Consistency still sucks after a little over a year of work

Hey everyone. As you can tell from the title I’ve been working at this fast picking thing for a little over a year now and I’m still having a lot of trouble attaining even a passable level of consistency in my playing. I’m specifically trying to get it to the point where I could comfortably play stuff live with a reasonably high hit rate, I’ve tried to pull off some of this stuff live before and with the lack of consistency to begin with and the nerves that come with being on stage it’s almost always ended with the licks falling apart (I know you guys hate that term but I’m not sure how else to describe it lol). I’ve posted a few threads here before asking about practice advice and I’ve received some great answers that I’ve tried to incorporate into my routine. I believe my picking technique mostly consists of wrist-based USX and most of the stuff I work on is EJ-style pentatonics or other stuff that’s compatible with USX.

I’m not really looking to increase my maximum speed with most of the stuff I’m working on, I’m pretty comfortable with how fast I can pull off the good reps, I just need to know how to get those good reps all the time. I really don’t know if my issues come from improper practice or from a more fundamental technique issue. It certainly shouldn’t be an issue with insufficient time spent practicing, since I’ve put probably an average of 2-4 hours daily into this kind of technique over the past year.

Here’s a couple videos for people who are smarter than me to check out.

This one is an example of what I mean when I say stuff falls apart. Some really bad reps in here, this is usually what happens when I decide to try this kind of stuff without a few “warm up” reps beforehand. Obviously that doesn’t translate well to being able to play this kind of stuff live so I really need to know how to stop this from happening if possible.

This one had some decent reps in it. Almost all of the licks that I attempted in these two videos are licks that I’ve been working on for at least 8-10 months.

This one has some stuff that I’ve been working on for only about a month. Trying to incorporate some swiping to allow for some repetitive 3NPS stuff with pure USX. Obviously you can tell it’s not that great so far so any advice is appreciated.

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This sounds good to me and I think you’re on the right path, but I have a few thoughts in general:

  1. You’ve been at this for a year and are expecting (from what I gather) somewhat semi-pro level of consistency. I don’t think this is a long enough timeline. Not to be a downer, but you should think in the span of multiple years when it comes to consistency.

Why are you judging your performance level cold, no warming up beforehand? How does not being able to play cold translate in any way to performing? I’ve yet to have a performance or witness one in which there wasn’t ample time to warm up. I probably got better on tour since we (ideally) showed up to unload gear, stage it, then… Wait for a couple hours. Plenty of time to warm up. Even local shows, I’ve yet to see or play a show in which the musicians couldn’t warm up.

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When you talk about consistency over multiple years, does that apply to the entire technique (in this case I guess it would be USX picking) or specific licks? It just seems to me like I don’t have enough progress to show for most of these licks after how many hours I’ve put into working on them. I do understand that it does take a long time to get to a high professional level though of course.

And when you talk about cold performance levels, I’m just going based off of what I’ve seen other people be able to do with little to no warmup (I actually tuned into one of your practice livestreams once a few months ago and was impressed with how you were able to go straight into a super fast lick without warming up lol). My ultimate goal is to be able to pull these things off right after picking up a guitar and not having to worry about a warmup routine or anything. That may be unreasonable, but it just seems like other players don’t have to worry much about warming up for a lot of the fast stuff they play.

In my experience, it’s quicker to get more consistent on one specific line (let’s say using USX) than gaining the same kind of consistency on ALL USX lines. I’m pretty sure Troy and others (including myself) have talked about it, but there are patterns that we get used to, then get really good at. Those are the patterns that become the “fallback” for pros, since they can usually play them in any circumstance. Petrucci, Gilbert, EJ, Yngwie… I’m sure we can all identify a specific pattern that they each rely on when they are caught “off guard”, or are doing an improv solo and want to pull off something fast with minimal thinking. If they were forced to play something with the same technique but a pattern that they’re not accustomed to, it would likely take them some time to learn it, get it clean, and speed it up (and probably something that they couldn’t play cold).

Thanks! This was likely a riff that I’ve played a ton of time, over the course of many years. Depending on which one it was, I could probably tell you a timeline. This goes back to what I said above; a pattern that’s been engrained over many reps / years that can be reliably pulled off in the worst circumstances.

I’ll probably start up the streaming again as “cold” as possible, hopefully it helps people get an idea of what’s normal to expect as soon as you pick up the guitar, and also give me a reason to practice lol.

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When you talk about patterns would I be correct to assume you’re talking about small chunks of notes? That’s something I’ve been trying to incorporate into my practice more recently. After I saw a clip of MAB talking about how he would drill this pattern of like 6 notes over and over again when he was younger it suddenly dawned on me that maybe that’s what I should spend more time on, since too much of my practice had consisted of taking a super long lick and just trying to play through the entire thing up to speed or slowly over and over again. It also makes sense that I would need to practice small chunks to be able to improvise fast passages instead of relying on long licks that are practiced.

Also I probably should have clarified, when I talk about warm up reps I wasn’t actually referring to a “warm up” in the sense that you’re warming up the hands. I’ve found that quite often even when my hands are warmed up I need to get a few bad reps of a specific lick in before I can make any decent reps. You can actually kind of see this in the second video I included at like 0:21 where I fumble the descending 5s on my first attempt and have to start over to get through it. My hands were also more warmed up in the second and third videos than the first. It seems to me like this is a mental recall issue and not necessarily a physical issue. I’m hoping that if I keep practicing smaller chunks instead of only longer licks this problem will be reduced a bit.

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This is quite possibly one of if not the worst ways to build technique.

Virtuoso level lines that include a ton of notes often have multiple techniques or moves embedded in them. It’s so easy to get one fingering or pickstroke wrong (likely multiple) and then render line impossible to play. It’s best to build your bedrock of technique on short 4-10 note phrases. You can then chain these phrases together, or where they won’t fit together, put a hammer-on or pull-off or some other modification to make things work.

Gilbert, MAB, Eric Johnson, etc. all have a core identity and have spun multiple ideas off their favorite licks.

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To me it sounds like maybe if you jot down some long string ideas you might be able to relax a bit to help ease the tension to go faster. Prewrite out some longer solo ideas across your progression. Maybe 4 or 5. Use longer strung phrasing as relax points like a concrete link of 3 or 4 licks that you always use for relaxing your mind so you can better know where you are heading. I would say analyze your favorite players a bit deeper, know exactly the modes, chords, progressions, the sounds, if you know the phrases, dissect it even further, step back look at it as a whole, dissect even more solos they do, dissect their live versions of the solos to their songs. Really try to get in the mind of the player.

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Exactly. Echoing @guitarenthusiast lots of long lines are just small patterns in different orders. Here’s a video I made for the forum a little bit ago with different patterns:

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Hey @cthom02! Long story short: I am not sure you are making the USX-wrist motions you think you are making. If I’m right that’s kinda good news: lack of progress could simply be down to a mismatch between what you think you are doing and what you are actually doing (and consequently, the choice of licks that will work well with your motions).

I’d take a step back and ask you one of our “standard” requests: can you post a video of your fastest tremolo picking on a single string? We’ll take it from there. Just go all out and forget about USX/DSX/wrist and whatnot.

One more comment I’d make is that your unused fingers are moving quite a lot as you are picking. Maybe this is perfectly comfortable to you in which case no need to change it. If it isn’t comfortable, I’d experiment with either resting the unused fingers on the pickguard (i.e. let them glide on it) or closing the hand a bit more like a fist.

Looking forward to an update!

Hey @tommo thanks for the response! I also noticed the finger movement thing when I was reviewing the videos I posted. I’m not sure why that happens and I don’t really notice it when playing but it’s definitely noticeable when I look at a video. I’ve experimented a little bit with anchoring my pinky and also with closing my hand into more of a fist but both of those seem less comfortable to me than only using the wrist anchor.

Here’s a video of a longer tremolo test along with one of the USX style licks I’ve worked on for a while:

Honestly I’m not smart enough to be able to tell what’s going on there but the tremolo does feel a bit different than the motion I use when playing most of the USX licks I practice. Thanks again for the reply.

I’m no scientician but to me, you appear to start off with a somewhat ‘wrist’ based motion in the beginning stages of your tremolo and then near the end your entire arm kinda ‘locks’ up when you try to spool up the speed and I would HAZARD a guess that suggests a more DSX style elbow motion (since no ‘helper’ motions are visible in this example once you’re doing a straight fast tremolo)

So as for why you’re having so much difficulty doing EJ syle USX escape licks at speed, I’d put a DECENT chunk of money down on the fact that when push comes to shove, your ‘default fast’ motion is a downwardly escaping elbow motion (more or less) instead of the upward escaping one you’d need to play those lines smoothly.

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:rofl:

Same impression!

I’d invest some time in exploiting the strengths of your (probably) elbow motion! I.e. you can start by trying a variety of licks that only change strings after downstrokes.

This slightly boring example is what I usually suggest to get started. Of course, feel free to change the fretting into something more musical, provided the string changes are the same :slight_smile:

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
-------------------------------etc.-----------------------------------------------------
-------------------5-6-7-5-6-7-----------------------------------------------------------------
-------5-6-7-5-6-7------------------------------------------------------------------------------
-5-6-7----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 D U D U D U D U etc...

Thanks for the tips @tommo and @JB_Winnipeg! I’ll definitely see if I can make some progress with some elbow motion DSX stuff. Would it be worth it to keep working on my USX stuff though? I would hate to throw out all the time I’ve spent on that stuff and not to mention I love the sound of that kind of stuff so I’d hate to not be able to play it at all.

I would keep working on USX as well. Before CtC, I didn’t know what my single note technique was (I don’t think anyone had mentioned the idea of “escapes” before), and my default was DSX elbow. Even now, I would guess that DSX elbow probably feels the easiest and most natural. However, all of the stuff that I like to play is not really possible with DSX, and it feels much more limiting to me compared to the DBX that I’ve developed by pushing USX with “helper” motions.

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I think you should look through the USX specific technique/learning videos Troy has made and try to adopt a technique SIGNIFICANTLY different than what you’re already doing. You’ve clearly put in a tonne of time and your body is still trying to shoehorn you into a DSX ‘process’ likely because you’re using a form that’s so similar all those motor pathways just default to what’s already baked in.

Something extra wild like a 3 finger grip EVH style or weird claw hand Marty Friedman (I think he’s a mostly USX player) style of motion and see if you can’t generate a more consistently USX feel.

Or do what @Pepepicks66 said! Who knows!? Learning is weird and often unique to the individual. Having said that though… like by the sounds of things, the actual ‘motion’ learnings should take anywhere from a few hours to a few days, with it becoming noticeably more consistent after a week or two of ‘goofery’ and not… years ya dig?

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One thing I’ve been thinking about trying was the gypsy style position that a lot of USX guys use. Something like that is very different than how I’m used to playing so maybe that’ll help me find a more reliable USX motion. I’m also hoping that if I incorporate more chunking practice into my routine that it’ll fix a lot of the issues I’ve been having. After going over some other types of licks today I realized it’s not necessarily even picking stuff that gives me trouble, there’s several technically challenging licks that use techniques that are unrelated to fast picking that I can’t do consistently and I think it’s because I haven’t worked on them enough in small chunks. Plus I haven’t been playing nearly as long as most guys I compare myself to so I probably just need to relax and go at my own pace and quit comparing myself to other players lol.

These are all great suggestions that everyone has made on this thread and I would try them all!

I’m a big fan of the middle finger grip wrist motion thing since it’s one of the more obviously “different”-feeling things. So it’s a good way of breaking out of a rut and trying something new.

I wouldn’t worry about “throwing out” work you perceive you have done. It’s illogical. If it’s not working, why keep doing it? If you could do something different which would work amazingly well right now at this moment, you’d do it immediately.

On top of that, if it makes you feel any better, the experience of having done whatever you’ve done over the past year or so has given you perspective, and that makes you smarter. So you don’t really ever “throw out” anything. If I had a nickel for every 2-5 year period where I didn’t change my technique much… I’d have a small pile of nickels!

The EJ licks don’t sound terrible, and there are a few instances in there where it sounds really good. So that’s something which you may come back to and who knows you might find some way of doing it better. But not if you don’t fill the tank with other experiences first.

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My experience with fingerings is that it just takes time for my body to learn them. After about a week or so it really gets sunk in, but I also feel that to many licks or patterns can overload my brain. This is why improvising is a must for myself to learn new phrases. If you are pressed for time even a simple drone note to solo over is better than nothing. This is sort of a plus and a curse of the string being open as opposed to a piano where the string is hidden, but the keys are so simply laid out. You get incredible dynamic ability and control in playing the frequency with guitar. Piano just doesn’t have this sort of dynamic control, but this got better with that new synthesizer, osmose by expressive e, but even it has its limitations.

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Thanks for the great replies everyone. I actually experimented a bit earlier today with a pinky anchor in my picking hand like @tommo and it seems like that might help a bit. Probably need to take a break from the fast picking stuff for a few days though, I’ve worked a lot on this stuff over the past several days and I’m starting to feel it in my wrist so I imagine it needs some rest from that stuff lol.

It looks like you have too much tension in your hands.
Right hand middle finger extends and contracts, it seems to be mimicking your left hand.
Take a look (study) Eric Johnson’s right hand fingers when he’s picking
VERY RELAXED.
Your left hand fingers could be a lot more economical also.
Cheers