Feel like I'm hitting a wall

Hi all, I’ll post videos in an hour or so just need to upload them.

I recently adopted downward pickslanting into my jazz picking. The results were immediate but I feel like I’m stagnating. Licks that gave me trouble when I started out are still giving me trouble months later. My coordination is barely improving and often times my hand will get tired and make small tense movements which lead to an abrupt stop in my playing. I also pick very hard, and this can lead to me over articulating riff’s and not getting a good swing feel. I model my playing on George benson’s in terms of swing and type of pick slant. My chops have certainly improved (and I’m going to post videos of some small victories when I was warmed up) but I could really use some advice.

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Here’s some videos:

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Hi Parker, a few questions, what kind of pick are you using? And do you use sweeping when doing consecutive downstrokes (like with the pentatonic thing?) Are there licks you CAN play blazingly fast without any tension when DWPS?

Yeah I use sweeping on certain licks, though I’m trying to adopt albert lee’s crosspicking techqniue (which I’m pretty sure benson uses too) in place of sweeping on many licks. And yeah I can get these licks fast and with less tension when I have a performance effect from being warmed up. I thought the ones in the vid are pretty fast though, well beyond string topping territory

Thanks for posting these! And thanks for doing our “down the strings” camera angle. I can’t really tell what phrase you’re trying to play with the constant stopping and starting. And that can make it challenging to see exactly where you’re at with this. In general, your motion looks smooth and speedy, so I would say we’re past the stringhopping phase, which is great.

Next item on the diagnostic is to ask if can you play consistent sixteenths on a single note on a single string, at a “fast jazz” rate of speed, let’s say 150 or better? Doesn’t really matter what the exact speed is - just that it’s in that ballpark. Does it feel smooth, without a lot of physical effort when you do that, and does the pick attack sound consistent? If so, awesome, on to the next rung.

Can you do the same thing but with synchronized fretting? Any simple repeating figure will do, like four notes chromatically descending, one finger per fret. Repeating scale figures also work well. like three descending scale tones repeating as sextuplets. Can you do that quickly and lock the picking and fretting hands when you do it so that you have exactly one picked note per fretted note? And again is it speedy, smooth, and without a lot of effort? If so, once again, moving onward.

Now can you do the same thing but moving across the strings — either from one string to another in one direction, ascending or descending, or back and forth between two adjacent strings, just to make things a little easier to repeat? Use the same repeating figures from the previous test because they are USX phrases, i.e. upstroke-switching. If you can move those between strings, excellent, then string switching is working.

And so on.

That’s how I’d approach this. I don’t mean to suggest your musical practice should always be mechanical, but that if you’re trying to figure out what is working and not workign in your technique, breaking it down like this will tell you. You can always go back to trying to string together longer phrases that mix multi-string stuff, legato, sweeping, and so on. But for the purpose of just checking your technique, looking at one aspect of it at a time is what I’d do.

Hey Troy,

I can play 16th notes on one string at 150 bpm pretty comfortable. trying to loop a lick there falls apart thought. I’ve been working on chunking but just haven’t been able to get it to work. That and making small movements which tense up as I move across strings seem to be holding me back the most. Heres’ a video, sorry for the poor quality

Edit here’s another of me playing above licks slower so you can gauge what they’re supposed to sound like, I think I pick too hard and that ruins articulation. But if I don’t pick hard I make small movements which tense up and can’t get over the strings, This is mostly on licks which are changing strings going from higher strings to lower one (in number, not sound)

Basically Im noticing my hand freezing up when trying to do certain string switches and don’t know what to do at this point. I want to be able to do this but I’m afraid it isn’t for me

Sorry Troy, don’t know if I properly replied my post to yours

No problem, I’m seeing it now.

The motion in the first clip looks pretty good to me. Can you do this any faster than this or is this a speed limit? If this is close to the maximum speed you can play with this technique, then that might be too close for comfort. Ideally you want some headroom between a speed like this and your maximum, so that you’re not really close to your limits when playing at this kind of tempo.

If this is close to the limit, then I would think about doing some experimentation to see if there’s any tweak to this that will produce an even faster motion. Changing to a different motion (forearm, elbow, etc.), changing your grip, etc. For example, have you ever tried a more Andy Wood style grip where the index finger is more extended and the fingers aren’t as curled under? Like this:

Sometimes seemingly unrelated changes will just unlock something for whatever random reason. When you’re in a rut, try not to hammer away at the same grips, motions, phrases, etc. In the short term those things have stopped teaching you anything. Instead do whatever you can to break out of the rut, even if that means switching things up out of your comfort zone.

The other concern is consistency. The part of that clip that starts around 10 seconds where you do it continuously sounds the best. Both before that and after that, are you starting and stopping as a way of trying to get the synchronization happening? Or are you unable to keep doing the motion continuously? If you’re stopping because the motion freezes up, then same answer as above: change something and try something else. See if some other motions or grips or picks or phrases or whatever, even one you don’t want to use long-term, work any better.

You’re going to need to be able to do the motions continuously when you work on things like hand synchronization. When you play really short fragments, it’s over and done so quickly that it’s hard to hear or feel if it was locked up tight between the hands. I can do short fast bursty things now that everything is learned, because the motions are all memorized. But beforehand when I was still learning, I couldn’t. I learned by stringing these little repeating fragments into longer phrases where I had a chance to hear/feel whether it was locked or not, and try to correct it.

The repeating figure you’re using here is a good one. Also try the four-finger chromatic one, either desc, asc, or looping as triplets. Try repeating diatonic scale patterns as well, a la Yngwie, Di Meola, etc. Throw as much variety at this as you can. Some of these phrases may simply work better right away, again, for reasons you can’t explain. And that’s fine. Take the victories where you find them.

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Yeah that’s why I’m doing it, to get the synchronization happening. Chunking is really something I’m struggling with. I’ll try what you’re saying the next couple days and post a video.

I had one more question troy, you recommend figuring this out at fast speeds. What is fast here, are 16th notes at 125-145 considered fast? Or do you mean blazing

Sorry for the delay, just seeing this. For the time being, I would really recommend not doing the continual stopping and starting. When you’re trying to teach yourself unfamiliar motions, you have to actually do the motion for at least long enough to feel whether it’s smooth, fast, synchronized, and so on. Otherwise you really can’t tell what you just played.

Re: starting with speed, in order to know that a motion is wrong you have to go fast enough to hit a speed limit. This is how you test whether or not there is anything wrong with your core motion. But you can already move pretty smoothly at 150 right? Do you really have any issues with the motion itself?

Hey Troy thank you!

Yeah, I can do 150 bpm relatively smoothly and Im experimenting with my pick grip and anchoring to see if they improve the speed (they have so far, I have my hand looser and I can go longer and harder than my grip in the originals videos but its not like I’ve doubled my speed). It’s when I get the left hand involved which things start to really fall apart. I’ve been trying to just play two notes over and over on one string a whole tone apart but its very hard to get my left hand synched up and when I practice separately my left hand gets desynched from where I want the chunk to be. Same thing with chromatic four note patterns, though ascending is considerably less even than descending. Should I be running this stuff at 150 bpm where I certainly am hitting a speed limit in terms of synchronization or at slower tempos where I’m more comfortable but I still have trouble synchronizing, like 125-140 bpm 16ths?

I wouldn’t worry too much about metronome markings. Just play at a variety of speeds that are similar to what you actually want to be playing at, with an emphasis on smooth connected phrases that don’t suddenly stop after four or five notes. If you’re into jazz stuff I assume a lot of this takes place in the 130-160bpm sixteenths range (or double that in eighth notes) anyway? If so, great, play that stuff.

Keep in mind also that you’re referencing several different problems here. The whole tone example is a hand synchronization issue. And the ascending vs descending chromatic thing is a string switching issue. But both of those examples sound very exercisey and boring, the whole tone thing especially. There’s not a whole lot you can learn from playing two notes. How many different ways are there to really do that? Try to keep things in the realm of musical and realistic, since real-world phrases have more variety and give you more opportunities to have little moments where you’re like “hey, that sounded good, let’s try that again”.

For hand synchronization you can craft some kind of musical single-string or two-string line that’s similar to what you want to be playing, and play that all the way through. It can be composed of repeating patterns if you like, or some repeating patterns plus some more melodic parts. If the line moves through cool chords or changes positions or something, at least that will teach your hands what real playing scenarios feel like. You can still do accents and chunking and try to keep things locked up.

Okay, Ill keep trying that. My left hand just completely falls apart and its getting very frustrating. Here’s a video of me trying to play that lick (which is a sonny stit lick if you cycle it in minor thirds) with left hand and then together at a slow speed. At fast speeds I can’t even get it this consistent, my pinky just totally freezes up and can’t make the changes quick enough.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there is absolutely nothing wrong with your picking motion. It looks fluid and sounds great. The picking motion on that single note at 29 seconds was perfect. That’s your best motion right there. Why did you stop doing it? What am I supposed to be looking at with the open string and the harmonic thing? In general, when you post technique critique clips, try not to narrate them — include any comments on the forum in text. And try to limit the playing examples to one or two attempts of the specific troublesome phrase. Don’t include other stuff. 30 seconds tops. It’s all we need.

Re: hand synchronization, if you can’t do that little looping pattern, then find one you can do. I guarantee one exists. Demo every left hand pattern you can think of until you find one that seems easier than the others and where the fingers are closer to being linked up. Can you do the “Thunderstruck” pattern?

If you can do that, then how about the same thing but in a higher position, where you hold down an index finger and use two other fingers for the upper notes?

In general, your next step is to find some left hand lines that are the best ones you can currently manage, and play longer continuous lines made up of those patterns so you can try to link up the hands. Don’t do tiny four note bursts, don’t stop playing and readjust your picking hand — it’s already fine. Just play longer musical phrases at realistic speeds and see if you can pull the synchronization together with accents at key moments.

Hey Troy,

For one, I wanted to thank you for how helpful you’ve been and apologize for not replying with acknowledgement sooner. I really appreciate the effort you put into your post and in general what you’re doing with cracking the code.
Two, I’ve been trying what you’ve been saying with the lick I had trouble with. Something started to click with it but its still not anywhere near perfect. How does the synchronization in this clip sound to you?

https://vocaroo.com/i/s11Q98meeC6X

Do you think the consistency will start to sink in after more experimentation and time? I know I went widely off the metronome at the end but I was just trying to sync up, I can’t quite slow this down yet. Thunderstruck is even more of a mess, who knew that intro was so difficult to play if you don’t have the synchronization down.

This sounds pretty good to me, and it sounds like an improvement. I don’t know how long this is going to take you or how quickly you should expect results. But if this is any indication, it sounds like sooner rather than later. I’d like better data from our users on how fast people typically come together on hand synchronization.

Did you try the Thunderstruck pattern? Did you try other patterns? Do any of them synchronize better than this one right now? If you don’t do that, you’re leaving some immediate progress on the table.

If you’re not going to play along to the metronome, then I’d just shut it off. You’re not really trying to learn tempo. You’re trying to lock your hands together, which isn’t exactly the same thing.

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If I’m trying to learn a sequence over a number of strings, I’ve taken to using either hybrid picking or just playing the notes out plucked with my fingers with as much legato as is necessary first to get a sense of the rhythm of the movements before I increase the speed with alternate picking.