Secrets to Better Doublepicking

Double picking, or cross picking on the guitar or bass, is simply playing with both up and down strokes of the guitar pick. I’ve got a certain method of both playing and thinking that’s worked for not only myself, but my many guitar students over the years.

First off, reach way back into your past – back before a time when you were even able to hold a guitar. If you were anything like me, you ruined at least a few books with a favorite toddler pastime: scribbling. We’re going to put that innate talent to use on the guitar, with the pick.

Lets first look at how we hold a pencil, crayon or pen. If you’re about to write (you might want to try it now) you’ll notice you’re holding the pencil way down close to the tip. When I write with a pencil the fingernails of my middle, ring finger and pinky are actually brushing against the paper. The side of my thumb rests against the paper. The greatest percentage of the length of the pencil is behind where I’m holding it. Holding the guitar pick the same way is a superior method of holding the pick for a few reasons. First of all, the more surface area of the fingers is against the pick the less pressure you have to exert, so you can hold the pick nice and relaxed. I’ve found I like using a heavier pick because the flesh of my forefinger and thumb can give instead of the pick bending, and I have a lot more control as a result, but that’s just my preference.

Secondly, playing this way brings the hand very close to the strings. Lets look once again at how a pencil’s held when writing on paper. The guitar strings can be thought of as a sheet of paper without anything behind it to keep the pencil from just poking through. When I use the pick my hand acts as a gauge to prevent the pick from poking through – in other words, from going too deeply between the strings. This keeps the guitar pick striking the strings with only the very tip.

Try the following exercise: fold a piece of paper in half. Slide the sheet over the strings with one of the folded sides above the strings, the other behind it – in a sort of guitar string sandwich. Then, try to write on it as you would normally. But remember to go soft so the pencil doesn’t poke a hole. Scribble with tiny motions up and down. A tiny motion with the guitar pick means it has less traveling to do before it hits the string again, which translates into more speed.

Next, remove the paper and see if you can scribble directly on one of the strings with the pencil. Just stay on the very tip. You’ll find out very quickly that if the pencil goes to far between the strings it’ll hook and break the rhythm.

Lastly, try using the guitar pick in the same way you did the pencil. Just scribble back and forth on the string. Be careful to stay on the very tip of the guitar pick. Squeeze tighter for louder picking, and relax the grip to play more softly.

Wax on, wax off

Ok who would have guessed I’d be quoting that here, right? But here’s another exercise to try. Take a cloth and buff the guitar. Notice how the hand and forearm move when you do. Notice which part of the hand applies the pressure against the cloth as you lightly buff. You’ll find it’s the first joint of the fingers (the joint closest to the fingertip). When you hold a guitar pick, see if you can adapt to having the point of the pick directly over that first joint of the index finger. Remember, only have a few millimeters of the pick extending beyond there. You want to hold the pick so only the tiniest bit is exposed.

Holding the Guitar for Better Picking

When you hold the guitar, put an angle on it. Have length the guitar neck pointing at about a 45º angle upward. Not straight up like a cello and not parallel to the ground, but halfway in between. This not only puts a lot less strain on the  left hand and arm and improves one’s reach (a subject for a future article), but it will cause the right forearm to be at more of an angle to the strings. If you’re holding the guitar pick with its flat side parallel to the forearm you’ll find the pick hits the guitar strings on its edge instead of with its flat side. Less resistance equals more speed. Turning the pick slightly to hit with the flat gives a different sound, and again more control over tone is given to the guitarist.

One other great advantage of holding the guitar at this angle is that the back of the hand can rest on the strings the guitar pick isn’t playing at the time. The thumb can come into play, subtly brushing the strings with the strokes, which can control tone.

I’d like to hear any questions on the subject and clarify if necessary any of the suggestions I’ve made here. And here’s an important thing to remember: playing fast is really easy. Thinking as fast as you can play takes a lot more work.

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Rough Eye Ring Pick – On Sale NOW!

I’m now selling the brass version of the ring pick. These guitar picks are made from .020″ brass, they’re unbreakable, can’t be worn out and are really hard to lose when they’re on your finger.

The Rough Eye Ring Pick Brass can be purchased here.

These guitar picks are lightning fast, Better than any fingerpick or thumbpick on the market. The brass can be fully adjusted to your finger size and all every one of our guitar picks is hand-made.

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The Rough Eye Ring Pick Demonstration

Here’s a video of the Rough Eye Ring Pick being used:

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An explanation of the RoughEye Pick

please take a look here for some photos and description of the pick. its uses and its benefits.

The pick will be available for sale in the shop soon!

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the Rough Eye Ring Pick

I’m currently developing a guitar pick that I designed about 25 years ago so that it can be produced for guitarists to buy at a reasonable price. Way back when I started using them it was a tedious ordeal; cutting, filing and sanding followed by some drilling and other things I don’t go into here. I hope many guitarists will try the new pick as I expect it’s got an edge on just about every pick on the market in a few ways.

I’m calling it the “Rough Eye Ring Pick” unless someone can give me a better idea. It has a ring to it, no? Ok, seriously, it’s not a finger pick or a thumb pick but combines the best elements of thumb, finger and flatpick. If you’re interested please feel free to shoot me an email at instruction@modesforguitar.com

- john

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Preventing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

As a classically trained guitarist with about 40 years of experience I can say with confidence that I’ll never have a bad case of carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s all a question of understanding how the body functions best.

When the elbow bends in, the wrist should not bend out; rather, both should form a graceful arc. I think it’s best to have your headstock at eye level or close to it, as well. Guitar should be angled up so the right hand can reach low and the left can reach high (for left-handed guitarists). As a rule of thumb, the closer the left hand is to the face, the less the wrist and elbow will have to contort to get the fingers where they want to be.

As for computerin’, when sitting at the keyboard, the wrists should ideally be closer to the ground than the elbows, and the keyboard should be low enough that the wrists can bend down slightly while having an angle something at least slightly greater than 90º at the elbow.

Try this: sit without the computer or guitar in front of you, and close your eyes. Put your hands where your body says they should be. Feel that it’s comfortable and natural, with posture erect, back of the head as if pressed up toward the sky. Then open your eyes and make it a goal to make the guitar or keyboard land where your hands want it to be, not making the arms contort to where the guitar wants them.

I hope these tips are helpful and as always I welcome comments.

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Guitar Instruction

I’m currently accepting students for guitar lessons in central New Jersey. I accept all level of students. Instruction is one-on-one in my home or yours. If you’re interested in guitar lessons please email me at lessons@modes4guitar.com, or call 908-722-6544.

I also teach bass guitar. All levels – beginning to advanced. Must have your own guitar and a love of music. I’ve had 30 years of experience and have taught not only guitar and bass but also banjo and even sitar. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

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Way of the Future

Guitar, cooking, sweeping the floor. It’s all the same. I’ve been telling students for years that music is a unique discipline, in that it provides immediate feedback (the way what we’re playing sounds) to indicate what sort of results we’re getting. Now, I should preface by saying I’m not obsessive-compulsive.

I’ve been teaching and telling students lately how to get more out of their practice time. They might tell me they practice x minutes a day (whether they actually do or not is another story). but I’ll spend a little time showing them how much can actually be achieved in a minute. About the obsessive-compulsive comment: there was a time when I actually kept a log, detailing what i worked on and how many minutes I spent on each scale, exercise and piece of music on a daily basis. Now I’ve always contended that natural “talent,” as people call it, doesn’t really exist. True, that we all have a different “hand to play” from the outset, so to speak. But one’s weaknesses can become strengths, and vice versa. If I were to speculate I’d say my strongest talent is the gift of being able to amuse myself for long periods of time by performing the most mundane, monotonous and often simple little tasks. I can delight in playing a small passage of notes over and over — seeing what I can do to make it interesting. I’ll play a group of notes, going faster, slower, varying my touch, adding slight pauses or accents in different places, emphasizing notes with vibrato, changing volume in all kinds of ways. No matter what talent you believe you have, playing the same passage twenty to a hundred times a day for many days will, sooner or later, make you an expert at performing that task.

I’ve been playing a lot of acoustic steel string guitar lately, which is kind of a new thing for me. Mostly I always played either classical guitar or any of several electric guitars I own. Now I’m enjoying the sounds I can get out of my old $140 yamaha acoustic, exploring the wide variety of tones that can come out of this wonderful instrument.

Anyway, I came to a realization recently. I found myself repeating in my mind a small sequence of motions, imagining its sounds, the fingerings, varying it in a multitude of miniscule ways to varying degrees —over and over and over. And, although I’ve been doing this for many years, it suddenly reminded me of something: Leonardo DiCaprio’s Howard Hughs in “The Aviator,” saying “show me all the blueprints” over and over again. Difference is, I can turn it on or off at will —I think.

“When an artist spits, that is art” —I stole that quote from some dadaist artist —wish i could remember who. It’s not a question of who the person is doing it. It’s more a question of how we regard ourselves and how we approach whatever task is at hand. So, when you sweep that floor, sweep it as if the heavens would open, and the spirits of great floor-sweepers of bygone eras would smile down and admire your work, while angelic fingers would dance on the strings of gilded harps, arpeggiating major7#11 chords. And don’t forget to practice your guitar.

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Take Your Time in a Hurry

Ok, once upon a time I did a stint playing bass and guitar for a group that did gaelic folk music and various other folk styles. One night after a few hours of rehearsal where i pretty much played nothing but a slow steady “bum, bum” on the bass, I went home and picked up a guitar to play some classical guitar. My right hand was so loose and fluent I was surprised. All that slow playing had made me fast.

As time went on I began a different style of practicing. Instead of charging into it like a ram in heat I’d start out with my morning coffee, occasionally taking sips while playing at a rate of about 1 note a second to 1 note every few seconds. After maybe a half hour I’d do my regular practice routine. I found this served another purpose I hadn’t expected, for which I try to get my students to follow this method as well. Playing at such a slow relaxed pace every time I picked up the guitar had served as a sort of self-hypnosis, I think. Whenever I picked up the guitar it would have such a relaxing, cathartic effect and my muscles would become relaxed and ready to play.

Like wild Bill Hickock said, “take your time in a hurry.” Playing slow can actually increase your speed as well – it’ll give you time to hear what’s going wrong in between the notes, which is where you’re most likely to lose speed. And then again there’s what i call “infinite speed” – being in 2 places at once. Can’t get any faster than that. But maybe that’s a discussion for another time.

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A Word About this Site

Just a brief word:

The website you’re currently viewing is a new format. Visitors can now leave comments, join in the discussion and I even plan to have a forum up in the near future. If you have any comments or suggestions please do not hesitate to let me know. Thanks.

 

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