I apologize if this initial post is too verbose. I’ve played guitar since 1984 as a young teenager, but I played very little over the last decade or so as work, and life’s other responsibilities and family took precedent. I started playing/practicing again about a month ago when my 14 year old son, who is musical and a good saxophone player already, decided he wanted to learn guitar. I’ve never pushed him into it, but he decided he wanted to pursue it on his own…so I figured that was a good enough reason for me to start playing again so I could show him things and help him when he requested it (…he has his own, separate guitar instructor from whom he is taking lessons…).
I just recently became a subscriber here after seeing some positive mentions of CtC elsewhere on the web, and watching some of the free videos on Youtube. When I was younger I played in rock bands and was a fairly accomplished player, and watching the CtG series it was so reminiscent of me in the 80s and early 90s growing up and how I was obsessed with the guitar and certain players. While I was a good player, practiced diligently, like many players I wanted to be able to pick faster and more effortlessly. I would practice with a metronome and could alternate pick 16th notes across strings well up to 132 BPM, but even then it felt too tense. At 136 BPM things crumbled greatly as it was not very clean sounding, the tension in my hand and arm would become overbearing, and I would get frustrated. I did a lot of legato playing because of this as I could go “faster” with it. I took to heart the old credo of “Well, I just need to practice more to be able to pick faster across the strings”, but no matter how much I practiced I always would start falling apart noticeably right at that 136 BPM range. At some point I think I just kind of gave up and told myself that I am just not that good of a player technically, and I had reached my limit in a technical sense. It was deflating. There is so much more to being a guitarist and musician than just alternate picking speed obviously, but I always did want to be able to pick cleanly at higher speeds just so I had the capability available to me.
So now that I have picked up the guitar again, and have some of my chops back after playing everyday for a couple hours over the last month, I wanted to look at guitar playing and practicing a little differently which is how I ended up finding CtC. I went through the pick slant primer, and confirmed that my arm position, motion, and how I hold the pick is similar to Al DiMeola and that I naturally have an upward pick slant. Once I went through some of the examples of patterns on strings, I had that Eureka moment as well and saw quite clearly why I had struggled with “String hopping” for so long when I was younger. I was having to string hop constantly, and that vertical movement of the pick up and down to clear a string was making it impossible for me to ever get faster in regards to my alternate picking across strings. For instance, for a pattern of even notes which I would play on a single string I would always start with a downstroke, which meant the final note would be an upstroke and place my pick in the trapped position. I would have to lift the pick upwards to move to the next string.
While I had that “Eureka” moment seeing this in the videos, it was not until I actually went to my guitar last night and played one of the “Yngwie” descending 6 note per string examples. I first did it by starting with a downstroke and it was problematic, somewhat uncomfortable, and I could not play it very fast or seamlessly across the strings. However, after a couple tries with starting that same pattern with an upstroke (…which did seem unnatural at first as I was used to starting with a downstroke…) it clicked into place almost instantly. I played that descending run much faster, more cleanly, and with much less tension in my picking hand and arm. I literally could not believe it. I felt a great sense of joy, and looked at some other picking examples as well and discovered the same thing. As an example, one song I played often growing up and in my past bands was “The Spirit of Radio” by Rush. I played it so much growing up that I still remember it by heart even though I had not played it for many years. That opening guitar note sequence is not strictly alternate picking as it does use hammer ons and pull offs as well, but I think that song is right around 136 BPM, and while I could always play that opening cleanly it never felt truly effortless to me with the notes that are picked. Much like the example above, I always started it with a downstroke which caused problems with my natural upward pick slant and downstroke escape. I played the opening 16th note pattern last night starting with an upstroke, and I could not believe the difference in how easy it was to play. I had never played it that effortlessly before with so little tension in my arm. I did not time it last night, but I was able to play that lick even much faster than its speed on the record now.
I’m going to keep practicing now as I feel like I crossed a threshold that was limiting me. I do really feel like this was a “big secret” that was kept hidden from guitarists for decades. I grew up in the 80s at the height of the “guitar hero” era. I read all the guitar magazines, took lessons, and talked with other guitar players when I was younger…and I never once heard anyone talking about these ideas in regards to pick slant, escaped and trapped picks, motion, etc. It seems like it should be obvious once you see it so thoroughly explained, but it is not obvious.
Once my son gets past his beginner guitarist phase and gains some skill, I’m going to make sure he is aware of these concepts so that he does not waste time like I did.