Short version (TL;DR):
Hi everyone! Glad to be here!
I’m Alex, from the very edge of North London, in Hertfordshire, I’m 32, and I’ve been playing since I was about 10, but didn’t really get seriously into trying to push my technique and improve as a guitarist until I was about 20. In general, my progress has been long and slow, without any major breakthroughs. But I’ve been really inspired since coming across Troy’s videos on YouTube a couple of weeks ago, and have already experienced a notable improvement having used what I’ve learned to reassess my technique. Signed up for a Masters In Mechanics subscription last night, and I’m really excited to continue practising, and with any luck, learning and improving!
Thanks so much to Troy and the team, and all the guitarists who’ve spared their time and insights in the interviews. This is the kind of insight I’ve been wishing for for many years.
A couple of questions:
When playing 16th note triplets at a given bpm, do you play 3 notes per beat, or 6 notes per beat?
My hands/fingers are a little on the smaller side I think, and I find playing my Ibanez RG 550, which has a fairly thin neck and low action, far easier and more comfortable than trying to play fast on say, my Stratocaster or Telecaster. Does anyone else identify with this?
Does MIM cover anything to do with left hand technique and mechanics? I often wonder about where my thumb ought to be, and whether I’m over-flexing or extending my wrist.
Long version (or, how I’ve made massive leaps in a short space of time):
I learnt about the concept of alternate picking when I was about 19, and spent many hours trying to improve speed and accuracy in my early 20’s. I spent a lot of time working on riffs from the imaginatively named song ‘Children Of Bodom’ by Children Of Bodom - some are 16th note triplets at about 205bpm, and some are straight 16ths. I could never really get close to that speed with any degree of accuracy, despite hours and hours of practising.
All that practising did at least help improve my left hand strength and finger independence, but ultimately I gave up.
At some point I came across that Michael Angelo Batio ‘Speed Kills’ video on YouTube, and was just absolutely blown away. I watched what he was doing and tried to copy his technique of having what looked like the second, third and fourth fingers of his right hand resting on the body of the guitar, just under the pickups. This made sense in terms of anchoring my picking hand for accuracy, but I couldn’t do it with three fingers - I didn’t seem to have the space, and it made my pick grip awkward, so I compromised by just using my pinky to anchor my hand there.
Since then, the other main riff I’ve always wanted to get faster, cleaner and more accurate is the second half of the solo in Thin Lizzy’s ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’. This probably gives you an idea of the kind of limitations in my technique that I’ve been struggling with these past 10 years - it’s not a particularly fast riff, in the great scheme of things, but my hand synchronisation and accuracy could be passable one day, and completely lacking the next. Never very reliable. When I had to play that solo live or with a band in the practise room, it was a case of trying to concentrate, not panic, and just hope that I didn’t end up totally fluffing it and looking like I suck at guitar
Coming across the free Cracking The Code material on YouTube has been a revelation.
Up until this point I’d been holding the pick in a three-finger grip (index finger, middle finger and thumb), and string hopping like there was no tomorrow, diving in and out for pretty much every pick stroke, relying on flexing my thumb and fingers for most of the picking action. This meant I was pretty good for accuracy up to a point, but in terms of speed, I had a hard limit, above which accuracy would tail off very fast.
I’d understood that a more linear motion of just kind of vibrating the picking hand back and forth could produce much faster picking with minimal effort, but I really couldn’t understand how it was possible to do this on more than one string. As soon as I tried to change strings, everything would go wrong. That “lift out, move across, drop back in” was nowhere near as quick as it needed to be to be able to switch strings in the middle of a phrase.
Obviously (in retrospect!), pick slanting was the answer here. The in depth explanation of the mechanics of it in the videos - what the issue was and how to solve it - totally resonated with the struggles I’d had in my own playing and understanding (or lack thereof). Having understood in a physical, mechanical way why this made sense, I put much more faith in trying to adjust my technique (which I realise now was seriously limiting me) and that it would yield results. Even though changing technique is hard work, I now knew exactly what I was aiming for.
Soon, I understood that the problem I’d had getting three fingers anchored under the pickup like MAB was related to my pick grip - if I switched to an “index finger and thumb” grip, with forearm rotation/wrist deviation, suddenly it didn’t matter too much what my other three right hand fingers were doing, as my index finger and thumb don’t need to flex around anywhere near as much. I can comfortably play with the tips of those three fingers anchored down there on the body, although I’ve found that actually, as my hands are (I think) probably a little smaller than MAB’s, that doesn’t feel quite as comfortable as just having the three fingers curled under, supporting my index finger as it presses somewhat sideways against my thumb to hold the pick. When I get round to it, I’m interested to see some of the in depth MAB interview videos to understand a bit more about his right hand anchoring position - but only really for curiosity’s sake. For now I’m very satisfied with what I’ve found works for myself.
I’ve been practising the past couple of weeks on a riff from this Ben Eller video to help solidify the technique, and also working on the idea of “chunking” groups of notes together to improve synchronisation.
Practising today I fairly easily got to 176bpm before I started finding that my descending runs in the second half of the riff were getting a bit sloppy. I need to work on my left hand speed there. Comparing that to my previous right hand grip and picking technique, even with the improvements that I’ve made in the past couple of weeks in terms of chunking and synchronisation, with the old technique I can only reach about 160bpm before things start to get a bit messy and I start getting kinda deadened notes, because my right hand isn’t keeping up, and it doesn’t feel like I could go much faster, even if I did manage to get 160bpm clean.
Although I know I’m still slower than a whole lot of people on here (I’m actually playing 3 notes per beat, is that even right? Am I supposed to be playing 6 notes per beat?) it’s still been a huge improvement for me, and I’m really excited, and so grateful for the work and effort Troy and the team are putting into these materials. They comprehensively answer so many questions that I’d asked other guitarists, as pretty every time these questions would be answered with shrugs, blank looks and general responses of “I dunno really, I just do it”. Generally speaking, it seems that those who manage to intuitively find something that works for them are often unable to explain exactly how they got there, why it works, or why something else doesn’t. So thank you!