Advice for unlearning bad technique?

So I’ve been playing since 86, and tensing up my arm is just burned in to me to go fast. Does anyone have any advice on how to unlearn doing it? I can’t seem to get my body to stop it no matter how I angle my hand, if I anchor or not, or how I hold the pick, or what picking motion I use or what slant.

There’s no “unlearning”, there’s only learning. You can just learn new stuff that works instead of stuff that doesn’t!

Short of watching our instructional stuff, the simplest advice I can give you is to just wing it and try to go fast. In other words, try any arm or hand motion you can think of until you find one that’s fast and feels smooth. By fast I mean 170-180bpm sixteenths or so. When you perform a motion correctly it will be fast to start. If it doesn’t work, you can toss that method and try something else. That’s the nice thing about this approach — no wasting time.

Try not to worry too much about about pick grip or pickslant or other technical particulars. Even if you watch our instructional stuff it’s still going to lead you back to this one simple step of trying to go fast, which everyone has to take first before you can work on anything and clean it up.

If it’s not fast, it’s not correct!

Here’s some more reading material on what exists out there in the world of motions, but again, don’t get too bogged down. Get the guitar and experiment:


Yeah I’ve been at this now for nearly two months, and I can’t find anything that allows me to pick that fast and have any kind stamina or do it without tensing up somewhere. I can’t do the wrist rotation as I’ve seen you do, that instantly gives me pain in the center of my wrist so I quit doing that immediately. I guess I’m just going to have to be tense to play fast or just play in small bursts and work the stamina up. I’ve always had this issue, my nervous system is very frustrating in this regard, I’ll learn something and I can do it for awhile, and next day I’m at ground 0 again and can’t do it anymore. It’s not like I haven’t been trying to find the sweet spot for eons now, I was aware of this 20+ years ago. I however was not aware of the pick slanting, which has allowed me to do a lot of things I never could before cleanly.

I think my brain just works different in that regard and I’ll have to explore more what works for me. I’m one of the “bad memory” people, I’m creative, but I have difficulty retaining things, not only conceptually but muscle memory as well it seems.

I think I’ll try to do what works for me in that regard, and just start at a medium pace and work the speed up. I saw MAB said he did the same thing to “get the feel” with arpeggios which worked well for me and I can do them as fast as I want without fatigue, not that this is something I would do while playing normally.

I’ve got the tripod mount now for my camera, I’ll try to take some video tomorrow.

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Hey Troy,

I don’t disagree with winging it immediately, but I can say for myself that this doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. It took me about 2 years of constant practice to be able to break the 130bpm barrier on one string, not the 10 minutes you have guaranteed in your ‘Don’t “Work Up” To Picking Speed — Start With It!’ video. I can now do around 180bpm or sometimes 200bpm in short bursts, but that motion did not come quickly to me, it took a lot of slow practice to get used to the string resistance.

I still think the advice of starting fast is sound, because it may work for some people and it saves a lot of time, but when it doesn’t work, I’m worried it may discourage a student who expects to be able to learn it as quickly as you can.

For ScottyB’s issue, I’m personally not convinced that just winging it is going to solve his tension problem since it’s so ingrained in his playing, but I’m not an expert on this matter so I don’t want to give bad advice!

Sounds like you nailed a fast motion!

While it may take time to finally hit upon a fast & comfortable movement, I think the central idea we are trying to promote is that this will not happen by taking a speed-limited motion (string hopping) and hammering at it for hours/days/months. A bouncy motion will remain bouncy no matter how many times you repeat it.

Do you remember what finally allowed you to “break” the 130bpm barrier? Clearly you must have discovered a qualitatively different motion, and it would be cool to understand how that happened.

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Yeah I completely agree with you here! I think it’s important to understand the right motions to be able to practice them, otherwise all of your practice time will become futile.

Troy was asking in another thread here about why some people have the right motions but just can’t get it to go fast, and I believe I have a hypothesis, but it’s based on one data point: myself.

I found a post from March 4, here, which linked to a really interesting article (albeit quite long) that I resonated with a lot. The idea is that some people, for whatever reason, do not develop the right “reaction” to the string when their pick hits it, and thus it feels like picking through a brick wall. It’s possible that @ScottyB is having a similar issue, but he’d have to investigate it himself. I’d be very interested to hear his thoughts on this article, as it’s all about tension.

Continuing, the idea from the article is that after lots of practice, your hand learns to react to the string, and the string starts to feel more like playing through an elastic band instead of a brick wall, and it starts to feel smooth. If you were one of those players that never encountered this issue, it may have happened so early in your playing that you don’t even remember.

I know there are common techniques to reduce string resistance which I constantly employ (edge picking and shallow pick depth, keeping the pick perpendicular to the path of motion), but my hand still reacts to the string negatively.

Troy has often made the analogy of knocking on a door as a baseline indication of how fast your hand can move, but this analogy misses the fact that the string is in the way. For me, I could move my hand fast enough, but put a string in the way, and I couldn’t do it at all. Even at something abysmally slow like 60bpm it still didn’t feel smooth even though the motion was right. This is why.

Do you remember what finally allowed you to “break” the 130bpm barrier? Clearly you must have discovered a qualitatively different motion, and it would be cool to understand how that happened.

Well my hand still feels bouncy due to the resistance, but my technique is a DSX deviation motion where I dig my thumb into the lower register strings and use my thumb like a shock absorber to handle the pushback of the string. It still took a long time to break the speed barrier though. I haven’t really solved the issue directly, I’ve just found a way to force my way through it for now. I’m currently practicing USX with deviation and I’m finding it much more challenging as a result, but it’s going well so far.

Rusty Cooley tenses up his forearm for the super fast stuff, just work on wrist picking and use both techniques.

Work on exercises using DSX and USX and concentrate on keeping your motions small.

Thanks for all your replies!

@lime This is an interesting article, I am familiar with the bouncy feeling, but it’s more related to my rhythm playing. I’ll read this article more closely when I’ve had my coffee. Thank you for the suggestion, maybe something in here I’m not aware of. Glancing over it, it’s not like a brick wall, it’s more I can’t feel the lighter string at all sometimes, especially when string changing so I’ll tend to miss notes or strike the string too hard looking for that tactile feedback, or I’ll end up double picking notes, etc.

I’m an accomplished player, I mostly played rhythm guitar throughout my career as a semi pro musician in the local Seattle/Everett music scene. Lead was always a bit of a stumbling block, I could do it, and I love Randy Rhoads and I can play a lot of his stuff, some EJ licks and what not. Playing Master of Puppets full speed end to end without fatigue is not an issue for me (minus the leads).

Another quirk I have is missing notes, or double picking a note when changing strings, angling the pick has helped here, as I never “bounced”. I always held my pick perpendicular to the strings, as that’s how I get a chunky rhythm sound. I only do this on the thinner strings though, particularly the high E string. I graduated a long time ago from 8s which I started with, to 9s in high school and 10s when I started playing in more bands as I found it easier to play on thicker strings for that reason. Getting hard on my muscles at my age to bend them though, that’s another issue entirely.

String hopping is something I’ve never done, my instructor told me I was doing that long time ago, and trained it out of me, but I could never get clean moving from string to string as I’ve said, so again pick angle has solved that for me. I can do 2WPS pretty easily, it’s just a matter of burning it in now, and UWPS is also comfortable, DWPS is uncomfortable so I’ll have to work on that more and find a way to make it so. I can pick fast, but I do have the missed notes or double picking issue, which I’m also not sure how to address.

The main issue is the tension for me, it feels bad and rigid, and my forearm gets fatigued. I know this is wrong so I’m trying to figure out how to get it to not be that way, problem is finding some combination of things that removes it, or as I think it’s just an ingrained bad habit I developed and how I pick is actually fine with the minor adjustments I’ve been making. I’m not sure though, so as I said I will figure out how to post some video today, provided I can figure out how to edit it with something free, I sure don’t have the kind of money needed for an editing software. There really needs to be some kind of FAQ for that too (or is there?) not everyone in the world is well to do, that’s for sure.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts and suggestions!

This is really where it starts. Everything else is super theoretical. When players try to describe their technique on here in paragraphs of detail they often say really vague things like “it falls apart”. That doesn’t really tell us much. Sometimes, when we actually look at the video, what someone thinks is “falling apart” actually looks good as far as the motion itself, and the player just doesn’t realize that.

I’m not saying that’s the problem here, I’m just saying, I’ve noticed a tendency for people tend to get worked up over what they think is going on before they actually see it. So by all means take a few short clips of simple things, following the notes in that link about “filiming your playing” that we put together.

Happy to take a look at that when you have it.

Absolutely, you are the experts here. I just had to wait for the 3 day quarantine to expire on my mail. I’m setting it up as I type this, I’ll get some shots here today. Thank you, I’m sure you’ll spot what I’m doing right and wrong, and I can then learn what to look for. I’m highly critical of my playing, maybe too critical so I completely understand your position :slight_smile:

And the fun fact about it is that at some point I stop to feel strings and my internal rhythm breaks up. It’s like finding good compromise between less resistance and less tactile feedback. I know Troy said something about the feeling when any string resistance disappears, but that doesn’t work for me. I need that string resistance. Though not much resistance, obviously )

That video is one of the more frustrating guitar videos for me to watch. Conceptually, it all makes sense. But in practice…I’ve yet to get even remotely close to shred-zone speeds.

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What motion(s) are you using, and are you doing them correctly? We’ve seen some very enlightening cllps in “Technique Critique” lately where big speed bumps were achieved in a day simply by getting the motion right, or changing it to one that works better. If you like, let’s see some video of your technique and maybe we’ll spot something.

If you choose to go that way, here are some tips for filming yourself:

Yes, I hope to film myself soon and I’m hopeful someone can identify my obstacles.

I know describing picking motions with words is of limited use, but I’m focusing on a wrist motion and would like to achieve shred speeds using nothing by the wrist. The only way I can get even remotely close is if I lock my wrist/tense my forearm and use my elbow (the “iron bar” approach). But I know that’s a bad thing.

I don’t know where you go that from but you’ll never hear me say that:

When you’re trying to learn a new physical skill, it only hurts to make arbitrary decisions like “I must use wrist”. You can learn any technique you want want eventually, but when you’ve exhausted all your possibilities with a particular one, and you no longer no what else to try, the fastest route to progress is to go with whatever other motion is already working. Everything you get good at makes it easier to get good at something else.

So, if elbow is working, I highly recommend exploiting that to its fullest and getting as smooth and easy with it as Brendon Small and Bill Hall are, two of the players we’ve interviewed who are awesome at elbow motion.

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That makes a lot of sense. Thank you!

I definitely should have been clearer: the comment on elbow motion being “bad” is definitely my own misguided belief. It did not come from you or this site.

Truth be told, it’s been pounded into my psyche by my brother. He’s a very capable guitar player who can shred with ease. We talk about guitar playing a lot. His technique is a wrist motion…it looks and sounds so fluid.

So the way I think about it is: we have the same genetics, so if HE can do it, I should be able to too!

But you’re absolutely correct that I’m limiting my potential by having a closed mind.

The most vital thing I think I learned so far from Troy and Andy Wood is if something isn’t working, try something else. If that doesn’t work, try something else again.

I think something that is also essential, is not being afraid to fail. This is how we learn, we fail, we try again, we fail, we try again. I think that’s the whole routine. I see a lot people beat themselves up a lot, instead of just brushing it off and trying something different.

I was getting frustrated not being able to find the right spot, and just when I had given up, literally the next day I found the sweet spot. I’m not sure if that was a psychological trick I played on myself or what. Maybe something else to investigate :smiley:


Great advice! Trying different motions and sticking with the things that work for you is quite crucial for finding something that suits you. :+1:
Also, making corrections by video or looking at your technique can be helpful, but going by feel and sound – as pointed out in the Pickslanting Primer – is also necessary. Trial and error with the majority of focus on how it feels and sounds with some visual corrections thrown in is what I’ve personally found most beneficial for developing picking motions.