Can anyone suggest how I might improve my "floating fist" style flatpicking? I'm trying to clean up my pick technique for the sake of accuracy, feel, speed, and general ease-of-playing. I use the "floating fist" hand position a lot (hand and wrist floating freely, as opposed to anchored on the face, strings, or bridge of the guitar), but I can't play beyond a certain speed without resorting to some amount of anchoring, because the rebounding force from pushing the pick back and forth through the string starts to make my hand bounce out of control. Talking about single-note stuff, not chords...

I've been trying to address this by focusing on keeping my pick-strokes in a flat plane and keeping my grip loose enough so that my fingers will absorb some of the bounce before it creeps up into the hand and beyond. I've also been focusing on generating some of the picking force in the elbow, as it has to at least counteract the force of the string pushing back against the pick. I've been practicing alternate-picking on a single string, and at slow speeds I can keep it together and it feels pretty good. But again, past a certain speed the bounce creeps in and my hand starts to bounce off the strings.

Maybe some amount of anchoring is just unavoidable for playing fast runs, but I'd like be able to reduce my dependence on it.

  • Why don't you want to anchor? It works...
    – slim
    Commented Nov 14, 2012 at 11:47
  • How much of the pick is sticking out past your fingers?
    – user2561
    Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 16:37
  • Usually about 3/8 to 1/2 inch of pick extending past my fingers. I might have to choke up some, as I keep seeing 1/4" suggested. I've been watching some clips of Chris Broderick's playing and I like his right hand approach. It looks like he anchors a little, letting the tips of his comfortably-curled fingers brush unplayed strings. That's kind of what I'd like to achieve, a best-of-both-worlds technique.
    – ivan
    Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 22:24
  • Oh, interesting. I prefer to keep it closer to 1/8", myself.
    – user2561
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 0:26

5 Answers 5


Generally a floating hand can be either accurate or fast. For speed you will end up using the elbow and upper arm muscles, but that loses accuracy, so it isn't best suited to fast single note picking. For accuracy you want to have an anchor to give you precise feedback.

I would suggest using a floating hand for chords and for slower picking, and then anchoring just for those fast picking pieces. This is what I do, and what I see a number of my contemporaries doing.

You may also find the requirements differ depending on whether you have a floating bridge (which would require anchoring to be done onto a pickup, or the pickguard) or a fixed bridge, where you could anchor to a string, the bridge, anything really.

It's all about using what is best for the particular purpose.


Well I can't say I have a magic solution, but I can say that my experience is similar to yours, and I will start by underscoring some other answers already given which I too have found both accurate and helpful. First, I too have experienced that this floating fist works better with the wrist doing most of the work at slower tempos, with more arm / elbow motion becoming more prevalent at higher tempos. There is almost a kind of gear shift involved that I've just come to accept. Interestingly for me, it is the middle tempos where I'm trying to get a strong swing feel that give me the most trouble, almost as if it is an awkward place where neither "gear" is perfect for the tempo, but I digress.

One compromise that seems to have helped me with the anchoring is one I'm not super happy with, because it makes me more dependent on the guitar setup, but it does work. My "anchoring" consists of keeping my fist mostly closed, but allowing some part of my closed pinky to rest on the pick guard. To make this ideal for me, I've had to first choose guitars that have pick guards (Les Paul is my favorite), AND... adjust the height of the pickguard, sometimes employing extra hardware and washers, so it is just a tad lower then the height of the first string. Just low enough that when you pick the high string, you don't hit the pick guard with your pick.

So the result is that at lower tempos, I can keep my hand completely floating if I want. But as I get to those upper middle tempos where I tend to get excessively bouncy, I can begin to rest by putting slight pressure on the last knuckle of my pinky against that pickguard. This helps in two ways... during practice, it helps me to better refine my movements, so the "bounce" needed to alternate pick without hitting strings you want to cross over, is minimal. And because I haven't really changed hand position, if I want to practice getting the cross string clearance with a little twisting motion of the wrist, I can simply lift the whole hand up, bend my wrist down slightly, and work that way. Then as I slowly increase the metronome speed during practice, I can use that slight pinky-knuckle anchor a little more, to help me feel out the best balance of moving the pick with my fingers, wrist, elbow, and even upper arm. The second way this anchoring helps is during performance. Even if I warm up before I go "on", I've found the two most important things I can to to be at my best is (1) get the pick properly situated in my hand, and (2) find that ideal picking height and motion that gets me reasonably fluid, without having to get half way through the first set to be that way. And for me, that slight resting on the pickguard, as I've described, seems to give me the best chance of quickly getting into a comfort zone. As others have pointed out, its all about feedback and reference.

Aside from the fact that this kind of anchoring requires a properly adjusted pick guard, the other initial disadvantage is that when you get down to the lowest strings, the tip of your pinky is now coming into contact with the high string. But trust me, that's just a temporary problem. In time you just naturally learn to let the pinky relax "out" a little more as you get to the lower strings, and it becomes more or less automatic.

I know there will be people that will chime in and dictate all the more "proper" ways to pick... some will say ONLY use the wrist... others NEVER twist, and alternately ALWAYS anchor, or NEVER anchor. Its always good to try what other guitarists have found works for them, to avoid missing an opportunity to learn. In fact, since your technique (and issues) sound similar to mine, I'd like to hear of other solutions you find. But bottom line, its most important to continually find creative new ways around your own problems. Lets face it... Jeff Healey didn't learn to play good slide guitar with his feet, by listening to players who's personal success turned them into dictators of "proper" technique.

  • I haven't adjusted my pick-guard, but I know what you mean about resting a bit on the last knuckle of the pinky. I think that's been my goto solution as well.
    – ivan
    Commented Nov 6, 2013 at 15:51

I have your answer on the floating style picking technique. I too have been studying this method for a year or so. I used to be an anchoring right hander with the pinky planting firmly and pressing into the face of guitar as the picking speed increased wanting stability of the right hand at 140 bpm and above. Yes, there was speed and stability with this method but....there is a better way!

There is freedom in the no touch floating style. You don't think there is, but its there. The problem is developing the strength in the right arm. The technique is very simple. The pick is powered on an arc by a twisting of the ELBOW. the forearm stays fairly rigid. The wrist stays rigid. The twist is originated at the ELBOW. So, the whole forearm is TWISTING like you would twist a doorknob.This sets the pick on a rotary motion that goes thru the string and lifts it above the next string for the next stroke. It IS the most efficient method period.

For the anchorers, you are preventing the full twist of the forearm.

So you start to learn by using a closed hand and exaggerating the twisting as you play single notes very slowly. It feels very unstable as you start and your hand wants to bounce as it rebounds off the string. You have to keep going. It feels very strange for anchorers. But keep it up. You will start to feel the resistance of the string in your wrist. The key here is you need to exaggerate the rotary motion of the whole forearm and wrist in full so you re-learn this picking technique. The muscles in the upper arm will move the forearm from string to string only and the forearm roll will drive the pick thru the strings. The upper arm muscles are never used in the actual picking stroke. Just keep doing it! The balance will finally come with more work!

Learn by playing a single string. Then start to play scales hitting each note in the scale 4 to 6 times. Then do the scale hitting each note 3 times. This will develop your inside and outside string picking. It's going to take some work...

As you progress, the twisting becomes smaller and smaller as you speed up. You may discover you are a string jumper if your wrist constantly wants to lift and lower as you move the pick from string to string. This is a bad habit and will disappear SLOWLY as you learn a true rotary motion.

If you have always played by anchoring and picking with any other motion other than a rolling forearm, you may be in for some lengthy work to un-learn your old habits. It may take a year to do this! It is natural when learning this for your whole arm to become tense from wrist to shoulder. The more you practice, the tension will disappear. You will slowly learn to balance the resistance of the pick to string and stay very relaxed. When this moment comes, you will say WOW this is great!

There is also an element of developing strength in the muscles used for this motion. As the muscles develop, the speed will increase. You will also find strumming is a lot easier and faster as it is the same motion as picking individual strings. Cross-picking will become super easy and fast.

The floating picking style takes quite a bit of work to master and you may think you will never get there, but believe me---when you finally get there you will be glad and you will agree there is no better way to pick.

  • I think your explanation makes sense. If you would push a doorknob down from the wrist, if would require more effort than doing it by rotating the forearm. When I tried it out, my hand bounced much less, because the back-pressure from the string on the pick was no match for the force from the rotation of the arm. Will definitely be trying this out in the coming days.
    – mnieber
    Commented Apr 7 at 18:26

I've had luck loosening the grip on the pick, so I would suggest working more on that...the trick is making sure you're not sacrificing tone. However, I'm not sure if this is the most common solution. I think it's relatively rare (depending on style of course) to not anchor finger(s) or wrist. Finally, have you experimented with different picks?

  • I am in the process of a thorough round of pick experimentation :) I like the sound of your suggestion— I'll try focusing on that. Articulation ;)
    – ivan
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 17:07
  • I think loosening the grip on the pick is a bad idea when you want to play fast because with a more firm grip the pick has to travel a shorter distance to make it to the other end of the string (so that it sounds the string). Also, imo, the feedback that you experience with a firm grip helps with accuracy (with a loose grip, there is less information in the feedback that you experience in the picking hand). That said, I think the grip should be firm but still relaxed (not loose, though). And also, if you're not playing fast, then you can relax the grip more to release tension.
    – mnieber
    Commented Apr 7 at 18:35

This is a great question, because there are a lot of guitar players out there that use this technique. However, one man in particular really stands out to me, and that is the legendary Paul Gilbert (Racer X, Mr. Big).

Take a look at this video, and watch closely how Paul's hand is formed - it's more a "claw-type" position then a "fist", per-say. He keeps his hand relatively relaxed while he's generating his speed from the wrist and fingers.

A few other things to note :

  • Paul usually keeps his palm lightly pressed on the bridge - this an anchoring point for those really tough passages that require a lot of speed and accuracy, but are usually played on adjacent strings. You'll notice he lifts it off for the string-skipping passages, just to give his hand more range-of-motion.

  • Paul's pick angle doesn't change! Regardless of weather he's string skipping or playing scales, his picking angle stays the same. This is not only a technical choice, but it can also affect the tonal quality of your notes, as well. Everyone is different, so try to pick an angle that not only gives you a comfortable amount of picking surface area, but also sounds good to your ear. Personally I keep the pick somewhere between 40 and 45 degrees to the string.

Just keep in mind, tension is a hand killer - you ultimately want your picking hand to be relaxed, weather you're strumming a chord, or trying to tackle the licks in the video above.

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