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How I Finally Got My Plucking Hand Up To Speed.

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Matthew_84, Jul 9, 2012.

  1. Since joining TB two years ago, I have started at least six threads inquiring others how to play quicker, and in all of those two years, I remained at relatively the same speed, depending on the day. Then, in the last couple of weeks, I finally jumped that hurdle and now I get quicker everyday. There are certainly faster players than me, but I thought I would post what helped me out and what didn't. Everyone is different; what worked for me may not work for you, but hopefully this helps out someone out there. I would also like to point out that speed is not everything. I wanted nothing more than to play my favourite music, like anyone, and that's all I seeked out to do.

    What was the most detrimental exercise to getting faster was what 90% of the people recommended, playing to a metronome. Now, not all 'nome playing is bad: use it to play scales to learn note positions or help straightening out techniques, use it to figure out licks and work your way up, but please, do NOT set it at a certain tempo (like 40 BPM and play 16th notes in 4/4 time) and play only one note, and increase the tempo. I say this for two reasons:

    1) You may count in your head as you play these notes (One-E-and-a-Two-E-and-a, etc). The average human can only say 300 - 350 words minute. If you try to count every note you play, then you will likely max out at 350 notes a minute, which is 87.5 BPM playing 16th notes in 4/4 time. I did this and maxed out at 80 BPM (320 words a minute).

    2) The most important part of this post, is that you will get to a speed that will seem impossible to play cleanly for an extended period of time. When I was stuck at 80 BPM (which lasted years), every single day I would work my way up to 80 BPM and then I'd hit 80 BPM and I would tense up, I would no longer be relaxed and I panicked a little and said to myself, "this is hard. I never can do this well." And guess what? I never did. I played at 80 BPM for so long trying to surpass it that when I would play songs that were even near that speed, I would know that it was hard for me, I would tense up, and I would never play that part well. And that only led to more frustration and a larger lack of confidence that made playing at high speeds even more "impossible". I got stuck on the bassline during the guitar solo in Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused", the entire song "Reptilia" by The Strokes, and the main riff to their song "Juicebox" for years. And everyday before attempting, I tried very hard to play 16th notes at 80 BPM.

    I truly think that if you believe that you cannot do something, then you won't be able to, especially when it comes to physical activities. Your brain has to send out quick impulsive signals to the rest of your body to act out whatever action you are thinking about. If you are tense, and doubting yourself, your brain simply won't be firing out those signals on all cylinders.

    Now trust me, defeating that mental demon is the hardest part. If you know that you can't do something, then how will you suddenly believe that you can? This is how I did it.

    First, I started reading a great book called The Musician's Way: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness. Basically it reinforced what I had been thinking about how my lack of confidence was harmful to my performances. But, it also gave me a great quote that I now have as my signature, "Playing is never difficult; it is either easy, or it is impossible," by violinist Kato Havas. To me this says that if you believe that something you are playing is difficult then it instantly becomes impossible. After I read this, I stopped trying to increase my speed by playing to a metronome and whenever I reached a difficult part, I took a couple of deep breaths and told myself, "I am only as bad as I think I am". Sounds really negative, but it worked. I knew that I was still somewhat limited by my technique, but I also knew that I was capable of at least playing quicker than I was. For the next couple of days, I was playing parts that I had always struggled with, and as I played these parts my confidence began to rebuild.

    Then I went searching for techniques that could help me further. I had tried a three-finger technique, and did believe that the way to go was R-M-I (due to that feels the most natural to me), but I never agreed with its odd timing unless I was actually playing triplets.

    I felt I had to stick a strictly alternating two finger technique for fast passages, as I felt that raking at high speeds caused my fingers to lose rhythm with each other. It helped but I still wanted to get a bit faster.

    I am a big Rush and Metallica fan. I love Geddy Lee, Cliff Burton, and Robert Trujillo. As far as I'm aware, all three of these men at one point use(d) a technique where they use(d) one of their fingers as a pick, flicking it back and forth doing down and upstrokes. I personally hated the tone though, especially when it caught my nail (I personally don't like the sound of a pick, and the nail replicates that). I decided to keep the nail of my index finger as short as I can, and pretty much everyday, before I play, I file down the index fingernail so that it is as close to the skin as possible with nothing extra hanging over. At first the tone wasn't very consistent between upstrokes and downstrokes, but I noticed it was actually more consistent than the difference between my index and middle fingers (my index finger is very thin and sharp, where as my middle is fat and round, and I've never been able to get an even sound of them no matter what velocity or angle I hit the strings with), and as I did it more, the tone became more consistent. Also for those interested, I learned to rake as I went down the strings, but would keep the rules of alternating when going up strings (so if I hit the A with a downstroke, I'd hit the D with an upstroke; or A with an upstroke and D with a downstroke). At first, I played every note using only this method, and I finally got more comfortable with it. Now for the important part, I don't use it a lot of the time, and in fact every day I use it less and less. But this is because, for me, it was ridiculous easy to play quickly using this method. I can't count that fast, but would be surprised if I played anything slower than 160 BPM. But playing this way, at these speeds allowed me to play any song that I knew with extreme ease. It filled me with confidence and now I really don't doubt myself at all. I am completely relaxed. I try to approach every part with a two finger alternating technique, but I don't worry, because I know if I start slowing down, then I can just start the flicking technique.

    Another couple of techniques that have helped was something that was spawned out of me thinking of the R-M-I three finger technique. I don't think I invented these techniques, and am sure that Clarke, Wooten, or others use them, but anyway. For two VERY quick notes. I would place my middle and index finger ahead of the string. The middle would be closer to the string and the index would be behind it by say 1/2". Then I would flick both fingers down at the same time. the middle would hit first, followed quickly by the index. I was amazed by how fast it was. I then kept my fingers locked in this position, and would just move these fingers back and forth in the same manner, but only doing downstrokes. They don't sound very even, but it is a cool effect in my opinion. I then did the same for a quick triplet, but would incorporate the ring finger into the equation and it would be the closest to the string and would hit the string first, then the middle would hit after, and the index after that, but I would do it with a bit of a roll. And for a quick four note pattern, I would do the same movement as for the triplet, but as I moved my fingers back to position I would flick the string with an upstoke from my index finger. These techniques further established the fact I can play quicker than I have ever thought. It's actually pretty easy to play quickly now. They don't work for every song, but I keep finding parts that they work in, and they sound really good when they fit.

    Now, the Strokes songs are a joke for me to play, and I kill the entire "Dazed and Confused" guitar solo with a smile on my face and not a shred of doubt. Tomorrow, I will start learning my first Rush song and I cannot wait!

    I know it was a super long post, and I hope you made it this far and it helped you out. Please ask any questions that you have and I will do my best to help.

    And thanks for everyone here that helped me out!

  2. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Jeff Berlin would be proud of you ;)

    Ya, there's no real need for you to pressure yourself like that with a metronome, especially when you're just learning. When learning something new, it's best to learn it out of time, then once you learn the notes and begin working on getting it at tempo, you are much better served by feeling the time yourself and not worrying about the metronome. It's important to give yourself an opportunity to make mistakes, and a metronome puts too much pressure on you not to make any mistakes, and really doesn't help you keep better time like so many people think it does.

    But one thing a metronome does is help you learn how to play to a click track, which is somewhat of a decent skill to have in this day and age where most everything's done to a click (regrettably).
  3. LOL, I agree 100% Jimmy. I definitely use metronomes for certain stuff. There is really a fine line between not enough and too much.
  4. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Nice to read you made it up to the next plateau in your playing.
    Many think we geat better gradually and they can gauge this improvement...see themselves getting better.
    Truth is we don't and thats why playing to a nome seems not to work, it proves nothing, but it does change the nature of your focus when used wrong.

    We improve and do not notice it, we only realise it when we can play in a manner we could not before, so try other songs and ideas that may have been hard for you and you will find that they also seem easier, if not easy.
    After two years your head and hands are getting it together so look to work on and play harder ideas, this is the truth of your practice. The fact you worked on ideas you could not do ment you had to develop the skills to play them, keep that idea to the forefront of your practice.
    Remember once you have learned something and can play it, you need to move on.

    Playing the same ideas over and over does not constitute learning, not even constructive practice. All you are doing is a review of what you can do and already know. After months of this, if not years for some players, a rut starts to from as the player feels he is not improving and looks for different ways to play what they already know. There is the problem and the answer, they already know what they practice so how can they learn anything new from it?

    Well done for sticking to your guns and a great post with a good time frame for a realistic time spent to "notice" improvement.
    Your next plateau should come quicker as there is less foundation work to spend time on and develop.
  5. Tupac


    May 5, 2011
    I realized the thing about strict alternation as well. Never for the life of me could I play this without learning to alternate, same for any other 16th note segment on other songs.
  6. Clef_de_fa

    Clef_de_fa Guest

    Dec 25, 2011
    Well it is a good thing if you have to learn strict alternation going up and down.
  7. wishface


    Jan 27, 2012
    That is a great link, but what does he mean when he says 'focus four/form'? I didn't follow the explanation he gave when he's talking about practising with the metronome.

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