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Thread: Please help! Fixing my pick direction

  1. #1

    Question Please help! Fixing my pick direction

    Hey guys, first post. Thanks for any help!

    I've owned a mandolin for about 10 years, but started taking it seriously (playing bluegrass regularly) only in the last 2-3 years. I feel like I've hit a wall.

    I think I have a big problem. I realized in the last year that I haven't been doing my right hand pick direction correctly. Down stroke with the 1&3, up with the 2&4, always, right? If it's 8th notes, you are still always alternating DUDU even if that means down on the 1-2-3-4 and ups with the "and", yes?

    I naturally do it correctly about 50% of the time. I made half an attempt to correct the problem but I can't seem to undo bad habits. Songs like Monroe's Hornpipe weren't too bad, because the A part is all 8th notes without stopping (right?) so that's pretty easy to keep straight. B part I get turned around easier.

    I can't seem to keep it straight in my head which direction it should be going while playing, and it feels like more work than it should be. Songs like Whiskey Before Breakfast / Cripple Creek, etc.. that I've played incorrectly forever seem impossible to fix. Worse yet, when I try to slow them WAY down to play correctly, I lose track of which direction I should be moving. Very frustrating.

    Anyone else gone through this mess? Unfortunately I also had bad right hand technique with guitar for another 5 years. As a reference, I can play something like Monroe's at like 120bpm somewhat OK, and Cherokee Shuffle / Salt Creek at 120 bpm pretty well. I'd say I'm an intermediate picker.

    When I watch the right hands of pros it looks seamless - almost never stopping, constant DUDU motion. My hand frequently pauses, herky jerky, etc... doesn't feel smooth.

    In short:

    Any tips for fixing bad pick direction?

    How do you keep it straight in your head what direction you should be going? People say they can hear and feel it but I lose track straight away. Slowing songs way down is almost even more confusing.

    While improvising (I jam once or twice a week) are there any tricks to not slip back into old habits? When I'm at speed I suspect I'll go right back to cheating.

    Any tried and true exercises that worked for you?

    This is a problem I should unquestionably fight through and fix, yes?

    Thanks very much for any help! Sorry for the long rant

  2. #2
    Registered User Gunnar's Avatar
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    Jun 2019
    Balama, Mozambique, Africa, Earth

    Default Re: Please help! Fixing my pick direction

    I believe the accepted wisdom is to play down strokes for quarter, half or whole notes, and alternate on eighth or sixteenth notes. There are exceptions, but that's the general consensus. When I started what I did was played the G and C major scales (this was on guitar) up and down and made sure that I always landed on the root on a downstroke. I don't remember how long I practiced that, but when I started learning tunes it was completely intuitive and natural for me to play proper alternate picking. Sorry I can't be more help
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  3. #3
    Gibson F5L Gibson A5L
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    Default Re: Please help! Fixing my pick direction

    One teacher I had at a workshop recommended to never stop the down up down up motion. When you come to a quarter note or rest you don't make contact with any string but keep the dudududu going full tilt. That keeps the pick direction unchanged. In truth I never can do that myself but with my "style" I manage to get back on the downbeat. Luck … R/
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  4. #4
    Registered User
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    Feb 2009
    charlottesville, VA

    Default Re: Please help! Fixing my pick direction

    One approach (especially with old fiddle tunes that are already ingrained) might be to try and rework the melody as all eighth notes - embellish all of the quarter and half notes so you run through it without a pause. This might help re-wire the muscle memory in relation to that tune.
    Mitch Russell

  5. #5

    Default Re: Please help! Fixing my pick direction

    DavDavDav, I think you were misinformed about the "down on 1, 3 and up on 2, 4." I find it works great to pick down on every beat, which then leaves the up for any/all 8th-notes on the "and" of the beat. The only exception is with triplets, which I sometimes pick DUD DUD and other times DUD UDU depending on the musical situation.

    Most importantly, though, in my opinion, is not to be too rigid with any of it. Generally the down-pick is stronger than the up-pick, but I feel you should pick in whatever direction fits the mood and the music and the situation, even if you vary it in the same spots on different times playing the same song.

    Find patterns which enable you to play at the speed you want to, with the clarity you want, and at a comfort level which feels good.

  6. #6
    Dave Sheets
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    Feb 2015
    Buffalo NY Area

    Default Re: Please help! Fixing my pick direction

    Practicing with a metronome at slower speeds is one way to get the patterns worked down the way you want them. Don't worry about speed, get the consistency and pattern working where you want 'em, then speed up gradually, without losing the pattern you want.
    Flatiron A
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  7. #7
    Registered User
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    Default Re: Please help! Fixing my pick direction

    This constant dududu is the " new" style on mandolin picking, probably popularized by Doyle Lawson when he was with Country Gentlement. To "coin" a phrase " Bill didn't do it that way" neither did mandolin players with Stanleys like Jim Williams or for that matter John Duffy as well as others. I'm not saying you should not learn at least the fundamental of dududu as well as downstrokes, cross picking etc but just as learning banjo you learn forward roll backward roll in out roll etc, when you are actually playing your right-hand should be totally free or it sounds mechanical. Same thing with flat pick on mandolin pick direction should be what is needed to express the music at that point. IMHO

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  9. #8

    Default Re: Please help! Fixing my pick direction

    Here is a little video I created that has an exercise I believe would help you. I am going to make a separate thread for it, but figured it was relevant here.

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  11. #9
    Registered User
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    Default Re: Please help! Fixing my pick direction

    Nice video Josh!
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  12. #10
    Registered User John Van Zandt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Please help! Fixing my pick direction

    Good one, Josh!
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  13. #11
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    Default Re: Please help! Fixing my pick direction

    The video is cool!

    You will have to take many steps back. If something doesn’t work out, work it out slowly, so the brain will have the opportunity to think about what kind of action you are doing. Despite the mistakes you have something to work on after so many years, it's great!

  14. #12

    Default Re: Please help! Fixing my pick direction

    Two tips to fix pick direction:
    *Don't play the tunes you've memorized the wrong way for a long time.
    *Practice the tunes and phrases you tend to mess up with a bounce.

    Actually, I think there is the reason why right is right and wrong is wrong.
    Playing notes and phrases "upside down" will hinder developing a sense of groove and make it impossible to keep your groove steady, constant and controllable.

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  16. #13

    Default Re: Please help! Fixing my pick direction

    Thanks for all the replies folks, and nice video! I just signed up for some lessons at and the instructor had quite a similar warm up for the right hand, so you must be onto something!

    I was wrong! The 1 2 3 4 should indeed always have down strokes, and I think THAT is one of the big issues I have. I really get turned around when the tune is "1+ 2+ 3 4" for example. I'd be very tempted to DU DU D U that pattern, but the two quarter notes should be down strokes.

    One of the early Peghead lessons is Chinquapin Hunting which is a new tune for me (D) and played slowly, using ghost strokes (which are totally new to me and feel awkward) I can keep the DUDU straight. I can play it well 10x in a row at around 100bpm, but once I try to get it up another notch I'll catch myself cheating.. like at the end of the B part I'll start DU on the quarter notes when I shouldn't. Is this just a muscle memory game?

    "onassas" recommend adding an 8th note where there isn't one, and that cheat has worked OK.

    I think I'll be able to learn new tunes with the correct right hand slow and steady... but without a video guide going slow, and watching her right hand, or worse yet when I improvise, I bet I'll slip straight back to old habits.

    I think one of my main issues is at 'jam speed', I'll have a hard time recognizing exactly when it's an 8th note, or quarter, or triplet, etc... Do most folks use ghost strokes to solve this? Just keep that hand moving 8th notes and never stops?

  17. #14

    Default Re: Please help! Fixing my pick direction

    Doing that exercise daily will re-train your muscle memory. You can do the "ghost notes" but if that is too challening you can play a quarter note as 2 1/8 notes while you are re-training your hand. That is something I learned while I was fixing my right hand is play something as all 1/8 notes even if it sounds a little funny. This will help keep the picking consistent. Then once your hand is re-trained you can remove the notes you don't need/want.

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  19. #15

    Default Re: Please help! Fixing my pick direction

    Here's a great example..

    I wanted to learn BOTH Chinquapin Huntings (D and A) so I started working on this version too. The 5:35 mark in this video is just impossible to wrap my brain around. Such an easy phrase, but that's at all what my brain and hand want to do naturally. I can sort of do it with ghost notes but it feels so wrong.

  20. #16
    Registered User rockies's Avatar
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    Default Re: Please help! Fixing my pick direction

    I has a similar problem then had lessons from John Reischman, he suggested.. tap toe to the beat, pretend your pick is tied to your toe... Toe goes down pick goes down.. toe come up pick comes up. Do it until you no longer have to think about it. Works for fiddle tunes, latin jazz, swing etc etc. Watch John in videos as well as other player like Mike Marshall etc. who use the same technique.
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