Pickslanting Pitfalls

In exposing the art of pickslanting, Troy Grady showed us how a subtle change in approach can transform our unreliable slop into the fast, clean guitar playing of our heroes. He’s covered assisting techniques like chunking and motion mechanics to help get this gleaming new machine moving, but there are still gaps in the knowledge, gaps that I’ve certainly fallen into when working on pickslanting, and I thought other people probably had, too.

New students, at 12 and 13 years old, who come to the guitar with Troy’s breakthroughs laid out in front of them, are going to become terrifying martial artists of picking proficiency. Those of us who’ve spent years tackling things in our own idiosyncratic ways, however, have some extra issues to look at. Here’s my checklist of pickslanting pitfalls.

1. Doing it without doing it

First, I discovered that I was visibly slanting, tilting the pick up or down at the prescribed moments, yes, but, in terms of actual picking motion, still playing up and down across the plane of the strings. It seems that the grooves worn into muscle memory from years of playing a certain way are not immediately erased just because you’d like to apply a new method. Corrections happen that you don’t ask for. I would play the ‘Gilbert lick’ with these empowering tools and, past a certain speed, get the dreaded honk of an open string from failing to clear it on the upstroke; the exact problem pickslanting is meant to address.

Increased slanting didn’t fix it. Watching closely, I found that some unconscious mechanism was stepping in to compensate for the tilt and propel the pick across the flatter plane it has traveled for years. I had to start thinking “out” on that stroke, rather than “up”.

Picking in and out instead of up and down is a novel approach to which every component from brain to fingertip must adjust. You’ve got to make sure you do it, not just appear to.

Though I had a good pickslant going (yellow triangle), I was picking straight up and down (blue arrows). I lost my home and friends doing this.

2. Getting locked in place

If my picking is fine one day and sucks the next, chances are I’ve gotten lazy and forgotten to track the strings. By tracking the strings I mean repositioning the picking hand for each string being played, so that the angle of the pick, and the motion required from the hand, is nice and consistent for any given string. Failing to keep this up causes a traffic jam of little errors for me which stack up to produce messy, uneven little triplets.

Watching George Bellas reminds me to work this stabilizing component into my playing, as he has such a smooth, practiced arc guiding his right hand across the strings. I wish Troy would get George in for a session with the Magnet camera setup.

3. Inside picking is still hard

Through his research, pickslanting professor Troy Grady has turned himself into an efficient note-blasting machine who considers the issue of inside picking solved. “There’s no there, there,” he says. True; the pickslanting approach should make us less likely to get snagged up in this little trap. But it still feels unnatural, perhaps because of the narrow spacing, operating in between rather than outside of the strings. Go ahead and try the Gilbert lick backwards, with a downstroke on the high note. It’s like signing your name with the wrong hand.

Rather like a trainer who asks nonchalantly for 20 pushups without considering that your personal record might be, for example, three, Troy sees no barrier here; he has forgotten that it is hard. This speaks well of his system, but we have yet to reach that level. Millions of repetitions of the Gilbert lick taught us only outside picking. So did guilty little coping strategies, like repeating triplets in three-note-per-string runs.

Claus Levin on YouTube makes the case that efficient practice means cutting out the easy parts and targeting the tricky bits. In the case of inside picking, it occurs only twice across a six string scale, so his advice would be to isolate those moments and work on them. The temptation to fill practice time with 80% stuff you’re already good at, which sounds good and is instantly gratifying, is tough to resist. (Incidentally, Claus is not a big believer in pickslanting.)

4. One thing at a time

An experienced player is likely trying to do too much at once while also introducing pickslanting. When you’re perfectly used to moving around the neck, covering many strings by lacing together techniques like legato, economy picking, or those repeated triplets, harnessing the self control to hold back and focus on this one new element is a frequent challenge. But I certainly trip up by just trying to toss in some slanting and fly across the strings. It needs attention.

It’s a humbling step, feeling somewhat advanced then returning to little two-string patterns of six notes. But doing that (then three strings, then four…) helps me to iron out the glitches and clean up the technique. When things go awry, I come back to visit these beginner sequences again.

Featured image from Cracking the Code Episode 12, © 2016 Troy Grady

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