Minimal Pickslanting: The fastest, easiest way to do it

Could the best possible method of pickslanting have been missed? I’d like to share my drastically less demanding, play-anything method of two-way pickslanting that has been overlooked in the Cracking the Code series.

(Previously, I’ve tried to fill a few gaps in the knowledge for seasoned players adopting Troy Grady’s revelatory pickslanting techniques after doing things differently for many years. You may want to start there.)

Even Stevens Fifty/Fifty Pickslanting

In Cracking the Code, two-way pickslanting is described and demonstrated as a regimented, metronome-like chop and change between the two states of upward and downward pickslanting. Ascending a standard three-notes-per-string scale, we see this:

  • Tilt pick upwards
  • Play three notes
  • Switch strings
  • Tilt pick downwards
  • Play three notes
  • Switch strings
  • Repeat

[Above excerpt from Conquering the Scale]

It’s a flip-flop, back-and-forth mechanic; three notes with the pick angled one way, three notes with it angled the other way.

I brought this into my playing, drilled it every day, and had enough success to confirm the merit of Troy Grady’s brilliant discovery. I wasn’t going to melt any faces, but I’d been liberated, shown the way out of the string trap, could play rewarding little sequences at a fair clip.

It never got to feel natural, however, retaining a precarious, skating-while-juggling kind of feeling, and could end in a crash as easily as an ace. This, I think, is because we all naturally pickslant one way or the other, always have, before it was a word, whether we noticed or not. You have your comfortable playing posture that suits you for whatever reason. The beginning of Troy’s journey was stumbling upon a particular sequence of notes that complimented his pre-existing slouchy downward pickslanting – the Pop Tarts lick.

Two-way pickslanting, as defined in Cracking the Code, asks you to spend half the time in the opposite orientation; three notes in safe territory, three out on a ledge.

Michael’s Modded Pickslanting

In a video dissecting the flurry of ultra efficient notes streaming from the hands of Michael Angelo Batio, Troy presents his case for Batio’s use of a second style, a more practical, change-when-you-need-to type of pickslanting, unlike the always-on version taught in the bulk of Code material.

Batio, he believes, is only changing his pickslant on the last note of each string. Winding up one of the signature animation sequences that have made his videos so clear about motions so small, he appropriately conjures an industrial machine to portray Batio’s picking of three-notes-per-string scales:

  • Down
  • Up
  • Rotate on a downstroke
  • Switch strings
  • Up
  • Down
  • Rotate on an upstroke
  • Switch strings

Depending on how your mind works, this might seem like a simpler, more reliable way to apply pickslanting, one that will also work better for unusual numbers of notes on the strings. Rather than thinking about getting locked into one angle for three notes, then another for three notes, the mental message is ‘just change when leaving the string’.

I, for one, am horrible at it, much worse than the vanilla pickslanting outlined in the first section.

It’s unclear how Troy got here, because it’s not what he documented Batio as doing in an earlier moment of epiphany, and it’s not what I see Batio doing either.

Minimal Pickslanting

There is a third, much simpler way, that I think is by far the easiest, most effective form of two-way pickslanting.

Almost halfway through the Batio episode, Troy recreates how he watched Batio’s right hand perform one lick hundreds of times, in close-up, trying to discern the imperceptible movements that allowed him to rip straight up a scale without difficulty; something even the big pros tend to avoid. The eureka moment comes when finally he spots Batio make a tiny downward tilt on the sixth note of the scale. The sixth note.

He realizes that Batio is a natural “upward pickslanter” and so clears the first string change without adjusting anything at all; an upward pickslant means that the third note, a downstroke, sends the pick out from the guitar, over the next string, without issue. Adhering to strict alternate picking, only when he’s about to switch strings on an upstroke does he need to pop in one downward-pickslanted note, the bare minimum required to get the pick above the strings. And that’s it, right there. With one tiny motion, Batio escapes the quagmire of two-way pickslanting. Efficient indeed. The sequence can then begin again on the next two strings.

[Watch the hand tilt on that sixth note! Batio’s training video, via Cracking the Code Episode 12.]

It’s beautiful. There’s no need to get into either of the flip-flopping regimens prescribed above. You can relax in one familiar, comfortable orientation almost the entire time, concerning yourself with a single pickslant change for one note in every six. For our standard three-notes-per-string scale, this is necessary only twice across the whole thing. Just two notes out of 18.

For something like Circular Sixes, a common alternate picking exercise which is actually a repeating cycle of 10 notes, just one stroke requires the opposite pickslant.

All this simplification means less work for the hands, but also the mind. Remembering to do something every six notes, instead of every three, eases the mental load by half. Maybe I’m just not very quick up top, but this felt like a relief.

What about downward slanters? :'(

All of this applies to natural upward pickslanters like me, but downies can use the exact same idea to streamline their pickslanting, too. If you’re naturally comfortable in the downward pickslanting position, like Yngwie and Troy and many others, you have two options for minimal pickslanting:

1) Start any of these sequences with an upstroke, and everything works out the same, just mirrored. For example, in the A Major scale shown above, all notes would be played in your favorite, downward slanted position, except the two highlighted notes, where you’d throw in upward-slanted downstrokes.

2) That might feel weird, though. Who wants to start an ascending run on an upstroke? The second option is to borrow the same principles to work out where you absolutely have to change your pickslant in order to alternate pick any scale or run. Spoiler: for you, it will always be when changing strings on a downstroke!

Your version of A Major would look like this:

Pretty sweet. 15 notes played in your happy downward pickslanting place, just three played in the other orientation. Yep, that’s one more than the upward slanters, but still a big improvement over standard two-way pickslanting.

You can probably guess, but your version of Circular Sixes would look like this:

Just one tippy toe out of the comfort zone. And it occurs, yes, when switching strings on a downstroke.

The Take Away

The idea is not to memorize special notes in every lick and scale that require a pickslant change. Rather, just remember one principle and you’ll be off to the races with minimal two-way pickslanting.

Upward pickslanters: Tilt the pick down a little when switching strings on an upstroke.

Downward pickslanters: Tilt the pick up a little when switching strings on a downstroke.

Given that two-way pickslanting is apparently the most complex mechanic to be wrestled with in the pickslanting arena, reducing it down to one simple instruction can only be beneficial. Likewise, getting to play where you’re most comfortable for most of the time. These little revelations have helped me, at least. I hope they help you.

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