Been stuck at same speed for years, could use some help

Hey everyone,

New-ish member to CtC here. Bought myself a membership not too long ago and went through the Pickslanting Primer, where I really felt like I’ve gained a lot of knowledge regarding different picking mechanics + how to start analyzing my own technique for roadblocks.

First, a little history about myself. I’ve been playing guitar extremely on and off for about 17 years with a primary interest in metal music (mainly death/black metal). However, I’ve just never been able to get myself anywhere close to the speeds I would need to be able to play these more extreme subgenres due to my arm tensing up very quickly. I should also add that I never really came up with an effective practice routine any time I would sit down to play, as it mostly consisted of me either noodling around on random riffs I’ve learned, or trying to come up with my own material. So basically, at some point my picking technique just settled into something that’s likely to be very inefficient and I kept playing that way for years on end.

Frustrated one day after thinking about how much time I spend turning my wheels trying to increase my tremolo speed while actually getting nowhere, I turned to the internet and stumbled upon the CtC video series on YouTube and then eventually found my way over to this site where I discovered the Pickslanting Primer. Going through all the videos, I learned about the concept of “stringhopping” and the 16th notes @ 120-130 bpm speed cap that many people who fall into this technique seem to plateau at (including myself). I also attempted the speed test and found out that the path of least resistance I tend to fall into while tremolo picking is to go from a lightly-supinated wrist position with an USX motion at lower speeds into a fairly pronated wrist position when the speed increases.

Now, at this point I figured that if pronating my wrist allows for the fastest movement without tension then maybe I should just stick with that. But after watching the two Teemu interviews you have up, I learned that he uses a supinated wrist position with a DWPS/USX motion (mainly from the forearm?) and encourages his students to switch over to that. As a long-time Wintersun fan and someone who is interested in playing similar extreme music, I decided to make a conscious effort to try emulating him to the best of my abilities while also utilizing rest strokes to try and phase out any possible stringhopping habits I may have built up over the years. After lurking some of the threads here, it seemed like a good plan of action would be to try and utilize slow practice with rest strokes to try and get rid of any prior stringhopping habits and then at some point (not entirely sure when?) I should just start practicing close to my top speed without a metronome.

Well, I’ve been trying this approach out for some time now and…I really don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere? I don’t know if maybe I’m just being impatient but I figured I should at least be seeing some incremental progress, whether it’s with slight speed increases or stamina. My wrist feels like it just doesn’t wanna go past a certain speed using this method unless I start shifting back into that supinated position I was mentioning earlier. I don’t know if maybe there’s some stringhopping going on that I just can’t see myself, so I figured I would shoot some videos for y’all and see if maybe someone notices anything. The first two are the same, just at normal speed and slow motion. The last one is a front view from a different take:

Of course, please let me know if there’s anything you would like me to try filming better or in addition (I don’t have one of those fancy Magnet things, but I do have a tripod adapter for my iPhone).


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So first, welcome to the forum! Second - and this is just my opinion - after reading your post, I don’t think you should focus too much on what teemu does, and should start looking at what YOU can do naturally first. That’s not to say you can’t in the future incorporate it, it’s just that for right now, it may be counterproductive to the primary goal you have which is to gain speed and consistency. We are all different, and we all have tendencies towards different motor activation. Finding what works naturally better for you is the fastest way forward instead of focusing on someone else’s approach. If the pronated wrist is it, than that’s it, use it.

One thing to really stress is the consistency part though. This may be part of the reason you had some stalled progress in the beginning.

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Welcome @Ess_Ys and nice guitar :slight_smile:

Agree with this!

More generally, these attempts are too slow and controlled to tell us anything. Against all conventional wisdom, the first step in efficient picking technique is to actually do it fast!

So the suggestion for you would be to try several different setups until you find something that allows you to do some fast tremolo picking immediately. Then, we’ll build it from there!

Since an image is worth a thousand words, the following video is worth several thousand words per second :slight_smile:


I’m slowly but surely finding progress with my technique, and despite not being where I want to be yet, I can tell you what I think is working:

I think there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about what guitar playing should be like and how we’re supposed to practice. To improve, you need to figure out what you’re doing wrong doing practice, and what you should be doing instead, and to do that, you need to figure out what the right information is, and what are the myths.

I believe one of the biggest myths has to do with the metronome. When you start to practice a new piece or technique, you are unable to keep tempo because your technique isn’t developed enough, not necessarily because your sense of tempo might be faulty. I think the mistake is when guitar teachers, frustrated with your inability to play at tempo, lay a metronome in front of you and tell you to follow the click. I used a metronome for a long time to improve my technique, but it never did. And the reason it didn’t is, I believe, that the metronome should be used to develop a sense of tempo and to develop your ability to keep time, but if your technique isn’t developed enough already, it might only contribute to anxiety and bad habits. Technique is, I find, better developed when you practice without much concern for time-keeping. Of course, being able to play in time is still important, but you need to be sure you’re developing the right technique in order to do it, and not to develop a false technique to force yourself to play with the beat, as I did.

Force, effort, anxiety, tension, are all words that should not be associated with guitar playing. Playing guitar should be easy, effortless, and while it isn’t tensionless, it should have a relaxed feeling to it. That’s where speed and control come from. Great players aren’t doing a lot of effort, they have managed to make what they are playing easy. If you’re tensing up when you’re speeding up in such a way that it becomes impossible to pick after a short burst of notes, you’re doing something wrong. Now, Troy Grady suggests going as fast as possible in order to find a good, effective picking motion. But I believe that’s only part of the story. You can find an effective picking motion by doing that, but that by itself won’t develop your muscles to be able to use that picking motion effectively. The way to do that is, I believe, through trial and error, body awareness, relaxation any excessive or unnecessary tension, and practicing in such a way that you are not forcing speed, but instead allowing it to come naturally over time. Your body will develop such an ability if you let it, instead of forcing it.

The one thread in this forum that really clicked with me was this one:

In which the OP claims two points that I believe are very important:

  • I never used a metronome. Not even once.
  • I never practiced “speed bursts” or forced myself to play faster than I was comfortable.

I thought: “something must be going on here”. I was often doing the opposite of that, doing tremolo to a metronome and bursting or forcing myself to go faster than I felt confortable. Now I do a very different approach: first, I’ve actually been spending a lot more time on my left hand. I figured out that it wasn’t as developed as I thought it was, and if I was struggling with my left hand, I couldn’t have the brain power avaliable to focus on my right hand. As I develop my left hand, I free up more brain power to focus on my right hand. I’m also learning from my left hand how relaxed and effortless good playing feels like, and how slow, or how fast, or how focused, good practice should be done.

I see it like this: practicing guitar is like playing a videogame on your PC, only your PC is slow and the frame rate is kinda clunky, so the images jump around without a smooth feeling of transition. If your PC was a little bit more powerful, you would add more frames, and the movement would feel a lot smoother, more connected, more in control. Practicing guitar is like adding more frames to your hands’ movements. For example, If I am practicing switching between a G major chord and a D major chord, I slow the hell down my left hand movement, and suddenly I realize that there is a lot more going on than I could see at higher speeds. I realize I have little control over my fingers until I slow down. Because I have little control, I have a tendency to rush, as it feels more comfortable. So it’s like I never add those in-between frames because I haven’t spent enough time developing a more deep control over my fingers, and taking my time with it.

The right hand might be a little different story than the left hand, but I find them to be similar still. Sometimes I’m just taking my time to feel how a single note should be picked. You know, instead of doing bursts, or tremolo picking, or whatever, I’m just placing the pick next to the string, feeling all the sensations, then pushing the string and feeling how it resists, actually picking the note and hearing how it sounds, deciding whether Im satisfied with how it sounds, and how it felt to pick the note. If my picking grip translates well to strumming, if I’m accidentally hitting or muting the strings with my fingers, different picking angles…and so on. I’m just taking my time with it, you know?

I think some people here are worried that at slow speeds you won’t know if your technique will translate well to higher speeds, but I wouldn’t worry so much about it. You can simply play the same thing at different speeds, fast and slow, to see if it is translating well. The thing is, if you don’t even know how to do that single, satisfactory “pling” on a single note, if you don’t know how effortless picking feels like when you attempt to pick a single note, how will you know what to look for when you attempt higher speeds? If you don’t know how loose your wrist should feel, how would you know how to overcome that tension that locks it up when you speed it up? We have to start somewhere, and I’m not convinced that it’s as simple as tremolo picking as fast as possible to find an effective motion, while ignoring that you cannot use that motion effectively because you’re simply too tense, and that tension is due not to bad technique, but to the fact that you’re forcing yourself to speed up when you simply aren’t ready for it yet.

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Hey everyone, thanks for all the thoughtful responses!

So I wanted to address these comments first, because I feel like the pronated setup I have that allows for my fastest tremolo without tension has some significant shortcomings. To demonstrate, I’ve recorded a couple more videos of myself using this technique:

So this setup definitely allows for a faster tremolo than the supinated/DWPS setup I had in my first two videos (it also feels a lot more natural to do), but it causes my thumb to graze over the string(s) behind what I’m playing, which leaves the skin on the side of my thumb feeling really irritated after a while. Also it feels either really awkward or straight up impossible trying to do things like playing palm-muted, which is a pretty common technique used in the styles of metal I like to play. Combine the fact that a lot of black metal tends to play patterns in even groupings, which makes starting on a downstroke and doing an upward escape motion feel a lot more natural.

This was the main reason why I tried to switch over to doing something closer to what Teemu does, although maybe I’m just not built for something like that if I can’t play faster than I currently am even with sloppy technique? Anyways, I’m not really sure how to deal with this since it seems like both styles of picking have their fair share of advantages and disadvantages for me.

Yeah I have to admit, I’ve always had very little patience for just sitting there playing something over and over at really slow speeds without feeling the urge to speed things up past the point of where I’m probably comfortable enough to play cleanly. Also given that I haven’t seemed to figure out yet which type of picking technique I should be using moving forward (see above concerns), it just seems a bit of a “sunk cost” thing for me at the moment to be practicing this way, especially since I’ve already spent so many years trying to improve with inefficient technique.

Honestly I think either will work for you, but I also think you may be going about some of this in a more difficult way than you need to. In either case you have the basic coarse movements correct, but aren’t engaging many of the finer motions that actually make these techniques work as effectively for fast picking, and as such, you kind of have a rigidness to your hand that’s preventing it from moving faster over the strings than it otherwise could. If the Troy/Teemu style feels better for you, and doesn’t scrape your hand, you can continue with that one. I’m going to watch that first video some more to see if I can pinpoint some things that might help.

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I understand you very well. The “sunk cost” thing, I’ve also felt it for a long time. It seemed as if I was supposed to be far ahead than where I was, considering the time I had spent practicing guitar, and yet I had nothing to show for it. Turns out, it was that self-imposed pressure to figure things out quickly that was making me stuck. The irony is, from the moment that I accepted that I was at that point and that it was going to take me a while for me to fix my technique and that I better take things slow, that I started to make really fast progress. Being impatient, rushing, forcing myself to be ahead than where I was, being afraid of making mistakes, etc…is what was driving me back. I still have a long road ahead, but I’m already far better than I was just some months ago. And it feels more pleasurable to play guitar, it feels as if I’m not struggling as much with the instrument.

The key is to make sure that you’re actually learning something new each time you pick up the guitar. It isn’t enough to blindly repeat stuff over and over again. In my opinion it pays off more to play a scale up and down, let’s say, two or three times, with full focus, being relaxed, taking your time, than to play that scale a hundred times with your brain half-asleep. The idea of playing something over and over again at really slow speeds might seem daunting, but the thing is, you don’t really have to do that. It’s not blind repetition, it’s practicing in such a way that every note counts, every time you move your fingers you are completely focused on what you’re doing. It is not an arbitrary thing. It’s not, repeat this thing 100 times just because, it’s, experiment with this thing until you realize what you need to be doing to do it better, and then repeat it until you feel like you’re getting consistent with it.

The speed at which you practice shouldn’t be arbitrary either. It isn’t, put the metronome at 60 BPM because it seems like a slow number. It’s more like, slow down whenever you feel like you should be slowing down, as much as you feel like you should slow down.

It’s more of an instinctive thing, to me. It makes practice more fun, because I feel like I’m actually engaging my brain, as opposed to playing a bunch of scales up and down the neck while you’re watching TV, because subconsciously you’ve already given up and don’t have much hope that you will get much better, so you try to convince yourself that you’re working on it, when you’re actually just distracting yourself from the fact that you’re not. At least that’s how it was for me. But it is possible to improve. Sometimes it’s just like, we’ve gotta have the courage to do things differently, to take chances, rather than practice in the same old ways that we’ve always did because we’re afraid of losing what little we have achieved during all those years we have practiced (often wrongly).

The sunken cost thing might be that we don’t want to accept the fact that we’ve lost time simply because we didn’t know what the best way to practice was, that a lot of the time we practiced we did it wrong. But that’s okay. We can also learn from that. What’s important is to move on, to make it better, because we want it, and we deserve it.

As for technical advice, the CtC community is better than that than I am. I’m more interested in the psychology of it. My mindset was a big part of what was driving me back, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that is also a big part of what drives other people back. I just like to share my experience, and I hope that it helps you in any way.

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@Ess_Ys do you have a particular lick you are looking to master or bring up to speed? If not, maybe choose one and then see if you can work on getting that faster. I think single string licks are a great for this - something like an Yngwie 6 pattern, a fours pattern (eg first 8 notes of the pop tarts lick) or even a simple repeating triplet on one string.

You can then really focus on pure speed building. Then as you get through your barrier you can look at string hopping and so on. But I think you should focus on speed first! And single string licks are great for this!


That would be greatly appreciated, thanks! Yeah I would be interested to see if there was something I was doing that wasn’t causing these finer motions you mention to engage and what I could to do fix that.

I’ve definitely found all of your information in this thread to be very insightful thus far, so thank you for that. Once I can actually get to a point where I feel comfortable enough with a specific motion and be able to say “yep, this is the one”, I can start to think about how to best go about practicing with it. I think your contributions to this post have been very valuable in that regard.

It’s really just random riffs from songs that I’m looking to learn, but are so far beyond my ability to play at the moment. I have been spending a lot of time trying to get faster with these (as well as just doing the whole tremolo picking an open string as fast as I can with no tension thing) but my technique itself is what seems to be holding me back here, given that I haven’t really been able to increase my speed past the nebulous 120bpm-ish area that seems to be commonly associated with stringhopping.

I strongly disagree with not pushing myself faster/doing bursts/playing uncomfortable speeds, but that’s my personal take.

So the first thing I see is that you are too ridged with the movement and that you are trying to make everything come from the wrist and wrist rotation. That’s good in general, but you aren’t engaging and activating many of the small-twitch helper muscles. The best I can explain it is to try and twitch and gyrate your hand a little when speeding up, and don’t be afraid to use some forearm too. I may try to post a video to demonstrate what I’m talking about trying to emulate that wrist rotation USX your doing. I’m not typically a wrist rotation USX player like that, but the concept is the same no matter what you use.

Check out some of the Andy Wood videos. If you rest part of the heel of your hand on or near the bridge, you should gain the ability to control your hand position over the strings without having your thumb rub. In addition to that, you could experiment with the “approach angle” of your arm relative to the length of the strings. If your current angle isn’t getting the results you want, you could experiment with an approach angle that looks more like Al Di Meola’s (forearm nearly parallel to the length of the strings), or any of a number of positions between the two extremes.

But my intial reaction is that your pronated approach looks way more fluid than your more supinated approach, so I’d look to make small tweaks to it to overcome the problems you described. I’d say check out the videos on the two different flavors of wrist-based DSX (in the style of Andy Wood, compared to the style of Molly Tuttle and David Grier) and use that as the basis for experimenting with different motions and palm-heel anchoring strategies. But offhand I think you’d be aiming more for an Andy Wood approach.

Edit: If you really want to go for a Teemu USX kind of thing, I’d suggest starting with more of an exaggerated flexed-wrist setup that gypsy-jazz players like Joscho Stephan use. That nearly forces you to use a forearm-rotation-dominant type of mechanic. Once you get a USX tremolo dialed in with an exaggerated flexed-wrist, you can try to recreate that kind of rotational motion with less flex in the wrist. Eventually you can feel your way down to something more like Teemu, which if I recall correctly is a subtle blend of forearm rotation and wrist extension on downstrokes, with forearm rotation in the opposite direction and wirst flexion on upstrokes. If I recall correctly, in the Teemu approach the forearm rotation component is often small enough that it can be difficult to even see that it’s there. But to try to teach your body to intuitively do fast rotation, I’d start with a less subtle technique that has a very clear forearm rotation component (e.g. the gypsy-jazz style). To my mind, the fluidity of Teemu’s USX comes from the subtle but crucial forearm rotation component (accompanying wrist flexion and extension). To me, in your USX video it looks like you’re trying to accomplish the same thing with a motion that appears it’s driven by wrist deviation with little or no forearm rotation.


I’ll take a look at that interview and take a crack at practicing with a more flexed setup, thanks. Yeah, I’m starting to realize that I can’t actually feel the difference between wrist motion and forearm motion, unless I start practicing painfully slow and actually looking to see that my forearm is rotating. The moment I try to speed up, I honestly can’t tell if I’m just switching over to mostly wrist because my forearm rotation doesn’t look as exaggerated.

I remember posting stuff like this too. What you’re doing in that first video seems forced, I bet you’re thinking more about how foreign it feels to hold the pick and wrist like this. I literally couldn’t make myself hold it like that at first, forget playing a line of notes. You do get used to it though and it doesn’t take long. And before you know it, it will happen naturally. Just keep playing.