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Help improving speed and accuracy

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  • Help improving speed and accuracy

    I've been playing off and on for 20+ years, mostly without much thought for technique. I was in a few bands when I was younger, but must of the time I've been playing alone. I've always known that playing in time has been one of my greatest weaknesses. Recently, I've been making a solid effort to improve things. Thanks to Twitch and Paul Gilbert, I have a new picking style. I've also been trying to improve my left-hand technique so that I'm using the tips of my fingers rather than just flapping them on to the fretboard. Previously, I'd see a piece of music and once there got to be more than 8 notes in a bar, I'd basically just play as fast as I could. So far as I can tell, as soon as I hit a piece that's slightly above my ability, I stop listening to the music around me and instead just think about my fingers, which immediately throws me out of time.
    So for the last few weeks I've been practicing playing 16th notes in Am at the fifth fret, three notes per string, using strict alternate picking. At first, I felt like I was making progress, and was getting quite a buzz off it, mindless though it is. For the last couple of weeks at least, though, I feel like I've hit a wall. I get as fast 115bpm on a good day, and on a bad day I can't really do 80bpm consistently. If I play without a drumbeat, I'm sure sometimes I can go significantly faster. When this happens, there's a change of feel, almost as if my hands are flying across the fretboard. But I don't know how to do this consistently, or what's different between this and my more normal, stumbling playing. I was originally aiming to play Crazy Train, which, at 140bpm, seems impossible at the moment. I'd also like to join some old farts' band and do some gigs just for fun, but until I've nailed my basic technique I'd be too embarrassed to go and audition.
    Here's a video showing my current progress on the scale practice. I played at each of these speeds (and some intermediate ones I didn't record) for 5-10 minutes each. I've just selected clips towards the end of each session without regard for quality, so they give a pretty good impression of my true ability:

    I'd really appreciate any advice on how to focus my practice to improve this. I'm aware, as well as the timing issues, I need more control to prevent other strings from sounding while I'm playing. I'm not sure whether I should be practicing at a reasonably comfortable speed, and nail that, or I should be practicing at 115bpm or so, at what seems to be the limit of my ability. Not even sure if I've just hit some physical limit of my own. I think, but can't be sure, that I tend to go wrong on the change from 5th to 4th or 4th to 3rd string, which slows me down just a tad and sometimes causes me to introduce an extra beat. I'm not even sure whether the problem is with my right or left hand.
    If anyone's been in a similar position and worked through this, I'd love to hear your input.
    My other signature says something funny

  • #2
    Hi Cliff,

    my best advice is to pick up Troy Stetina's books. They're awesome. If you're mostly interested in technique, pick up Speed Mechanics. He's very good at not just making good exercises but also at explaining how to practice them (which is basically what you're asking). Some of his exercises are extremely clever and really expose your weaknesses and bad habits. For example, you'll realize that you always alternate pick things and change strings in a certain order and once that order is changed, the speed at which you can do things will drop drastically. As for your specific questions, my (Stetina's really) advice would be to master things at slower speeds before pushing yourself. Identify the highest speed at which you can do things perfectly, then, after a while, raise the BPM slightly and then go back to the original speed. I think you should almost always play these exercises with a metronome or drum machine.


    • #3
      Some quick advice. Firstly, your not doing to bad so far. What i tend to do when i'm working on things like that is watch my pick hand closely and make sure it doesn't wander. I try to keep my movement as tight as possible. So i tend to laser beam on it when it's something i haven't done or needs work.

      Another thing is i break down where transitions are that i seem to start to get choppy on, like just between two or three notes. An example, say i can play 3 notes per string just fine, but going across strings say it gets choppy on an upstroke back from the high E to the B string. I will consolidate those two or three notes, and just grinding that single part over and over till it gets smoother, while keeping my eye on my picking. ..(and muting)

      So say, something like this

      B----8-6-5--8-6-5 ect ect or--------8------8

      Another - simple thing, but maybe performance can vary depending on what set of strings, ( like it's easier on low strings harder on high strings or something
      so do it across them all in sets of two strings each. Also throw in some muting to more open picking while your doing it to get the feel of it both ways.



      The basic idea is what i learned and took from from Paul Gilbert and one of his most awesome pieces of picking advice ever that helped me. The ol'


      Find where your weak spots are and just keep hammering at them, and eventually string em together.

      I personally tend to form a scale where by i am usually playing 3 notes per string at least, so instead of the straight you know black dot positional diagrams of a "scale" i will move it around to where i am not playing like just the high D of the D scale (in the fifth position) on the high E string and then back down. I will stretch it across the fretboard and ultimately my high D would be on the B string 10th fret. I just find it easier for me and more fluid. So that is another thing, find what works for you ( yeah being able to anything anywhere on the neck to be well rounded is great! But most players still usually play in their "comfort zone" and get the job done) Find yours.

      Besides that, looks like you got the best fan in the world so it's all aces there

      Oh and i should add.
      Once your done with all that boring shit - record a chord progression to a beat or metronome and just play and have fun to remind yourself why your doing all of that!
      Last edited by Trem; 06-24-2011, 03:03 AM.


      • #4
        Doing good, cool man. Wish my wife thought that much of it. She avoids the bedroom like the plague when Im playing. Anyhow this will be fun for you, it still gives me fits at times. The key for me is to not over think where your fingers are going, but its a nice exercise for string transition.

        A--------------------------------------5-----5-4---5-4-2- etc

        I just start on the G string because Im lazy I dont much care for the fret jump you have to make when going from the B to G or G to B. It may look slightly confusing, but just remember, 4 notes descending and start the next 4 notes one scale note lower than where you started before. Anyhow, the point is, your hand will stay in basically one spot so you can focus on picking hand/fret finger coordination without much worry of having to move you hands a great deal.

        Also, love the facial expressions. My wife gives me a hard time when I do that. Ill mouth the wah sounds that I intend to make with my wah pedal while Im playing, I have no idea why, it just happens.
        Last edited by Twitch; 06-29-2011, 05:27 PM.
        HTTP 404 - Signature Not Found


        • #5
          Javert has it spot on. I know exactly where you are as I was there not too long ago. Here's some tough love. What are you doing is bad. Its not good. Always use a metronome. Slow down, slow it down to excruciatingly slow tempos if you have to. Increase your tempo only when you can play the same thing consistently over and over.

          If you watch your right arm its doing different things as you increase tempo. Sometimes you are playing across the strings and other times you are playing across in an angle. You will never develop speed this way. You have to build consistency. In many cases there is not a right or wrong way. Its about doing it the same way every single time. When you change the way you move your arm across the strings it will affect everything. Build consistency!

          I know exactly where you are. I am there myself. Don't worry about playing 16th if you can't get 1/4 notes down consistently. Start with basic pentatonic shapes. Play 1/4, 1/8, 1/8 note triplets and 16ths with each shape. At slow tempos. Make sure you play it the same way each and every time. You need to build consistency in your movements. I had one exercise at 40 bpm that would take me 25 minutes to complete. I did that for about two weeks before I increased the tempo. It build consistency in my arm and I can play things I never could before. I still suck but I suck much less.

          If I can't play a piece at normal speed I will break it down into single beats at very slow tempos then add them together. I feel your pain. I have been there, am still there and fighting to get out. It will happen but do it slowly. Build consistency and the speed will come.


          • #6
            The good news is that you are seeing some improvement, which means you are on the right track and hopefully will stick with it.

            The bad news is that this stuff comes faster to some and slower to most. Echoing what others said, there's nothing wrong with pushing the speed up to see what happens, but once you get to a point where you are missing notes, it's not really helping you progress. Still fun, but not as productive.

            I had a teacher tell me once that people often make the speed intervals too wide in their practicing....going from 80 - 100 -120. One approach is to trick yourself into playing faster without your brain figuring it out

            Start with something like 80 - 85 - 90 as long as you can play it clean. Then the next day, bump it to 81 - 86 - 91. Keep just edging it up a little until you get sloppy. When that happens, back it down a notch, and keep at it. It can be a long road, but if you can find the time to do it, you'll get that slow steady progress that will pay off in the end.


            • #7
              If the legend is to be believed, Yngwie used to tape his playing every day as he practices his scales and arpeggios. He would listen back to the recordings and play along and then record that. Unbeknownst to the maestro, the playback was slightly faster than the recording which means every day the tape deck was forcing him to play the excercise that little bit faster.

              GTWGITS! - RacerX


              • #8
                I'm working through some of this myself now. Here are my thoughts.

                1) Metronome or drum machine or similar. Always.
                2) In your video, your 80 bpm didn't sound smooth and fluid. Until it does, forget about anything faster.
                3) If either hand or arm is tensing up, you're doing it wrong.
                4) I spent a LONG time figuring out where to position my right hand and arm so I didn't have to re-position when playing from low E to high E and vice versa.
                5) I also spent a long time examining pick angle, and which part of the pick I was hitting the string with; for example, I don't use the tip of the pick; I use just to the right of the tip, as I'm looking down at it. But it took me some trial and error to realize that was the best position for me.
                6) Play scales the same way every time with regard to up-down-up-down; you need to build the muscle memory.
                7) Make sure your gear is conducive to the practice you are doing. Practicing loud with my 100 watt tube amp rattling the walls just made me self conscious about what my wife must be hearing upstairs. I always use a modeler with enough gain for good sustain but at low volumes. I was amazed at how much this affected my practice.
                8) I discovered that the concept of "practice slowly until you can play it, and then speed up the metronome; in a few months, you'll be shredding!" is not correct. You can play something correctly at slow speeds even if your technique sucks; you need to recognize, when speeding up, if something you are doing is preventing you from playing correctly at that new speed. See points 4 & 5 above.
                9) Do a test; play 16th notes with your right hand on an open string. Clock yourself with a metronome. Be honest. How fast can you actually play. I discovered that one of the reasons I couldn't play faster is because my right hand couldn't keep up with my left. I made part of my practice routine to just play 16ths on an open string with a metronome to build my picking hand speed up. If you can't pick 16th notes smoothly at 120 bpm on an open string, you'll never play 16th notes smoothly at 120 bpm when playing scales.
                10) And something I tell my daughter, a first year flute student: If you play something fast and you think it sounds good, play it slower. If you can't play correctly it at the slower speed, you haven't really learned it.
                11) Don't squeeze the shit out of the fretboard. The lighter the touch, the faster you'll get.

                I've been working on learning YYZ. The signature riff is a bitch, because it combines two note per string and three note per string runs. But I'm getting there.

                - E.
                Last edited by AlexL; 06-25-2011, 12:48 AM.
                Good Lord! The rod up that man's butt must have a rod up its butt!


                • #9
                  i think y'all are giving great advice .......but has anyone here who posted advice noticed something a bit odd in the left corner of the screen at minute 2.36 of of the video ...
                  if not, quit focusing on his picking technique for a couple seconds

                  cliff .....more vids please!!!!
                  Last edited by len; 06-25-2011, 11:15 AM.
                  “But does it help with the blues rock chatter?"-Hellbat


                  • #10
                    Hey guys,
                    Thanks all for the excellent advice. The book is on its way, the metronome speed is turned way down, I've played over 4-note fragments of the scale and identified some problem areas that I'm fixing at slow speed. Just hope I get there while I'm still young enough to join and old farts' band. The facial expressions? Yeah, awful. Always had those. Nowadays it looks like I've had a stroke. I wonder if it's too much to expect to have individual muscle control over each finger when your brain can't distinguish between your hand and mouth.

                    Len - Ha ha! So at least three of you watched it all the way through .

                    And yeah, my wife is terrific. She's far more rock-and-roll than I am. But my scale practice drives her up the wall. I'm normally locked away in the bedroom for that, with the amp on zero.
                    Last edited by Cliff; 06-25-2011, 01:35 AM.
                    My other signature says something funny


                    • #11
                      lol, hadn't noticed the wife at the end... good stuff


                      • #12
                        Cliff, you can play with the old farts in my band any time you are in So Cal!

                        ....and bring the wife ha ha!
                        "Quiet, numbskulls, I'm broadcasting!" -Moe Howard, "Micro-Phonies" (1945)


                        • #13
                          this is gonna sound dumb...but what the speed and accuracy both improved because i took a year off from playing electric and did strictly acoustic cant hide a mistake on acoustic...the problem i see here is not with your speed so much as it is with getting your hands to sync up and play together...when trying to build speed you cant concentrate on one or the has to be a combination of both...this is why most if not all teachers say start slow and build you can concentrate on both...most of the time when im playing electric now i dont even plug into the amp...because i want to hear the notes clearly and with no amplification you will have to pick every note cleanly...maybe thats why the acoustic helped so much...d.m.



                          • #14
                            Originally posted by diablomozart View Post
                            this is gonna sound dumb...but what the speed and accuracy both improved because i took a year off from playing electric and did strictly acoustic cant hide a mistake on acoustic...the problem i see here is not with your speed so much as it is with getting your hands to sync up and play together...when trying to build speed you cant concentrate on one or the has to be a combination of both...this is why most if not all teachers say start slow and build you can concentrate on both...most of the time when im playing electric now i dont even plug into the amp...because i want to hear the notes clearly and with no amplification you will have to pick every note cleanly...maybe thats why the acoustic helped so much...d.m.
                            Same here.
                            But there is also the different challenge of doing it plugged in. Because you also have to work on the ability to muffle unwanted string noise when plugged into a gained amp, which is not as apparent when unplugged.
                            So for the initial general tedious slow picking and scale practice type stuff i'm unplugged almost always. Then you got to plug in and let it rip and concentrate on taming it.


                            • #15
                              RacerX - see you next time we're in SoCal
                              Personally, I want the gain on the amp to hear any strings that shouldn't be sounding, and to learn how to properly mute them. I think, even with the gain, I can hear the difference between the true notes being properly plucked and just slurred by the left hand.
                              Anyway, I've restarted at 60bpm and discovered a couple of parts of the scale where I was struggling - particularly going from the pinky on the 9th fret D string to first finger on the 5th fret G string. The pinky note is on the beat, so messing this up was enough to throw off my rhythm. Listening more closely, I also noticed I was putting accents on the string changes rather than on the beats. I like the idea of small increments as a means to fooling the brain and hopefully allowing the good, careful technique to apply as the speed increases. I'm going up 2bpm a day, and should be back at 80bpm by the middle of next week .
                              Thanks again for all the great advice and encouragement. Hopefully there are others reading this thread and also benefitting.
                              My other signature says something funny