings and our motor options. We promote using a pick as this provides the most control and range of color and articulation. You can use whatever surface/s work best for you & the principles that we are sharing are consistent for any that you choose. In fact, we're encouraging consistency as the basis for all of your motor hand articulations, especially picking. Only you can get to know your hands. Find out which surfaces and motor combinations create the best tone and accuracy.
The overall goal is to find our picking pocket. We first figure out how we will pick [this is how I pick]. Once we have it, we then keep that motion consistent for picking any of the strings. We simply move our arm to the new locations and keep our picking motion the same. "This is how I pick, now go there."
Thumb → If you have enough nail length, use it, if not, use edge/tip of thumb, as close to the tip as possible [you can use the side too], & pick down
Index → Again if you have enough nail length, use it, or use tip of the index, & pick up. Try the middle too. For fingerpicking, we can use index-middle [both up] to play scales.
Thumb Down - Index Up → Or, thumb down, middle up.
As if a pick → Hold your fingers as if you were holding a pick, & use the nail or fingertip to set the string in motion. See More on Holding the Pick, below.
Pick → We promote using the 'natural pick holder' as demonstrated in the video [the index & thumb fit together].
The pick has two sides & four edges. By tilting your pick slightly to the string plane, we gain access to the edges. It's very difficult to pick with the sides of the pick anyway, so we'll train in the use of the edges. Different types of tones can be created with different pick angles.
The 4 Pick Edges
Rather than keeping the pick parallel to a string, angle your pick.
Many players are more comfortable using the 2 finger with the thumb, to hold the pick, instead of the 1. If the middle/thumb works for you, use it. Yet, please do try the 1 finger with thumb in the manner we are suggesting.
Try as many things ways to hold your pick as you can think of. Experiment. Get comfortable. Certain types of strokes will have different grips & picking angles.
Holding the Pick
Over the years, & especially in the past 2, we have seen nearly all beginners automatically hold their pick between their thumb & middle finger. In this configuration, the index sometimes acts as a 'rudder'.
When asked if they are comfortable with the way they are holding the pick, they say, "Yes," nearly everytime.
Is this a good way to start? We offer our suggestion: put the inside of the top index joint pad against the 'ball' of the pad of the thumb (they fit together). We can call it by different names based on the cultural context of a student. It could be 'God-given pick holder' or 'Nature's given pick holder'. Ask them to try it & only a small percentage say, "Yeah, that's better."
Use a statement like, "We should always experiment with how we approach the strings. The way we do things can change over time." We've considered demanding that all students use the 'given-pick-holder', but there seems to always be some type of rebellion when we go that route.
This is something we've been considering for years, & with so many things for beginners to keep in mind, we often just go with the flow on this one.
As students progress, there are things that we can ask them to do that are easier with g-p-p & students seem to gravitate to this anyway without any constant monitoring on our end. What works, works. Again, positive memories first, technical considerations in time. When students stick with guitar, they do learn that we are learning how our hands work, not just hitting strings & making sounds. The given-pick-holder can lead to more control over outcomes.
And, then, there's Eddie Van Halen. He uses the middle finger against the thumb. And who's questioning Eddie? Give Diver Down another listen.
Shoulder → highly uncommon, yet possible. Not demonstrated in our video.
Elbow → great for tremolo picking & super fast picking. Adds weight to our picking.
Wrist → the motor we are promoting for most of the motion of picking. It is at the 'center' of our picking system [not including shoulder]. It has the most fluidity for most situations.
Fingers → adds finesse. Using the fingers is sometimes for specialty strokes. The joints can move in whatever ways work for you.
Training with a pick [experimenting with motors & surfaces] will ultimately lead to using a combination of motors. We call this finding your picking pocket. The wrist, being in the middle of the motor system should provide most of the motion, while the other drivers provide weight & finesse. There is no 'right' combination. It is up to you to discover your pocket. And, it may change over time.
Picking Along the String Plane → The last part of the video demonstrates picking along the string plane. The string plane is the length of the string. Experiment with picking at the bridge & over the neck. You will hear a difference in string timbre. Every guitar is different.
Near the bridge is brighter, & over the fingerboard is warmer. In Classic [Classical] guitar, picking near the bridge is called ponticello, & picking over the fretboard [near the 12th fret - the middle of the string plane] is called tasto.
As you train, you should start to feel your natural picking motion emerging. Log time with experimentation. Take your time; use slow motion. Figure out how your picking hand works. Don't train mistakes!
Stabilizing is resting your motor hand on the guitar while you are picking, which provides points of reference for your motor arm/hand system [there are many].
Floating is hovering your motor hand over the strings while you are picking [we still 'stabilize' / touch the edge of the guitar with the forearm]. I prefer putting the binding of the guitar in the elbow crease.
Forearm - This is a base stabilizer. By resting our arm on the side/top of the guitar, we have a point of reference. This is most commonly used for strumming, yet we can pick in this way too, & when we do, our hand is floating.
Body - It is common to use the guitar soundboard to stabilize. We demonstrate this using the pinky under the strings.
Bridge - With this type of stabilizing, we are using our wrist or palm to rest on the bridge, without touching the strings [as in palm muting].
Strings - We can rest our motor hand on the strings, either below or above the strings being picked. This is vital if we are using distortion, so the guitar doesn't clamor. We often roll the hand back & forth between the fingers & the thumb side of the hand. This creates a 'channel' in the hand for the string to vibrate.
Palm Muting is when we dampen the strings right next to the bridge using the soft fleshy part of our palm. This creates an effect, as well as a point of reference. If we moved 'too far' up [towards the fretboard], the strings would be muted.
The Leave is the term we use for tracking our pick. The basic idea is that every picked tone contains the location of where it is going next, and we pick to that location. We pick to a particular place, so we are prepared for the next tone.
Being automatically prepared for the next tone allows us to enjoy tones that are sounding. Since we previously planned the tone we are hearing, we can listen to what is happening.
Learning to leave your pick [as in playing billiards, leaving the cue ball set up for your next shot] is programming motion through space in time. We pick to our next location. When we build this into our picking, it becomes automatic. We can apply this idea to our core scale training. When we do the work, our accuracy increases and we know that we aren't training mistakes.
Any two strings can be thought of as a string couplet [a pair of strings], whether they are adjacent or spaced. For this next exercise, the dots are where your pick will follow through to, as to ready for the next articulation. Pick the 6 string down & allow your picking motion to all the way to underneath the 1 string, then pick up & allow your picking motion to go back to over the 6 string.
Let's expand the leave to include all of the string spaces. Allow your picking motion to follow the lines [pick to the appropriate string space].
For a string couplet, we can pick on the outsides or insides of each [as shown at the end of the video]. We play an open string arpeggio [broken chord] by using 5 couplets [pick on the outsides of 6-5, 4-3, 2-1, then the insides of 2-3 & 4-5] - always down-up.
These kind of exercises are truly endless. I encourage each of you to make up as many picking patterns as you can. And, again, apply this idea to any scale.