Shoulder and Elbow Study Animations



The shoulder and elbow are responsible for a lot more than you may think when it comes to guitar technique. In lead guitar, it is essential that we learn and master control over these joints to put them to work immediately. If you aren't using shoulder and elbow mechanics yet - this may be the eye-opener you've been needing! Let's now explore, with animations (see bottom of page), precisely how these joints perform a variety of motions.

Arm String Tracking (animation #1)
 

"String Tracking" is the term used to describe how the picking hand moves from string to string. Both my sweep picking technique and scalar picking technique rely on the arm to achieve this. By pivoting at the shoulder and flexing/extending the elbow, observe how a slightly positive, piston-like, diagonal, push/pull path is sliced out across the strings, moving gradually up towards the neck pickup and back again. 

Wrist Yaw Picking (animation #2)
 

If you are familiar with my works, you'll already be aware that my pickstrokes are generated by the side-to-side yawing of the wrist, otherwise known anatomically as "wrist deviation". Observe the animation and notice how the motion comes entirely from the wrist.

Elbow Picking (BAD) (animation #3)
 

Sometimes it's worth including an example of how NOT to do something. Avoid locking the wrist joint and spasming at the elbow. Sure, the strength of the elbow is mighty, and at first it may seem like it's a great way to pick (because of the undeniable and instant speed one can achieve), but there are many reasons why this is a bad idea:

- Spasming at the elbow will eventually lead to injury.
- Moving the mass of the entire forearm + hand assembly about the elbow fulcrum takes a lot of energy.
- It only seems to work cleanly for neutral pickslanting and upward pickslanting.

Elbow Accents (animation #4) 


You don't have to rule elbow picking completely out of your picking technique, however. I, and many wrist pickers like me, use the elbow to assist with accenting. See the animation below where a loop of four pickstrokes is being played. The wrist is loose and yaws the whole time, but observe how the elbow lifts the forearm up on every other upstroke and then smacks down hard on that first note (ONE...two...three...four...):

- With a loose and yawing wrist, slam the forearm down using the elbow to accent the first pickstroke (ONE...).
- Wrist yaw pick the next two pickstokes. (two...three...)
- With a loose and yawing wrist, raise the forearm up using the elbow to perform the final stoke of four, in preparation for the hard downward forearm accent again (four...).

Repeat.

The sheer speed and tightness you can get with elbow accenting is phenomenal.

Wrist Yaw Picking 6S (animation #5)
 

This animation demonstrates how to combine wrist yaw picking and string tracking to traverse 6 strings. If done correctly, the hand will feel like it's picking just one string the whole time. In reality, the string is simply changing underneath the picking hand. In a downward pickslant:

- Wrist yaw pick the first 4 strokes (one...two...three...four)
- String track the distance of one string by pivoting at the shoulder and flexing/extending the elbow.
- Wrist yaw pick another 4 strokes (one...two...three...four)
- String track the distance of one string by pivoting at the shoulder and flexing/extending the elbow again.

and so on across the remaining strings.

Elbow Accents 6S (animation #6)
 

Finally, try combining the elbow accenting mechanic with string tracking across 6 strings. In a downward pickslant again:

- With a loose and yawing wrist, slam the forearm down using the elbow to accent the first pickstroke (ONE...).
- Wrist yaw pick the next two pickstrokes (two...three...)
- With a loose and yawing wrist, raise the forearm up using the elbow to perform the final stoke of four, in preparation for the hard downward forearm accent again (four...).
- String track the distance of one string.

Repeat across the strings.


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Guide to the perfect pickstroke



Here's some advice that I've learned from observing my own practice sessions over the years regarding how to achieve the perfect pickstroke. What do you think of when you imagine the perfect picking technique? Fast picking runs? Small and visually effortless motions? Long tremolos of near-endless and seemingly frictionless stamina? I have three rules to share with you which if followed, will allow you to achieve a pickstroke capable of producing such results.

It doesn't matter which of the two methods you use to generate your pickstrokes:


Nor does it matter which pickslant you happen to be using at any given time:

Instead, the focus of this article is on developing a fast, accurate, reliable, and effortless pickstroke time after time. Every time. Here are the three rules!

1. Use tiny pickstrokes

The larger your pickstrokes' breadth, the less control you will have over how much of the pick contacts the string for each pickstroke. As such, the resistance the pick encounters at the point of contact with the string (pick/string resistance) will be wildy unpredictable. That means that tiny pickstrokes and picking depth are directly related to each other. In addition, large pickstrokes will slow you down as the pick has a greater distance to travel through the air after/before every pickstroke. Attempting to increase speed without reduction in picking breadth results in tension. Tension results in failure. Keep those pickstrokes tiny!

2. Use just the tip of the pick

Only the tip of the pick is needed. The more plastic you have to muscle over a string, the greater the pick/string resistance will be, and the tenser and slower you will be. Beginners tend to use a lot of the pick because they are subconsciously afraid of missing the string altogether. But as you progress you must move away from this. Only use the tip. Don't even think of it as "picking" the strings. Think of it as "tickling" the tops of the strings.

3. Relax

Wait. This isn't just some carelessly spouted nonsense. It's absolutely necessary, I promise! Like my brother Gus the drummer says: "tense muscles are slow muscles". If you are tense, even just a little bit, your muscles will fight each other to some degree. For example: If you are doing a downstroke but your muscles are already tensing up preparing for the upstroke, your downstroke has been tainted by tension - ruined! Relaxation is something that needs to be practiced just like everything else. You must be consciously aware of it.

 

Combine these tips

Next time you're practicing an exercise or picking pattern, make a point of checking for the above three tips. Consciously ask yourself:

1. Could my pickstrokes be smaller?

2. Could I use less of the pick?

3. Can I relax any further? (without literally dropping the pick and collapsing)

 

I do this quick tri-check every practice session of every day. I hope it will help you like it has helped me.

 

Check out my PDF "Lead Guitar Practice Methodology" if you want more hardcore scrutiny like this!

 

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