Picking Q/A

How (do) you pick so fast and how (do) you hold your pick in (your) hand ?

On Wed, 20 March 1996, Mikko Livola  wrote:

> How can you play so clean and so fast ???? 

By muting strings immediately when they are to be silent,
playing in the "sweet spot" of the string, and holding
the pick in a way that improves the repeatablility of
the stroke.

> How you pick so fast and how you hold your pick in hand ??

The short answer is that I use economy of motion.  
Specifically, when picking every note of a fast section as in
the Flight of the Bumble-Bee, for example, where on average,
at least 2 consecutive notes may be played on the same string,
I use alternate picking.  For many of the 32nd/64th note 
arpeggios found in Paganini Concertos, for example, I haven't
found a way around using sweeps (plucking one note per string
over multiple strings all with the same up or down motion).

As opposed to holding the pick with the ends of my thumb and
index finger as is very common, I hold the pick between the
flattest part of the thumb just opposite the the area
beneath the thumbnail (but closer to the joint than the tip) 
and side of last joint of my index finger.  When playing
lots of fast harmonics, I finger the node of the harmonic
with the index finger of my picking hand and hold the
pick between the same part of the thumb and the side
of the last joint of the middle finger.  This forces the
holding finger to be bent somewhat towards the wrist.  

> Do you pick with thumb or with wrist ? 

This method forces the picking pivot point to be in the 
wrist rather that the thumb, because the finger can't bend

> Which is better style?

What ever works for you and the style you are interested in
of coarse, but I have found the following advantages with
the method described above:

This method of holding the pick allows for a very firm
grip with little effort as more pressure may be applied
over a greater surface area, generally.  This, combined
with a heavey pick gives very fast response to slight
movements of the wrist.

Playing fast harmonics with alternate picking is less

It's easier for me to use the heal of my thumb and
remaining fingers of the right hand to mute strings 
that need to be quite will picking others. 

The picking angle can be changed with ease, which comes 
in handy when modulating tone, volume and playing right 
hand harmonics with alternate picking.  Also, I have 
found that it is easier to play harmonics with the side 
of the thumb this way (though this only works on a down 

My whole right hand usually stays very close to the strings.
So close that I can feel enough of the strings and bridge
and body and edges of pick-ups with the heal of my hand and
side of my thumb that I have a lot of feedback about where my
hand is at all times.  This makes it easier to make big jumps
from the 6th to first string as in Paganini's Caprice No.
13 and 22 and even in Bach's Sonata's and Partitas for 
Violin, etc.  

On Mon, 29 Apr 1996, kyle jones wrote:

> i've found two similar placements on the thumb (in both of the
> following cases the pick is positioned such that, if a dividing
> line were drawn from the point of the picking end back through the
> body of the pick dividing the pick in two equal halves, this line
> is exactly perpindicular to the thumb, when the thumb is held
> straight out.)
> one position is such that the pick rests almost entirely on the
> "meaty" part of the thumb,
> the other such that the pick rests on the 2nd joint of the thumb.
> (in my brief experimentation with this, the latter allows for a
> REALLY fast, relatively relaxed staccato repeating pick - i'm blank
> on the term for this.)
> also, two positions for the index (with a wide range of varibles
> between):
> while the joint of the index finger is seated on the pick there are
> a variety of angles (relative to that perpindicular line on the
> pick mentioned above) along which the tip of the index finger might
> sit:
> if another line were drawn on the side of the index finger from the
> joint to tip, this line could run perpidicular to the line on the
> pick (pointing the tip of the index finger right back toward the
> wrist) or any lesser angle almost up to being parallel to the "pick
> line," at which point the tip of the index finger would begin to
> interfere with the pick's point of contact.

On the thumb, I just use the joint as you describe.  For the index 
finger, I actually vary the angle depending on a few things.  I tuck 
it back "out of the way" so it points towards my wrist when I'm
producing harmonics with my thumb, sometimes.  Sometimes
it's more in line with the pick, especially with a certain
warp of the pick (which I've become very sensitive to:  sometimes
a new pick warps while I am playing and forces me to change
my grip in the middle of a tune).  Generally, I find that
the angle averages somewhere in between, though.  Somewhere
around 45 degrees between your lines of reference.

Hear some audio samples of fast picking on STRAD TO STRAT (Click on Bumblebee).

How do you skip strings using fast alternate picking?.