Crutches and The Fear of Bad Notes

Heya, here’s something I learned and wanted to share. Hope someone can benefit from this in some way!

When I joined CTC, one of the first bad habits I was able to get rid of was this extreme thumb-wrapping and wrist extension that I used to do for single long notes:

I had no idea I was doing this crutch and obviously couldn’t play very reliably. Thinking back, it’s a bit funny how extremely janky it was. But I suppose the important thing is to realize how and why it first formed. It has something to do with picking mechanics as well as emotional aspects. This is my current understanding:

This motion began happening to me as a learned reflex. After picking a note normally, I would sometimes accidentally hit the same string with the side of my thumb and make a pinch harmonic or just a dead note. I guess I suddenly dug too deep with the pick and/or had too little grip exposure. It could be due to a number of reasons. These happened essentially out of nowhere. Not every time I played a long note, but the more I “had to get it right” the more likely it was to happen.

Anyway, these unwanted pinches and dead notes happened during live gigs too, and it was very embarrassing when it was during a solo or a very highlighted lead line. Like @hichembell mentioned in his introduction thread, it was something I probably picked up when jamming or playing in a band context (when you have to be heard over a lot of noise, you instinctively pick harder and then accent too hard, dig too deep into the strings, make a pinch or dead note or some other mistake). I was in music school at that time, so being evaluated by teachers and players better than me had its effect as well.

When it happened again and again over time, I learned to avoid the sloppy-sounding pinch harmonic at all costs. It could be that my body’s way of adapting to the sensation of embarrassment was to learn to not hit the pinch harmonic in the first place. So without realizing it, I began replacing my deep-digging accented pickstrokes with this thumb-wrapping and wrist extension you can see in the GIF. Whenever I did that, the result was happier: no pinch, no mistake, no embarrassing feelings or imaginary glares from the audience. But it was inefficient, slow, unreliable and worst of all, I wasn’t aware of it.

There was a time when the crutch was so bad that I messed up a guitar intro melody, live on stage, by missing the first note completely. I waited for the 1-2-3-4 count-in, and then just whiffed right past the string altogether. I was too afraid of making sloppy-sounding string contact, so I relied on the crutch and it backfired in the worst possible way. It wasn’t stage fright, I wasn’t nervous at all. I was as ready as can be, but that still happened. Again, the more I had to get it right, the more likely I was to use a crutch.

I think that subconscious fear of bad notes was preventing me from even trying to play notes in a reliable manner. Thankfully, after learning more and discovering CTC and the ideas of escape motions, angles of attack and so on, it was pretty easy to get rid of this crutch. It’s pretty much completely gone now.

However, dialing it in did require a certain mindset. I had to learn to let go of micromanagement and of “being afraid of making bad sounds”, or else the crutch took over again. Skipping the problem with a crutch had to be replaced with a motion that just actually makes sense. Eventually, when I got to experience that making a new motion produces a great sound and feels easier too, the crutch disappeared.

I think it’s natural for a musician to be guided by the resulting sound that he or she hears after producing a note, but in this context, I had to focus on the motion first and sound second.

(Bonus: Thanks to this adventure, I can now do pretty good pinch harmonics at will, instead of at luck!)


Man It makes me remember of my self somehow. This Idea of sound vs right motion drives me crazy sometimes…let me explain:

I use to practice alot unplugged soI I can clearly hear the way the pick voices the strings . The thing is that after a hour of practice or so I plug into my gear and practice for like45 minutes…at the end of my practice session I realize that my picking when I listen to the notes unplugged is not more as reliable as it was at the end of my first hour of practice. (without. amp…hope it makes sense)

using amp and distortion makes me do lighter motions and sometimes lead me to use a slightly different technique than when I am unplugged. The most confusing thing is that when using the amp what I would describe as lack of acoustic precision does not really transmit through the final sound…shall I readapt my technique and be as meticulous as making the pick voicing each string VERY VERY clean even if it does not really make a difference through live sound…or should I rather do the contrary rely on my technique and sound when being plugged… haha I know It sounds like hysteria


The first step to recovery is acknowledgement. It seems from your post that you are well on your way and you realize most of all how beneficial this will be to improving even further.

Two things helped me get better: a positive mentality and Troy’s dissection of EJ.

Without the former I would not have been able to do the latter and without the latter, I’d be happier but still lost as a player.

I sympathize with a lot of your anecdotes and emotions. I’ve learned to quench the fears by being okay with the idea that it will always be there, rather than pretending it does not exist nor arrogantly assume I’ve ever overcome it truly. That way, it will never catch me off guard. Lowering expectations this way (instead of on playing), has made me a better musician, beyond my wildest imagination.

About the mistakes…this is loud electric guitar we’re talking about here. My heroes all did it. If I can’t be them, I can at least be their mistakes and that’s good enough for me. Mistakes at the caliber of your level will probably be diffused by the time it hits the audience anyway.


Man, I had (and I have) a lot of bugs in my head so to speak )

One of the funniest was that when I played fast one string phrase I often couldn’t end it with a long note. I muted that last note with my pick ) Conception of pick planting was so deep in my subconsiousness that I literally had to relearn how to pick

Another story (which is still an issue): I can’t play something that doesn’t sound in my head at the same time. So everytime I meet some unfamiliar phrase I begin to stutter. For example this 4nps chromatic run which looks super simple… I had to drill it slowly until this sound stuck in my head. While playing ‘true’ chromatic scale wasn’t a problem though it required left hand shifts, sweeping and other stuff which are not in the list of my reliable techiques.

1 Like

My current thing is I spend way too much time practising unplugged and then when I plug in to a loud amp I immediately think I can’t play lead and nothing works.


Thanks so much for your kind words.

Much agreed. Staying positive is the beginning of everything, and I think it’s worth it to make an effort to manage one’s own positivity, if needed.

Somebody said “Safeguarding your motivation should be your number one priority”. In other words, do whatever it takes to make sure you don’t quit. I believe there’s something to that.

It’s something I kept in mind when I first began approaching my picking technique’s weaknesses. I think this advice can be useful if you’re working on something where your aspirations and identity are involved, and you start getting the feeling that things haven’t been going your way for a while.

It’s okay to fall off the tracks, it’s getting back on the tracks that counts.