Episode 3: Inefficient Picking
When you’re performing a piece that requires you play over 500 notes per minute, efficient picking becomes pretty important. Every millimeter counts when every successive 16th note requires the skipping of strings. Every aspect of physically moving the pick matters. For years, I didn’t understand this.
Here is the video to accompany this episode of Failure to Fracture.
What is Failure to Fracture?
Failure to Fracture is a video series I’ve put together about all the things that have stood in the way of my successfully playing the song Fracture by King Crimson despite years and years of study, practice, writing, and making videos.
- Episode 0: Introduction (includes notation/tablature)
- Episode 1: Stress and Tension
- Episode 2: Picking Picks
- Episode 3: Inefficient Picking
- Episode 4: Overzealous Precision
Inefficient Picking Problems
As a self-taught guitarist, I never received formal instruction on how to hold the pick or move the pick through a string. Furthermore, there weren’t many resources on how to best use the body to do so. I would watch instructional videos (on VHS! pre-YouTube), read magazine articles, figure stuff out by ear, and watch live performers to get a sense of what to do.
When I attended the Guitar Circle introductory course, one of the instructors there–an expert player named Leo Requejo –asked me to play eighth notes on an open string. I did by picking as I’d taught myself. Then he asked me to pick with the smallest motion possible. I did. Then he showed me how minimally he could move the pick and strike a note. He asked me to do the same. I couldn’t.
Leo helped me realize that I had never truly connected my attention with my picking. Picking, to me, was a means to an end. You move the pick, you play the note. The faster, the better. That is, until I worked directly with Leo.
Leo also helped me to remember my old physics coursework from college. A carousel moves faster and farther on the edge than it does in the center. If my elbow is the center of the carousel, it would be impossible to precisely move the pick one or two millimeters beyond each side of the string in successive, predictable motion. Making my wrist the center of the carousel made it much easier for me to manipulate the pick to move very small distances.
When picking through the moto perpetuo in Fracture, I know I am exhibiting control when my hand seamlessly moves from string to string via the elbow and my wrist moves the pick through the strings. I know I am losing control when I see the pick bouncing too far between the strings. That is an indication that I’m picking with my elbow instead of changing strings with my elbow.
If you watch the video, you’ll see exactly what I mean. Fracture falls apart for the player very quickly and easily. It is difficult to recover. The pace is so quick and the picking so difficult. As a player, I can only hope that I’ve moved the pick beyond a string a little too far. That’s the easiest mistake from which can recover.
When I bring my attention into my hand and wrist and elbow, particularly when I look down at my hand with my eyes, I can see the manifestation of my attention. It’s deep, bro.