Anyway. as soon as I got my weight shifted a bit and got the little finger to the point that I didn’t have to exert any effort to keep it out and relaxed, I was pretty good to go. Somewhere a year or so after this change over, a friend sent me a great article that some of you might have seen by Tuck Andess on picking techniques. He talked about the many he had seen, but asserted that the best and most effortless one was what George Benson used, which utilized a locked thumb joint. My friend (Doug Jackson of Ambrosia and many other great classic rock artists) had been trying it out but it was giving him trouble with being able to palm mute strings, which is of course an absolute necessity when playing loud distorted guitar solos (Doug is a great jazz player as well, BTW). I was intrigued by it and so I started messing around with it, and I had to admit that what I COULD do with it WAS effortless, but I was totally spastic in doing any string changes, all I had with it was a semi-controllable tremolo on one string.
What I did was when ever I thought of it for the next maybe 16 months, I would try it until I got frustrated and then go back to playing how I always played. The first thing that happened was that sometimes live when I wanted a tremolo, my hand would go into this grip and it would come out really accurately and easily. Basically, instead of my first finger curling into a “U” shape as I did before, it was in a soft curve and simply pressed back into my thumb that was locked in a semi banana shape, with my other fingers were out of my palm relaxed and completely uncurled. (I will say that interestingly enough, I had to develop the finger strength to naturally push back without conscious effort against the thumb, and this came as a by-product of lifting weights – another good reason to go to the gym) Relaxation is actually the name of the game with this picking, which was what I had been looking for all along. This was looking promising, so I kept at it on and off until I started to get to the point of getting a decent chromatic scale going without too many tripped notes in the middle.
After that, I started to practice things like the Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Violin, something that I had played since Berklee days that had really taught me how to find playable ways to take things from another instrument and put them onto the guitar. There was lots of string skipping etc., and you couldn’t fudge and just play something else instead like in improvising. Playing some bop heads rounded all of that out, as well as just improvising using the new technique. All the while, I never EVER thought about how to pick on a gig, I just played whatever felt natural and I never “guilted myself” into telling myself what I should or shouldn’t do, I just used whatever it took to get the music out – which OCCASSIONALLY would be the new picking technique.
Then came that “poop or get off the pot” moment (rather recently, actually) where I felt like I had to decide if I was going to do the new picking or not. I had finally gotten to the point that I was pretty accurate with it and my “good days” were far better than my good days ever were before; but still I would use the old picking on a gig. I decided that the benefits were far too good to not go for it, so I decided to put in a couple days where I shedded some extra time for a couple days to try to really “burn it in”. These days were very good, and then when I went on the gig I actually used the new picking all night long. I kept going for a few days with some extra hours and then I did a technique I learned at MI where you use a metronome to push yourself to tempos that you aren’t used to, taking it up and up past the point of accuracy and then bringing it back to a point still way beyond where you were playing before. My chromatic 8th note triplets were at about 215 BPM, which was definitely way beyond where I was at before.
So, do I have a ways to go still? – sure, who doesn’t if they are honest with themselves, there is always a higher “up”. But what got me to the point I am at can be used by anyone because I have found them to be universal to the way the human body is constructed: A Rotary Wrist Action (RWA), Economy of Motion EOM), and a balanced Dispersion Of Weight (DOW). If you do these things, the question is not “WILL you get a great right hand picking technique”, but just when it will come. As I said before, speed is a natural byproduct of accuracy, and of these three universal ways to get there. I think if you discussed this with any great guitarist, even if they were such natural players that they never thought about any of this before, they would probably agree. That’s sort of how I figured it out anyways, comparing what I saw working for great players I was seeing throughout my life with what wasn’t working for me, and coming up with the “why” rather than just thinking that I’d never be able to do it.
And to quote the great guitar sage Forest Gump, “that’s all I have to say about that’. J