How much practice necessary to maintain skill level?

I’ve been working on getting my speed to playing 1/16 notes at 160 BPM with 2WPS. It’s been a long slog. Ultimately, I’d like to be able to cruise at 180 BPM. I was wondering how much practice is needed to keep these skills. I worry about taking a break from guitar only to realize that I have to start all over and work my way back up. I’d like some idea how much I have to practice to maintain my level of play.

Now, I can go a week without practicing and in a day or two I’ll be as fast as before my vacation. For people playing at 180 BPM, if you take a month off playing guitar, how long does it take you to get back to 180 BPM? Anybody able to take an extended brake and pick up right where you left off?

Thanks

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So much less than you think. For the past few weeks I’ve taken a massive break after drilling technique like a maniac since June 2017. I’ve practiced maybe once or twice a week for the past month and I’ve noticed all of my skills are regained within the day of picking up the guitar again.

I play exclusively within 160-260 BPM ranges (metal) with different note groupings (16ths, sextuplets, triplets). 180 BPM 16th notes is a common benchmark for me and it’s never out of reach no matter how long I stay away from the guitar.

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If people are able to take extended breaks without touching the guitar for weeks and then be at the same level within a day, I’m certainly not one of those people :joy:

I notice a drop in stamina, hand synchronization and top tempos.

The longer the break, the bigger the drop.

A break of one week usually is fine.

A break of one month however and it will take me around a week of daily playing (1-2 hrs per day) to get everything back up to speed again.

A break of one day now and then however is highly recommended for your hands and brain to recuperate.

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Not a speedy but…
One day (about month ago) I managed to play scale 180bpm. So after I’d saw your post I decided to check - whether I can repeat the ‘achievement’.
It took about 5 minutes. Though it was uncomfortable to me back then and it is now ) 150 mph bpm is my usual limit.

I don’t think this is how it works. Guitar playing is not like weight training or running, and does not depend on building up super-high levels of athletic conditioning. Those skills fade quickly without continual high-intensity training. Guitar playing doesn’t. Once you learn to do a picking notion, it’s more or less permanent with only minimal playing.

You really shouldn’t have to try “reach” 160bpm sixteenth notes. Not the way you do with building up bench press strength over time. That tempo is low enough that most people should be able to do it immediately if they’re doing the motion correctly. You might still have to experiment a lot until you get it, and then work to make it smooth, and then add hand synchronization, and so on. It’s still a process. But if you’re trying to take an inefficient motion and slowly make it go faster over time, that’s not going to work.

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When I work on trying to “reach” 160 bpm, I mean trying to get my motion correct, not necessarily working on getting my hand/wrist to move back and forth fast enough. My guess is that technique sufficient for 160 bpm is not adequate for 180 or 200 bpm. With my current ability, I can have burst perhaps approaching 180. When I push above 160, things get sloppy. Hand synchronization issues begin to creep in, etc. However, I see these problems as surmountable as each lick gets smoother over time.

So my question could be rephrased: Once you have the technique suitable for cruising at 180-200 bpm, do you ever lose it with a lack of practice. How long does it take to reacquire/remember the technique to get back to where you were after a long (weeks or months) away from the guitar?

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Not sure what picking motion you’re asking about here, but if you look at a motion like this one:

…there’s not really anything different about 160bpm or 180bpm or 190bpm. It’s the same motion, just going at different speeds.

In general, guitar skills are like any fine motor skill. How much does your handwriting fade if you don’t use it? Mine is rusty because I rarely write with a pen any more. And it feels awkward when I first have to write anything. But with a few minutes to remind myself, it looks almost exactly the same as it did when I was a kid. It’s remarkable how similar it is, actually.

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Sure, technique sufficient for 190 bpm is also suitable for 160 bpm. Congratulations. However, technique sufficient for 160 bpm is not necessary suitable for 180 bpm. Whether it’s getting your picking motion just perfect, synchronizing your hands, or moving your hand from low to high strings, there’s still work to be done between 160 and 180 bpm. From the message board, it seems I’m not alone in having to work my way up from 160 bpm. I gather this is normal.

While not much of a hand writer myself, it’s nice to know I shouldn’t expect much loss in my technique and require only a minimal time to get back up to speed. I was wondering if anyone actually experienced this process with guitar. It’s one thing to identify guitar picking as a fine motor skill, and conclude it shouldn’t need to be relearned. But, how true is this? What are people’s experiences with gaps in playing and deteriorating skill?

Not sure what you mean by “congratulations” but this sounds a little rude to me. I’m only trying to answer what I think you’re asking. Sorry if I’m not getting it — I’m famously dense.

And I actually do mean that the motion that works at 160 should work at these slightly faster speeds. I don’t sense a cutoff there where the motion becomes something qualitatively different. However below that range, yes. In the clips we see posted here, the player who can’t do the motion at 150-160bpm is possibly not doing it right at all. Once they figure out the faster form, that unlocks the upper range.

Clearly there is a long-tail process of refinement that needs to happen once you get that ballpark happening. But in my experience all these speeds come together as a group, because they all use essentially the same form. And it’s not always the slower ones that improve first.

Sorry, I was being snippy. You’re very considerate for addressing all the post that you do.

I think it’s the refinement that I was worried about. If I spend the time to get myself to 180+ bpm, will those fine motor skills get so rusty that it’ll take a similar (or a significant) amount of time to get back? Or, will I be right back to 180 bpm after a week or couple of days of 1hr a day practice? What’s the longest gap in practice you had after achieving mach speed and how was your return to playing?

Thanks for reading our messages and taking the time to reply and, again, I’m sorry for being obnoxious.

Not a problem, and I’m sorry if I don’t always get what people are asking on the first try. On the topic at hand, in general, I really wouldn’t worry about skill loss. Techniques really are very sticky. Once you begin to figure something out, you’d really have to try pretty hard to lose it to a point where you couldn’t do it any more. Even during the “figuring it out” phase of trying to acquire a totally unfamiliar technique, there’s plenty of room for forgiveness. Sometimes putting it down for a while even helps the “discovery” side of the process when you pick it back up again a few weeks later and find that you’re doing things slightly differently in a way that works even better. It’s… unpredictable!

I honestly don’t know how fast my technique tops out these days, and haven’t been as focused on maximum speed as consistency and control. I should probably try to push limits a bit to find out, but for the most part I feel like I’m able to play fast enough to meet my playing goals so I’ve been less focused on that lately. That said, at the end of the day I think that’s what you’re chasing and asking about, rather than a specific speed. So…

My experience has been in line with the thread’s here, that once you can do something, it comes back pretty quickly and doesn’t take as much woodshedding to maintain it as to build it/figure it out in the first place.

I’ve taken a couple unplanned extended breaks - picking hand shoulder surgery after a cycling accident, that prompted me to sign up here in the first place as one of my recovery goals, and then this year a broken collarbone that laid me up for a while - and then as a cyclist I tend to fall into a routine where during the riding season I play basically just enough to keep my chops up and have fun, and then really dive back in in earnest over the winter.

Generally what seems to require the most “getting back” is endurance, and honestly probably more so for the fretting hand (I do a lot of legato) than the picking hand. In fact I’ve often found that my playing feels more coordinated after a break, for reasons I’m not really quire sure why, but I’ll go with.

In general though when I do start practicing and playing frequently again, no matter how long I’ve been away, essentially by the time my fretting hand calluses are ready for longer playing sessions, my chops are basically back to where they were.

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Btw I did fire up the metronome the other night (technically, a drum loop though with a 16th note hi-hat groove) and looping a three-string, three-note-per-string two-way pattern, I was able to get it up to 180bpm with acceptable accuracy, but it was my fretting hand that was struggling more than my picking hand. Which is interesting.

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@Troy, I’m assuming by the technique “sticking” and not forgetting it, we are talking purely about the motion mechanic itself and not the max ability of said mechanic? Personally, I find if I take time away from working on something, even if I still “have” the technique, I feel like a certain amount of regular conditioning is required in order for it to be firing at max speeds. I know this is something that you talked about with Stump in his interview, and he mentioned that since he’s always playing he requires very little maintenance for his speed.

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It sounds like the original question is asking about acquiring a new skill, specifically, if I don’t play for a certain amount of time, does the ability erode to the point where it becomes problematic to learning the new thing? There is probably some bare minimum where below that point, the person doesn’t acquire the skill because they’re not trying often enough. But honestly I don’t think that’s the kind of thing you need to worry about as much as the common perception suggests. If what we see around here is any indication, most people who really want to learn something are already trying plenty often and plenty hard enough, putting in sometimes hours at a clip trying to learn new things.

Can you go on vacation and still keep working on learning a skill, as the OP is asking? And the answer is yes, totally. If we’re talking about trying to learn to do a new picking motion which is unfamiliar, sometimes time away even helps, just due to the randomness of what you might accidentally do correctly when you pick up the instrument again. These little accidental discoveries happen all the time.

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Actually, I was more concerned about losing skills I already have. If I hit my goal picking speed (180 bpm) and take time off from playing guitar (say a month), will I still play at 180 bpm when I come back? If not, how long should I expect to return to that speed?

I do expect some deterioration in skill with time off. But if it takes me 6 mo to go from 160 to 180 bpm, will it take me another 6 mo of grinding to get me back up to 180 bpm? Or, will it only take a couple of days to get my hands back into the groove?

Just wondering what other people experienced. So, if I do commit to getting to 180 bpm, do I have to commit to keeping up the skill or can I relax and know that with minimal effort I’ll be back at 180 bpm?

I think it depends on specifically how you went from 160 to 180 in the first place.

If you had a mechanic that supports effortless playing up to 160 but not beyond, and then did athletic practice (bumping up the metronome) to push that mechanic to higher speeds, then I suspect it will take some time to do that again. If you take a month off, I doubt it would take 6 months to get back to where you were, but a week or two doesn’t sound outrageous.

If you instead explored different motions until you found one that supports 180 bpm effortlessly, then burned that mechanic in with spaced repetition, you’ll probably be able to find it and sharpen it again with a day or two of experimentation.

So I think the question to ask yourself is: How much physical effort does it take you to play at 180 bpm? If you feel like you’re working hard, tensing up, and powering through, then you’re probably in the first camp. If the effort of playing fast is mainly mental, then you’re probably in the second.

Don’t take me too literally on the specific number of days. I’m just pointing out what I think the general pattern would be, and endorsing the latter approach.

I’m definitely in the first camp. I’m comfortable at 160 bpm and I’m inching the metronome up. Some licks are easier/smoother. Others are a struggle. At this point, I’m trying new finger/string patterns to build my vocabulary at 160 bpm. I then pick a couple of licks and try to take them an increment on the metronome.

Again, I’m not sure “speed” is the thing to worry about here. In my experience, physical motion speed is not a thing that creeps up slowly over time, then deflates like a balloon when you stop using it. It’s not like muscle strength or aerobic capacity.

What can degrade over time is the accuracy of certain skills if you don’t regularly or use them. But even then, this is a complex process that doesn’t affect everything you know uniformly, and it doesn’t really result in getting “slower”. That’s not how I’d characterize it anyway. Certain phrases I know simply don’t degrade in any way, even with lots of time away, while others might degrade more. The hand motions don’t get slower, but I might miss certain notes here and there if the motion is unfamiliar.

Even then, if this does happen, it takes only regular playing for things to feel familiar again. It is not like learning the skill in the first place. If your concern is putting in time to learn how to do something, and then taking a week or two of vacation, I really wouldn’t worry about that. The biggest challenge is acquiring the initial skill.