Descending Pentatonic Fives


#1

I’m up to 16th notes at 120BPM fairly comfortably, but things are still a bit slippery. Here are two videos from two different angles of me powering through descending pentatonic 5’s at 120bpm.

I apologize for the shitty cam quality. I’ll be investing in something better soon. My Iphone6s camera is not great. I’m actually using a blue pick here against the white guard, for all the good that decision did.

Anyway, I’m just wondering how my form is and if there’s anything that can be improved upon. I want to get these up to Joe Bonamassa levels of speed and accuracy.


#2

Looks smooth to me. Pretty standard technique for this, I’d say keep practicing and doing what you’re doing.


#3

Thanks! I’m so excited to be making progress. I’ve been playing over 20 years but only started taking lead playing seriously in the past 4-5 years. I sing also so up until then I’d always played rhythm.


#4

Hmm so are you intending to do a strict “5 down” transposed down a scale step every time, with strict alternate? My understanding of the Eric Johnson fives thing is that it’s a bit more of a fretboard pattern and it involves DWPS and small ‘sweep’

comparison here (wrote it in Am just easier to look at on paper)

Either is fine, they are just different animals with different challenges

I didn’t rewatch this whole YT video but…here it is…hah:


#5

Yeah, I did it a bit differently. I alternate picked everything and I did descending 5’s from each pentatonic scale degree. I know EJ sweeps his last down stroke of a grouping into the next occurring first down stroke of a grouping. I do that sometimes also but I wanted to try strictly alt picking it all. I think I can get it up to speed this way.


#6

Got it - yeah yours is a crosspicking challenge where the other thing is DWPS


#7

Yeah, and I naturally crosspick anyway, so I figured I would try to shore up that mechanic as best I could, since it erases the necessity for 2 way pick slanting.

Ideally, I also don’t want to be limited to a certain number of notes per string, or finishing each passage on a particular stroke direction.

It remains to be seen if I can get my crosspicking fast enough, though. The videos above represent my fully controlled max speed, which is 16th notes at 120bpm, so, not fast lol.


#8

My experience and observation is that with pure alternate and no slanting ‘tricks’ so to speak, a lot of people top out (myself included) around that 120 bpm mark, give or take, if they’re ‘hopping’ i.e. not really doing the crosspicking motion correctly.

So if you want to pursue that motion, definitely get help on making sure you’re not hopping - the thread title here may be misleading as I’m probably not the only one who assumed you were talking about the Eric Johnson thing.

To my eyes the motion looks good but I can’t speak with much authority on the crosspicking thing


#9

@Troy any thoughts on this? Is my crosspicking form going to end up hitting a glass ceiling at a certain BPM? I’m really trying to achieve the Bonamassa/EJ thing here, although I know they sweep the last note, and I’m not doing so.


#10

This all looks great. Shawn Lane does this on an upstroke on either Power Licks or Power Solos, I forget which, and totally flies. I don’t think Shawn does “crosspicking” in the sense of every single note completely escapes. It’s probably just the string-skip downstroke string change that uses a slightly different motion path than the other notes. Technically we would call this “two-way pickslanting”, but I think we would all do well to think abot the motions and not worry about these “names of picking systems” terms that we came up with years ago that can be confusing.

Again if you’re not actually escaping on every note, then you are “two way pickslanting” here. Does it matter? No, not as long as you can play the phrase. As I’ve said before, we haven’t actually filmed anyone who escapes on every note at all speeds. I think great players naturally optimize for the string change they are making, even then they don’t intend to. In motions like the one you are making here, you can see that it looks slightly different when you make the big string skip string change than when you make the others. That is normal. I wouldn’t really worry about what you should call this. Just worry about doing it smoothly - you still have some timing inconsistency between the repetitions. You can iron this out over time and the motion will become smoother.

No. Everything looks fine where - what makes you ask this?

I will apologize again for our confusing terminology. Try and think about the motions you have at your disposal. You have two techniques, both of which are great, and are worth working on. You have a deviation type motion which is downstroke escape and which you can do fast and clean with good tone and timing. It fits great with downstroke-escape type licks and there is no reason to avoid those. Perfect tool, perfect application of that tool. Done and done. And now you have this motion which has a little bit more arm involvement and which allows you to play phrases with various escape requirements. Again, great tool but no reason to avoid the other one.

Good work here, this all sounds great. Including more musical variety will give you hands more opportunities to encounter unusual passages and smooth out what you’re doing. Try not to hammer the same repeating style phrases forever since they have less variety. A mix of simple repeating things, and more melodic unpredictable things is best. Like a salad!


#11

What picking motions are you using/teaching if not a motion that has an escape to it?

I think people have this impression that there is “normal” picking and there is the stuff we teach. But there are just motions. Most great players appear to have a baseline motion, and that is what they do by default when they are not thinking about anything. Usually this motion has an escape to it. For example if you’re Andy Wood or John McLaughlin, they do that wrist “deviation with a little flexion-extension” motion where the downstroke escapes. It’s not a trick. They don’t have a “normal” motion with no escape, and a trick motion that they use for string changes. It’s just their basic picking motion. And right away, it gives them at least 50% of the string changes they will ever need for any phrase.

Consider the reverse case for Andy or John. For them to make a “trapped” picking motion, where they have no escape at all, that’s actually an angled or “slanted” picking motion for them. How so? Because they both use a slightly supinated or tilted arm position with respect to the guitar. So if they made no “slant” at all, and just did pure wrist deviation, they would actually have a downward pickslanting motion. They would become Mike Stern. Mike uses the same or similar arm position to Andy and John, but because he’s using a deviation motion, his upstrokes escape.

So basically, you have to choose to make a picking motion. It is not harder to make an escape motion than to make a non-escape motion. They are all specific choices of motions to learn. If you’re going to spend the time to learn one, why not learn one that helps with at least some of your string changes?


#12

Hmm Troy maybe the intent of my statement didn’t come across accurately.

It’s more like this: It seems like for a lot (most?) guitarists, when they use the motion that comes naturally to them (not being aware of any slants, escapes, etc) and then try to alternate pick complex stuff with inconsistent # of notes per string, they top out roughly around that bpm mark.

And then, as you’ve noted from the beginning, there are tons of great players that don’t think about any of these things more than any other players, but the picking motions that evolved for them over time allowed them to escape strings more efficiently and get well past that bpm mark. And it works out well for some, not so great for many.

Sort of like ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ corollary of ‘if it’s broke, fix it.’ So to me if someone says they’ve been stuck at 16ths at 120 bpm on what they’re doing for years, I’d wager there’s some mechanical things to work out involving slants, escapes, angles, etc (assuming the problem isn’t actually in the fretting hand.) And if somebody is progressing up in tempo and not seeming to hit that wall at 120, then no need to overcomplicate things. This is 100% just how I frame it my mind at this point, but I’m open to being corrected and there being elements of the issue I’m not seeing yet.

In this situation Ryan wasn’t saying he’s been at this exercise for years and not moving forward, so I was just saying ‘beware’ if he’s having trouble blasting past current speed in the future.

Similarly, I’d wager - and I’m curious about your opinion on this too - that most guitarists with some practice and not being aware of slanting, escapes, angles, etc, more or less just doing what comes naturally to them, could over time work up to or around that 120 bpm 16ths mark or a bit less without too much strategizing. It’s just when people want to blast past that point that for some it’s pretty easy and for most they start hopping or tensing up.

Fair? Off-base?


#13

Nice form, and these odd-note-groupings are excellent for practicing alt-picking.

First question would be, how fast can you do the 2NPS asc/desc, using the 4 different string xfers (asc outs, desc outs, asc ins. desc ins)?

if 1 or 2 of the 4 are kinda akward and jerky… you might just wanna focus on those… and make sure theyre all up to speed.

But if all 4 are already fine… you may just have an issue with having 1nps at the end. Sometimes the Paul Gilbert exercise starting on both a downstroke, then an upstroke can help with this.

And there is no glass-ceiling of X-picking of 5s. It can be played blazingly fast.


#14

Thanks @Troy !!I I love hearing any feedback from you, especially positive. Let’s me know I’m on the right track. Thanks guys. This journey to improving lead guitar playing really is so rewarding and enjoyable.


#15

If what you’re asking here is when is it appropriate to teach technique versus not teaching it, that’s a more complicated question. If someone sounds great, feels smooth and relaxed, and is not inhibited creatively, by all means, don’t fix what ain’t broke. You are dealing with a lucky/talented person.

But I was not that person. Before the first of the various pickslanting discoveries, I could move my hands much faster than I could play cleanly. There was no “working up to that tempo”. I had the tempo. I think most people who try to go fast from day one, will have the hand speed very quickly. But I couldn’t play anything with picking that felt good or smooth, at any speed, even if I got all the notes right, even slowly. And again, there was no “working up” to that feeling of smoothness, since it never happened.

So no, I don’t think 120bpm is any kind of specific benchmark. It’s smoothness of motion/feel, at any tempo. And Judging from the number of threads we have seen on here with titles like “Am I Stringhopping”, the average learner seems to have a hard time determining what smooth really feels like, and whether or not they are actually achieving it.


#16

hmm, I have a hunch I’m still not communicating my question/point clearly, which may have to do with time constraints and an effort to not be overly wordy, but I appreciate you taking the time, as always. I may try to warm up my typing fingers and come back and try to clarify, because this is a big part about how I think of student’s picking challenges. But I’ll state now that I’m not asking about whether to teach or not teach, more just commenting literally (As best as I can) on habits and limitations of most folks when they are not aware of issues of slants, escapes, motion mechanics, etc.

for sure - was just commenting on the ceiling that a lot of folks seem to run into when they just try alternate picking everything without attention to many of the things we talk about in CTC (slants, escapes, motion mechanics, etc.)

For whatever it’s worth, part of the origin of the 120 figure in my mind is because of years of jazz guitar message boards, where folks would start picking threads and often cite a tempo figure around there as a sticking point. in this context players were often playing music that was not written for guitar so had string changes that were not patterned like some (emphasis on ‘some!’) guitar-based fast music is. So we’d all talk about being able to play ‘anything’ and some more specifics of looking at notes per string and things like that were usually frowned upon.

edited: to add - and I think it’s extremely significant that most of those posting about these issues were players that had been at it for a long time, saying again something about limitations. Controlled, peer reviewed study…no. But I think there’s something to it.

Anyway, I’ll try to not rush my replies next time, but always appreciate these discussions.


#17

I think I get what you are saying. I am a bit sceptical about the current “X-Pick everything, am i really X-Picking?” hype that seems to be going around. I think of X-Picking as more of a high-risk technique, because it can be tough to get the feel for it. You might be thinking you’re doing it right, and waste a lot of time on movements that are just a tiny bit off without realizing it. And then you max out at 120 bpm… which is not really fast enough to qualify as either 2-Way Escaping or X-Picking. @RyanMW I don’t mean to bring you down about your playing, the video sounds great! But if you can’t go faster than 120 bpm, there might be something not quite right yet. Hm, that is usually @Troy 's line :slight_smile:

Economy picking seems a much “safer” way, especially for a beginner, to practice these kinds of phrases - it is pretty straight forward and you have more obvious means of self-control. Why not try both? You learned to run, but you can still walk, right?
As to quotes such as this:

(sorry hamsterman, don’t mean to pick on you personally! I just picked your comment, because it represents something that I read in a lot of comments lately)

When have we actually ever seen this? Even an absolutely amazing Cross-Picker like Andy Wood doesn’t play his fastest scale runs this way, he pick-slants when he enters shred-land. Also his touch gets very light when he crosspicks fast. On Mandolin, he often seems to hit just one string when crosspicking fast. He talks about this in the first interview. He says about his hybrid picking, that he uses it mostly because he can’t get certain notes to pop in phrases he would have to crosspick. The same goes for Carl Miner or even Martin Miller, when they play at their fastest speeds, they pickslant too. To me at least this signals that there is a certain speed limit to x-picking.


#18

It’s worth remembering that you actually do sometimes need to play at less than 120 bpm.


#19

Well, just a couple of things I look at differently:

I don’t think there’s anything magical about 120 bpm - only that if somebody has been practicing one technique and been stuck the 120 bpm wall for a long time, then it might be time for re-strategizing. At the same time, same could be said of any tempo; if you’re practicing and then get stuck at a tempo of X and can’t seem to move past it, well, it’s likely time for a new strategy.

BUT, in this situation Ryan didn’t give any info about how long he’s been maxed out around this tempo, and I think that’s the difference. It’s only if someone gets ‘stuck’ somewhere that I think a change of strategy is needed, at least that’s the way I see it.

Economy picking seems a much “safer” way, especially for a beginner, to practice these kinds of phrases - it is pretty straight forward and you have more obvious means of self-control. Why not try both? You learned to run, but you can still walk, right?

I’d disagree it’s safer - in the case of this particular lick you’ll have plenty of physical challenges whether it’s strictly alternate or if it’s economy picking. For example, plenty of non-adjacent string jumps and those aren’t really made any more economical with economy picking.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making a case for or against the economy picking style. It’s more so that there are just a greater number of variables at play, especially in this particular passage. For example, the EJ way I referenced in an earlier post isn’t economy picking technically, it’s a mix of some alternate and some economy, all very congruent with the easiest/fastest string changes to do with downward slanting.

When have we actually ever seen this? Even an absolutely amazing Cross-Picker like Andy Wood doesn’t play his fastest scale runs this way, he pick-slants when he enters shred-land. Also his touch gets very light when he crosspicks fast. On Mandolin, he often seems to hit just one string when crosspicking fast. He talks about this in the first interview. He says about his hybrid picking, that he uses it mostly because he can’t get certain notes to pop in phrases he would have to crosspick. The same goes for Carl Miner or even Martin Miller, when they play at their fastest speeds, they pickslant too. To me at least this signals that there is a certain speed limit to x-picking.
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I thought this might be true up until recently but @Troy proved it pretty wrong right here:

one note per string, alternate picking, 16ths at 190 bpm (as I clocked it, at least)

You lost me. Like, for a charity walk or something?


#20

lol, I should have clarified in my original post, so as to avoid unnecessary civil discourse. 120 BPM is my current “play it clean” barrier just at the exact moment this video was taken. I’d wager I’m probably past that BPM now. I’ve focused so much on this exact type of pentatonic passage that it’s actually easier for me than a lot of 3NPS stuff.