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I've been playing guitar for ten years or so and have the rather bad habit of striking across the strings diagonally. This is partly due to how I hold the guitar, and partly because I play a lot of metal which involves copious amounts of palm-muting, meaning my palm almost lives across the thicker strings near the bridge.

I'm trying to train myself to play more formally, by not allowing my hand to touch the bridge or other strings, and picking at a right angle to the strings, which I'm told by various places is the far preferred stance.

The main issue I'm having is with balance. The force I need to put into picking the strings is almost causing my hand to lose its balance and shift left or right depending on if I pick upstrokes or downstrokes, meaning its difficult to keep it in a steady position above the strings. I can't get my speed of alternate picking up to anywhere near as neat or steady a standard as I can with the hand anchored. With my old technique, since the hand was anchored to the bridge, not floating above it, I didn't have this issue.

Can anyone suggest any means by which I can overcome this difficulty?

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Are you talking about pick orientation or arm movement? I'm finding it hard to understand what the question actually is. –  VarLogRant Mar 8 '13 at 15:38
    
I'm changing the pick orientation from at a 45 degree angle to at a right angle from the strings, and the question relates to arm movement in that position. Apologies if it was unclear. –  lukech Mar 8 '13 at 17:12
    
Practice a lot. You shouldn't need to put a lot of effort into picking regardless of the angle; it's hard to say what you're doing wrong without seeing. –  Tony Mar 11 '13 at 18:53
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3 Answers 3

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I've been playing guitar for 14 years and teaching guitar for 4+ years, and based on my personal experience there's no reason why picking with an angle is a bad or outlawed thing, maybe you could share where you've read that straight picking is the preferred stance.

Making a technique-focused comparison between straight and angle picking, angle picking gives more amplitude to your picking movement, as the width of the tip will always be greater than the thickness of the pick, so, as you stated, yes, straight picking needs additional effort because of the smaller momentum; but the way you hold your pick is rather personal than canonical and has more to do with attack tone than technique. Look, for example, at Vai's "Tender Surrender", in which he uses straight picking to attack the strings very near the bridge and get a distinctive bright sound.

Reading your question, it looks like you feel kinda stuck with your technique and you feel that completely changing your picking stance is the most effective way to improve your playing, but as a guitarist that plays palm-muting driven metal like you and several other styles I strongly discourage you to do that. You'll throw away years of study and spend a couple or more additional years to develop and apply a completely new picking style just for the sake of trying a new approach.

What you can do is focus on synchronicity exercises for your both hands and picking exercises for your picking hand. It is easier said than done but that's the way, simple as it is.

Also, the fact that your hand lingers on the bottom strings (3rd-4th to 6th) is actually useful for muting them when playing faster licks, scales and arpeggios with high notes, use it in your favor.

As a bonus, angling the pick is perfect for Economy Picking if you like it, so there's nothing wrong with picking it crooked. If you want some inspiration, watch videos of Marty Friedman or Mattias IA Eklundh playing, pay attention to their picking hand and you'll feel a lot better.

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First, I don't know that having a pick attack with a slight angle is such a bad thing. My advice is to focus on one thing at a time. Either working on keeping your hand above the strings or the angle of your attack. Once you are comfortable with one, work on the other.

Second, you don't necessarily have to completely float your hand, it is common to rest your pinkie on the guitar as a guide. Don't keep a lot of pressure on it, but it can help keep your hand oriented properly.

Also, just from personal experience, gripping the pick more tightly has helped me keep better control when I'm floating my palm.

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You can get wide tonal variation by pick angle, and I've always found that some angle (30-45 degrees or so, about how Eric Johnson plays) gives you the most pleasing sound. While I've heard of people playing with the pick parallel to the string, I don't think I've ever heard of people playing or advocating playing with the pick perpendicular to the string, and until I hear some justification, I'll think of it as poor technique which you should avoid.

Floating your hand is another issue. I always play with a floating pick hand except when I want palm muting. Michael Angelo Batio plays for speed with a floating right arm and getting all the alternating motion with the forearm. The wrist is locked. The fingers are locked. If I was going for crazy speed, I would definitely look toward his technique.

So, to sum up, I think you're letting an either wrong-headed or poorly-understood idea (picking perpendicular to the strings) get in the way of your progress toward the good idea of floating your picking hand.

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I'm sorry, I got perpendicular and parallel confused, I mean picking directly across the string, not holding the pick at a right-angle from it. My mistake! –  lukech Mar 9 '13 at 12:02
    
I don't see parallel as that great an idea, but understand it better than perpendicular. My take still stands. Work on your arm but keep your pick angle. –  VarLogRant Mar 10 '13 at 12:39
    
I'm not playing blues, so the whole "digging in" angle thing just isn't working for me. Picking straight is something I feel would really improve my technique so I'm asking for specific help on how to make it happen. –  lukech Mar 11 '13 at 7:30
    
If you don't think my answer is helpful, that's fine. But I don't think either of the people I reference are particularly blues players. My take is my take -- there's no benefit to the pick angle you're trying to develop -- but if you make it work for you, so be it. –  VarLogRant Mar 11 '13 at 13:34
    
It's a more direct attack on the string. Picking at a 45 degree angle gives a more "scraping" sound on the string, and also makes playing at high speeds trickier since there's more of a horizontal offset being applied via that diagonal friction. That's my rationale. –  lukech Mar 11 '13 at 13:41
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