The Woodshed

Right hand technique


I've got the right hand blues, apparently.

In a pre-crash thread, Jack Stacey talked about trying to better his technique towards nailing that supremely fast chromatic run in "Rock Around The Clock" -- which has always been a goal of mine, as well.

The left hand is there, I think. I can play it in time (218 bpm, IIRC) using pull-offs, but I couldn't pick fast enough with the right hand to match the left. Folks here pitched in with ideas, but nothing was helping me much.

So, off to the general interwebs, where I was trying to find primers on mandolin technique or anything, really. I happened upon a book about right hand picking by a Mark Burgess called Right Hand Picking (duh). Smack dab on page 4, I see my problem. I'm not holding the pick correctly at all. I've held it pinched between my thumb and the pad on my first finger. Burgess' technique is to lay the pick on the side of the index finger between the two joints and clamp the thumb down on the top of the pick to hold it in place. The fingers stay curled in towards the palm. The picking motion is more of a twist of the wrist than a forearm-driven strum.

Later I find out that resting your hand on the bridge and/or anchoring a finger on the guitar, both of which I do frequently, are also big no-nos according to the book. difference. I can control the pick much better and get a single-string tremolo going, although I still have to get my right and left hands synched up for the RATC solo.

But here's the main problem...when I'm strumming chords, holding the pick like that is beating the hell out of my right hand fingers. I've got my middle, ring and pinky (m, a, c) curled in as tight as possible. But still I manage to catch them on the G, B, and E strings quite frequently and sometimes painfully.

Unfortunately, the book is all about single-note exercises and doesn't address playing chords. So I asked a long-time guitar-playing buddy how he holds his pick (he does it like the book) and if he had the same problem? and he said he beats the hell out of his right hand all the time.

Let me say that if I just comp chords, I can move the hand & wrist from the elbow and it works fine, but my basic style is to play a more country/bluegrass boom-chuck style with the bass notes alternating with strums on the upper strings, and that's when the problems start.

So I guess my questions are: do y'all have this problem too, and what do you do about it? Band-aids? Is it just an occupational hazard? Do you switch between right hand techniques depending on what you're playing?

The new pick grip and control is really amazing, but my right pinky is raw and I don't want to start bleeding on my guitars. Thanks in advance for ideas or commiserations offered.


With your camera in your third hand, why not take a couple of close-up shots of how you hold the pick using both methods? Easier for us to visualize, evil.


This is an interesting topic. I believe Brian Setzer holds his pick as you describe:

I tried it and indeed it does seem to take less wrist motion for accurate tremolo picking. But what I noticed my middle finger sometimes gets in the way or accidentally hits a string. My normal technique clamps the pick with my thumb and index finger towards the tip but not on the pad (more on the side), with my fingers more open and loose (not gripped).

One of the issues I struggle with is missing strings when I do alternate picking runs. Working on right hand picking (using various exercises and patterns) is certainly the gateway towards clean playing and ultimately speed.

Tuck Andress has a well-known online article about picking. You can find it here:

There's not much more to say about picking techniques after reading that article!


Yep, that Tuck's article is the best on the issue . He finds that the so called "Benson picking" is the answer. I, after hangin out with the gypsy guys for a long time, think their approach is pretty damn good too. I def. think the reststrokes work great with pick, and help to go from strumming to single notes effortlessly. Reststrokes are the key!


Still can't get the solo to that perfect. I can get to about 160-170 BPM pretty accurate, but that's about as fast as I've gotten to. Any faster and my wrist locks up. Sometimes I do brace my pinky on the top of the guitar, or something else I've been known to do, though not consciously, is hook my pinky into the F-hole of the guitar. When I do the solo to "Lonesome Tears in My Eyes" for some reason I'll do this. I don't know where or when it started. Another thing I figured out when practicing "Rock Around the Clock" is I really focus on the first downstroke of each string. That somehow allows me to figure out where I need to be, so my right hand isn't just flailing around at 200 mph. I think of it like this: "1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4..." and so on. I'm not accenting the beat, I'm just judging where I am in the phrase based on hitting the first note with a downstroke. But I still need to speed it up about 10 BPM.


Thanks all for chiming in. Unfortunately, I don't have a third hand to take pictures while I play guitar, but it seems like Frank ran into the same problem I'm having. Here's a picture of the cover of the book, which shows the grip pretty well. The point of the pick is perpendicular to the flat edge of the thumb.

Also, the book cover says it's specifically for rock, blues, and jazz players. I wonder if there's a different grip for country and bluegrass.

Thanks for the Tuck Andress article! I was unaware of it, and none of my searches turned it up. I am going to pore over it toute suite! George Benson has been one of my favorite guitarists since the mid-70s.

It's sad that after nearly 35 years of playing self-taught guitar, I'm still trying to learn the basic playing techniques, but better late than never. Also, let this be a cautionary lesson to other players teaching themselves - learn the basics correctly, and then you can build upon them. It's pretty tough to go back and change bad habits, said he of the bloody fingers.


The main difference I see with the Mark Burgess right hand position and what I have been doing for a lot of years is that the middle, ring and pinky fingers are held in a fist, which as you've said permits fast wrist action. I normally have held those fingers straight and loose, which allows me to use my pick and fingers when needed. However, it is hard (for me at least) to tremolo pick that way, and that's what you need for something like "Rock Around The Clock".


Frank, I'm coming to the conclusion that there isn't just one be-all, end-all right hand pick grip. Especially when, as you noted, you want to add fingers for hybrid picking.

So I'm going to work on the one grip for the RATC solo and other rapid solo note-playing, and not feel bad when I switch back to my pinch grip for boom-chuck country playing. I know my mid, ring, and pinky fingers will approve.

That Tuck Andress article was fascinating, but I need to read it again with a guitar in hand so I can follow along and visualize what he's talking about with pick angles, etc.


The Tuck Andress article is the first description of right hand picking technique that made sense to me, after over 30 years of searching. However, it applies primarily to alternate picking, and addresses the issue of string crossing. To address your issue in particular, here is what I have learned: [1] Speed comes from efficient body mechanics, so as much as possible, get the fingers or pick in position BEFORE the note. Consider that the playing of a note has two components; the playing of the note AND the preparation for the next note, and these two components must happen at the same time, not one after the other. The Tuck Andress article illustrates the best way to do this with the picking hand. [2] To develop efficient technique, the slower the practice, the better, striving for perfection. [3] The idea that we start a fast passage at a slow tempo and gradually work the entire line up to speed is not necessarily the approach that works because the technical parameters are different between slow and fast. What works is to break the line down into very small components, as small as one or two notes if necessary, and practice these small units individually at performance tempo or close to it. Each one should be fast and relaxed, played as one movement. If there is a problem playing one of these note groupings at performance tempo, try to find out where the technical glitch is and correct it, maybe slow it down a little. If necessary, make an exercise out of it and play it VERY slow, correcting the body mechanics. Then begin putting these fast units together one at a time and build the entire line. Stay relaxed and remember the concept of preparation.

This is the method used by a lot of jazz players and classical players and the one that worked for me. The old guys always told us that in order to play fast, play slow. In fact, in order to play fast, we need to practice both. Good luck. -Roy

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