I would like to think that I am (somewhat) good at alternate picking quite fast. The only thing is, I kind of "tense" my arm up. I am almost positive that this is NOT good technique and that I should only be using my wrist. Is it normal to use your arm muscles when doing high speed alternate picking? And if not, is there anything I can do to break this bad habit?
Just practice relaxing your arm when you alternate pick and stuff, and just start practicing using your wrist more. Thats the only way i can explain it. But sometimes you do need to use your arm when your playing.
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When I go for speed I use all wrist trying to move my arm as little as possible, but there are those people who use their arm to do pick fast. I'm pretty sure Zakk Wylde does it. I would say whatever way work for you.
Quote by Kroznk
I would like to think that I am (somewhat) good at alternate picking quite fast. The only thing is, I kind of "tense" my arm up. I am almost positive that this is NOT good technique and that I should only be using my wrist. Is it normal to use your arm muscles when doing high speed alternate picking? And if not, is there anything I can do to break this bad habit?

Yeah, the tensing is bad. Not only does it give you poor control when picking fast, but it can lead to RSI if you do it enough.

The fast motion should come from the wrist, with the arm being used to move around when crossing/skipping strings.

The best advice is can give it to pay attention to your body. What I mean is paying attention to whether you are tensing up, and making a conscious effort to relax while playing. And not to just your hand/arm either. It's all connected so you should be paying attention to your shoulders, neck and back too. Breathing is a big one. Always pay attention to whether you are breathing easy.

Back off on the speed a little, and keep it in the range where you can play relaxed. It's ok to bump it from time to time and play shorter sections, but only if you can stay relaxed.

Note that it's ok to move your arm a little, but it should be more sympathetic movement as a result of what your wrist is doing. Sometimes you see someone play and they are trying so hard to play with their wrist, that the forearm appears "frozen". That's bad too, since then you are keeping your arm still in a tense manner, which is just as bad moving it in a tense manner.

Good luck with your playing!
Yeah the way you pick slowly without tension is the exact same way you should be playing when playing fast. I say take your picking down to a tempo where you are not tensing your arm and work it up with the metronome. Since you are already playing fast I recommend practicing in bursts aswell. So go for your top speed for short periods of time but tryin to keep your arm relaxed. A mixture of practicing like this and workin your speed up with the metronome should help you loss the tension
Alright, so while playing, my arm (bicep and tricep) should be completely limp, and all speed should come straight from my wrist? I should note that my arm does not move when playing, and is completely still. It just tenses up and is "frozen", like a poster said earlier.
Last edited by Kroznk at Sep 20, 2008,
Well, I'm not sure about completely limp (like flopping around) but just nice and relaxed.

Try this (without actually playing). Rest of the side of your hand on the bridge. Rest your forearm on the body of the guitar (not press it to it, just rest it there). Take a deep breath, and let it out slowly, and just kind of relax. That's pretty much how it should feel. Now start picking.
I use a decent bit of forearm motion in my alternate picking as well & it can work for you just fine. You do need to be careful to not tense up, but you do with an all wrist motion as well.
Everyone always seems to think that they know what is "best" for everyone else out there...What's proper and improper....What is "healthy or not healthy"...but truth be told ANY repetetive motion (wrist/forearm/fingers) can lead to physical problems if overdone or done with excess tension. Wrist picking alone is not the be all end all of picking & will not be any healthier for you, if you still employ it with too much tension or don't bother to warm up at all.
For some folks out there, "wrist" picking is just going to feel un-natural & wrong...there is just no way around it. You can't force everyone into the same mold...Only you can tell what is going to feel right for you. Just be smart about how you practice and employ the technique that you ulitmately go with.

Here's a short vid of some picking crap of mine. I tend to use both wrist & forearm motions in fairly equal amounts overall.
My own picking crap

Hopefully that helps a little bit. I'm not trying to sound like a know-it-all...but I've been playing in that manner for the better part of 25yrs now & have suffered no medical issues yet...."knock on wood"....LOL
It can work just fine...just be smart about it and back off when the tension creeps in and make sure that you always warm up a bit before going apesh*t with the 32nd notes at 230bpm.

Last edited by ChipShank at Sep 21, 2008,
i agree with ChipShank.The most important thing is making sure you have no tension. You dont wanna injure yourself. I must say though that, while any technique will feel unnatural at first...with work it will feel natural. I used to be a purely arm picker and I anchored my pinky. I got fast and there wasnt' tension but when I changed to wrist motion only with no anchoring, I gained much more speed. And yeah, the wrist felt unnatural at first . But, with constant work it became so natural and providided much more efficiency which equaled more speed.
i use my elbow for all my picking, it is just easier, cleaner, and more accurate for me, unless i'm doing something like hitting root-octave-root-octave, in which case i use my hand. just work on making your elbow less tense.
Try to play primarily with your wrist, and maintaining a relaxed posture. It may feel weird, but you will find you have a lot more stamina.
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I also tend to rest my palm on the unused strings while I am playing. I don't think this is considered anchoring, and my pinky on my picking hand is free. What, technically, is anchoring?
Anchoring is when you press part of your hand/fingers/arm to the guitar and keep it in one spot, so that everything else has to move around it. Although there a few examples of great guitarists (e.g. MAB) that have made it work for them, usually it's a negative because it restricts freedom of movement. Note, this is different than when the body part is just resting there in a relaxed manner that doesn't restrict movement.
Here is a quick video for you....
Vinnie Moore (Old Video Lesson)
It's a really old one now, one of those 80's REH Hot Licks video with Vinnie Moore, but it does clearly show how you can use forearm motion effectively & without excess tension. As you watch it, pay close attention to how he blends forearm, wrist and finger movements into a single, seemless picking style.
I used to have his instructional vids & attended a couple of his clinics back in the old days (LOL) & his picking tech, is what I have always worked to emulate with my own playing, since it is what felt most natural & comfortable to me personally. I will most likely never reach his level, since I don't have endless hours to dedicate to practicing....but he is one the most proficient pickers out there & not a bad style to adopt, IF...it makes sense to you and suits your own mentality/body type.
Hope that makes sense.

Quote by Kroznk

Here's a short clip of my picking... just tremolo picking four notes on a single string, but I figured that it was enough to show you guys my wrist movements. M i doin it rite? (Probably not)

You appear to be hugely tense; slow down and relax! Never speed up if it causes you to loose your relaxed technique.
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