How do you efficiently guide the motor learning process?

I’m trying to make my RDT tremolo consistent on the 3 lower strings. They are much thicker, and I find myself getting stuck on them often when I try to start the tremolo.

So I’m doing this exercise where I simply play 4 or 5 16th notes (or 2 “taps” + maybe 1 extra note).

In maybe 10-20% attempts I get it nice, smooth, clean.
In 80% of the cases I get stuck usually trying to hit the first note. (“Garage spikes”.)

Let’s say that I can even see the exact reason why I get stuck: I hit the string at a bit too steep angle, or my fingers twitch a bit causing the slant of the pick to become too downward at the moment of hitting the string (I start with an upstroke).

Unfortunately none if this information helps me. Things are happening too fast, and you cannot consciously control such minor precise details at these speeds, can you?

Troy said here and there (paraphrasing): assume the correct form, and let the wrist “figure it out on its own”. (“wrist” = shorthand for the part of the brain that controls the wrist)

Well, but is there anything that I can do to help the “wrist”?

I’m feeling stupid just sitting there and repeating the exercise and seeing that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Even if, let’s say, the percentage of the good reps increases, say, 0.5% each week… it’s just so slow it’s frustrating.

Obviously I know when I do a bad rep vs when I do a good rep.

So after doing a good rep, how do I “convince” my brain to do more of that thing I just did, and less of that other thing?

I’m sometimes saying out loud to myself “good!” and “bad! (you idiot)” (trying to apply stick&carrot to myself, being my own “dog whisperer”…) But I’m not sure if it helps.

BTW at this point, with the thinner 3 upper strings, I just brute force through, even if my fingers twitch a bit or if I approach the string on a steeper path, those reps are a bit louder, but who cares. But on the lower strings this strategy apparently doesn’t work so well.

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Why don’t you post a video?

Hmm, maybe - maybe it’s that the situation is perfect for the higher strings, and the hand and the motion is ideal and primed for efficiency when executing notes there, but then when you move to the other 3 strings, maybe there’s some kind of obstacle - the hand is crashing into something, the angle changed so efficiency drops, or maybe it’s not that efficient in the first place. I don’t know - I can only offer an opinion based on my own experience.

I worked like the devil trying to get something that was marginally successful to be extremely successful, and like you I had a spot where maybe 10-20% of the time I’d experience success, BUUUT because it was the closest thing to success I continued to beat it to death and very disappointing results for the time and energy expended.

I would say that if you are getting garage spikes 80% of the time, that is a problem - and no amount of “working through it” will get you the results you seek. Something has to change I think. I think the experts here could tell you a lot if you posted some video!

The advice I received from Troy and Tommo was a lot of “effortless, efficient, and smooth” in regards to the motion. Without that, it’s dead in the water. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees at the time, but having spent the last couple of months thinking about those statements - I really believe that’s the most important first step. For me, anyways. lol I always come up with these godawfully nightmarish things that I want to be able to pick, and I tend to try and work on those - but really it’s getting that aforementioned smooth feeling with repeating notes on all of the strings. I have realized that if I can’t do that, then I need to stop investing time into something that doesn’t work and do something else. That’s just me, though.

Step 1 - Easily be able to do a fast tremolo on all strings.


Why not indeed:

I recorded two motions there. First the RDT DSX motion that I’m focusing most of my efforts on. From 0:45 I also show a second motion which does continuous USX, I think it’s still RDT? (but a “flatter” one, closer to the deviation axis? I’m using a very supinated position) The consistency of this motion seems pretty similar to the DSX one, which kinda annoys me, because I spent maybe 1% of effort practicing this compared to the DSX one…

Also, my consistency has actually improved on the lower strings (especially the D string) significantly since a week ago when I wrote this post. It looks like venting off some steam by writing the post actually helped on its own :smiley: but also regular practice (I practiced every day for the last week). It seems that the best way is to just keep going at it?

This video was recorded using 1/4x slow motion camera, here’s the slow motion version:

Maybe it’s a bit blurry near the strings, sorry for that. How could I improve it for potential future videos – more light I guess?

Yeah. Recently I’m trying to focus on that feeling of smoothness and looking less at my hand, it seems to help.

But I think that looking at it helped a lot at the beginning; it helped establish and maintain a stable form that I was aiming at (anchor points, how much I supinate my forearm etc), but now that my arm no longer wants to continuously switch places, it seems that looking at the hand becomes a bit detrimental, I need to focus on the feeling more, the feedback that comes from the strings through the pick through the fingers to the wrist.

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Completely agree with this, despite getting two working single escape motions I still did the exact same with DBX again more recently!

I would stop doing burst style exercises, I wasted so much time on them with no progress. I actually have a video of my old inefficient motion doing burst exercises:

And then this is from around when I had my breakthrough moment:

Hopefully you can see that the new efficient motion is completely different and my old motion didn’t ever become (or have the ability to become) efficient. Normally I recommend people get a motion going continuously at high speed for at least 30 seconds but my breakthrough video is closer to 20 seconds so maybe that would be a better goal :slight_smile:

As far as guiding the motor learning process I would do something like this:

  1. Assume what looks like a generally correct form but adjust and experiment with different arm positions, pick grips and motions searching for smoothness and effortlessness and avoiding brute force.

  2. Attempt a 170-180bpm 16ths single string phrase or tremolo for 20-30 seconds (each time I’ve done this I’ve included a left hand phrase so that might potentially work better than a tremolo).

  3. If you can’t find the motion do something else for a few minutes and come back to it or swap pick/guitar to try introduce elements that might make you do something different.

  4. Stumble across the right motion :grin: (probably the hardest part)

  5. Repeat this process every time you pick up the guitar, sometimes it might take 20mins to find it again but everyday it should come back to you more quickly until you can do it instantly.

  6. Start incorporating more strings - your motion should only feel slightly different and the speed should still be there, if it isn’t then you’re likely using a different motion, switch back to the initial string you learnt on until you have the correct motion.

  7. Start added two string phrases and eventually start adding pentatonic phrases which tend to be the hardest because of the rapid string changes.

Also your motion should essentially be as fast as you want it to be from the moment you discover it, I discovered my forearm motion at around 115-120bpm sextuplets and it can only really comfortably go to 135bpm at a push, if I wanted to get faster than this I would go through this whole process again but experimenting with a trailing edge grip in the 220-240bpm 16ths range.

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Do you remember why this motion didn’t work? Was it too difficult to do it continuously?

@Jacklr I can do this easily. I don’t think my motion is inefficient.
Here’s a video with 230 bpm click in the background:

once I “bootstrap” the tremolo it goes. The problem is that often (on lower strings) the first stroke gets stuck; if I “brute-force” through it, eventually the hand converges to this smooth tremolo (which I can do for minutes without much effort).

The failure to do a burst exercise smoothly (and in time!) is the problem that I’m currently facing.

BTW. this is actually what I started with (i.e. fast tremolo that can go for a long time) so I basically followed the process you recommend. Being able to play exactly one click of it is the next step for me :slight_smile:

BTW @Jacklr on that first video, you’re actually doing two different motions: when doing only downstrokes, you’re using wrist-forearm, but when playing the fretted part, you’re using mostly elbow if I’m not mistaken. (And there was no elbow at all in the downstrokes part).

I assume your goal was that wrist-forearm motion – so maybe the practice was inefficient because you didn’t notice the elbow component and didn’t try to eliminate it? You wanted to practice one thing, but you were actually practicing something else.

But from a different perspective, maybe that time was actually not wasted? Maybe in order to get that breakthrough, you had to go through this phase?

I’m reading this book Atomic Habits now, and it talks about compounding effects and “thresholds”. The idea is that when you’re learning or generally working on something, you often don’t see results initially – but the results are there, and they are compounding, just not giving a clearly observable effect at the time. Finally, you cross a threshold where all the work you put in until now starts showing. It may seem random and coming out of nowhere, but it is actually coming from all that work you put until now.

Yeah it would burn out very quickly, I think it was a mix of some elbow motion and some incorrect wrist deviation :slight_smile:

Damn! That is solid! Definitely nice and efficient :smiley:

What do you mean by this?

Maybe try playing something like Yngwie sixes on the lowest string that feels smooth and practice switching back and forth between that and the nearest problem string, trying to change as little as possible?


I can see what you mean, I was quite oblivious to what I was doing back then.

I didn’t really have a goal motion I was trying to get anything that would work! I think I noticed the elbow movement and I think I would try and eliminate it but I also think the wrist component of that motion was also incorrect.

I guess that is good way to look at it though I’m amazed I kept persevering with it. I feel like I just stumbled across lots of right things to do at the right time. I saw what I thought was Yngwie doing pure forearm (it was wrist/forearm), I copied his setup as closely as possible, I remembered him saying he learnt all the solos off of Deep Purple’s Made in Japan when he was young and the first song was Highway Star so I set about trying to play it with his setup and luckily enough it had a single string section that is about 30 seconds of 16th notes at 173bpm. Crazy amount of things that had to happen for me to get something working :sweat_smile:

This is my experiance in usx vs dsx

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Interestingly, I only recently discovered that I can do an elbow driven motion faster than any other motion I’ve been working on.

I think I always tried to stop the elbow if I felt it in the past, but when I just run with it, it feels pretty “easy”.

It might be worth spending some time on and seeing if I can sync the two hands with it!

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Lots of interesting stuff here. Myself, I was kind of burning out on just trying to get my DBX moves to work, and like… using this crazy Herring style rotation for pretty much everything. And while I got it pretty fast and escaping the way a good pickstroke should - the tempo gains were very, very slow in coming once at a certain tempo. Stuff getting swipey past 140, and on a good, very good day maybe I could get 150 (16ths).

So my DSX works pretty good on something like an “even number of notes per string”. I understand USX, so I thought I’d work on that, and lo and behold a couple of months later I can do a passable USX. Not as good as my DSX, but it works.

So I thought I’d try and do something with 2nps 5’s, something I love the sound of, but I’ve had to come up with “other” ways to play that.

Something like this;

    DSX Mode   (Pronated)                  Rotate

 D      U      D      U       D   


USX Mode (Supinated)

  U      D     U     D      U


Seems like it would be a lot of flip-flopping, but my “Herring” mode of play had me going back and forth on each pickstroke, so I thought I would maybe stick with a mode of play until I hit a “problem chunk” if that makes sense. And of course, on even NPS chunks I can just stick with the one mode - usually DSX and pronated.

Both Troy and Tommo kept telling me over and over that it needs to be fast and smooth, shouldn’t be so much work so I stopped and took some time to really determine what might be a more effective strategy to achieve that, because what I was doing wasn’t that. So the strengths with the Herring move is a small chunk usually works out to my satisfaction; long repetitious runs of extended useage are really, ummm draining and the results from practice are as I mentioned, small.

But taking advantage of the “Herring move” that I do in just the problem areas, like where it needs to escape, I seem to have a sort of “method” now that results in my practice sessions actually showing much quicker improvement.

Now it gets a bit tricky on 1nps stuff, but really the concept is the same - ie half of it will escape perfectly, the other half I will need to rotate out - waaaay less effort as opposed to rotating on every note. Seems to be working out pretty well so far. Lots of stuff needs to be sort of, ummm researched before just “playing” it, but that’s just part of getting a vocabulary utilizing this new (to me) way of playing.

@Jacklr On your comment asking what @kbr meant by bootstrapping, it happens to me as well. I would say it’s more of a jumpstart (not sure if that’s what he meant).

The situation: you’re not picking anything, paused. If I try to jump in really fast, I usually fail for a couple of second until the movement adjusts and become fluid and fast. This happens with repetitive/tremolo like movement. So it’s kinda like a lack of consistency in the beginning.

If this was a car, it would start speeding up all crazy until it adjusted in a smooth and linear trajectory if that makes sense. That happens a lot more on the low strings from me as well.

I am struggling a lot on getting a good consistent movement there. It’s mainly due to the angle of the hand I think. Since it’s pivoted on the bridge, it’s hard to adjust it to keep it on the same technique without moving the how hand/forearm around.

I hope all this makes sense!

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Definitely worth it! I primarily play acoustic now and having an elbow driven motion would be great when I want to play something very fast but still retain some volume, I feel like you can do that more easily with elbow than wrist :grin:

1nps stuff is tough, I feel like I have a pretty decent DBX motion now - generally I can play whatever phrase I want with a complete disregard for pickstrokes, my only caveat being constant repeated outside string changes seem a little harder then every other type of string change though I think as I write more licks that use these kind of changes it will iron out over time but with strict 1nps I feel like you need all those slight variations in the motion for every type of string change baked in perfectly!

Oh I get what you mean, I totally get that as well. My motion always feels more locked in if I tremolo a little bit beforehand, even if the string is completed muted :slight_smile:

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@WhammyStarScream so – if I understand your point correctly – it is harder to radially deviate the wrist than ulnarly deviate. So, given that the lower strings require more ulnar deviation, from the anchor point that I chose, it is harder to execute the motion on them.

Maybe the solution is to shift the anchor point a bit towards those lower strings, so I don’t have to ulnarly deviate so much; I’ll have to radially deviate more to hit the upper strings, but that is actually easier.

@diegobrito exactly that – “jumpstart” is indeed the better word.

I want to be able to invoke the motion at any moment smoothly and consistently, without the need to “jumpstart” it.

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Practice it on each string until you can do it on demand on any string. Only then should you start trying to do it like you’re doing it now, one adjacent string after the other.

However, this isn’t something you want to get hyper-focused on, in my opinion. Just practice a tremolo on your A string. Don’t do it anywhere else but on your A string. And don’t sink a lot of time into it. This isn’t something you should have to spend five hours a day on. Just do it for a minute here or there. Tomorrow, next week, next month—whenever you can do it on demand on the A string—repeat the process for the E string. When you can do it on each string independently, you will be able to go on “autopilot” and execute one string after the other. The string changes will be slower at first, then faster and faster as they get burned into your nervous system and you’re able to let the auto pilot take over more and more. But in my opinion you should be able to do each string on demand before you try doing it the way you’re doing it.

Ah yes, and you when you play a tremolo, you need to be able to do it for at least 10 solid seconds. Then you know you’re firing on all cylinders. Do that burst stuff later. It’ll be a lot easier then.

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Maybe you have the wrong diagnosis? Give this a try: hold the pick loosely, to the point where it’s almost falling out of your grip, and let it move freely in your grip while you do consistent a tremolo until the pick stops moving (10 seconds?). Now look at the orientation of your pick in your grip. Did the pick point change? If so, the starting difficulties can be solved by going into the fast playing with this pick orientation next time.

What complicates this–and I’ve seen this in my own playing when trying to learn a new motion–is that your motion mechanic for slow playing, or rhythm playing, might push the pick point away from the position that’s required for fast playing. You might also yourself be adjusting the pick with your fingers to the wrong position, between lines, because you’re aiming for the wrong pick point. This all makes it impossible to move in and out of fast lead playing, because the first pick-strokes will have terrible garage spikes and snag the string.

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Yes. When I do this:

  • the pick gets pushed into my fingers so it becomes hard to hit the string with just the pick without touching it with fingers at the same time
  • the pick rotates in my fingers so that the pick point almost stops hitting the string, mostly the edge of the pick hits it
  • I stop “feeling” the string (weak feedback)
  • the resulting technique is “weak”, has no dynamics and sounds bad (to me)

I like how it now works on the higher strings, maybe it’s a bit “garage-spiky” but I brute force through the string and get a very powerful attack which I enjoy.

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