How to achieve consistency in musical performance?

Just to clarify, these ideas are not grammy nominated or even original! Take a solo section that I’m trying create so that I can reliablly play that may have some features of the original. Chances are that the opening licks oare iconic, possible to play and only one or two bars long so start with them and jam around from there, messing around and sounds like a hot mess. Ideas start to form, but often need to create transitions between sections or there is a point where a certain vibe is the way to go… Usually the intent is correct but the delivery is butchered so I would assess what I’m trying to do and try and simplify it if possible or find something else that has the sonic intent that I can pull off.

I have such little consistency in pretty much everything I do on guitar. Its has always been a monumental effort to keep anything going. Even the ‘go-to’ licks up and leave the building! Lol. I have had those moments where something comes together and I think that its a breakthrough moment, but I can never bottle that mofo and take it away with me.

I think we all struggle with consistency on guitar because it’s so mechanically involved compared to, say, keyboard instruments.

When all else fails, just go all downstrokes!


You think I can do downstrokes? You really are overestimating my powers!

I should have stuck to violin, but EVH messed that up for me hahaha. Him and his stupid brown sound… :grin:

I’ll quit whining now and get back to practice…

Consistency is another topic that I really like, because I struggle with it too!

But we’re sorta going off topic. Should I branch this out into yet another parallel universe? :slight_smile:

EDIT: @PickingApprentice how do you know that your consistency is not good? Do you record yourself and listen back often? Or do you just listen and judge your playing in real time while you play? Because I think the latter doesn’t work.

I only made real progress when I started recording myself… consistently :smiley:
Lay down a few takes and keep them even if they did not feel good while recording them. Then listen back critically. You may find that some parts sound better than you thought. And you may find that some sound worse than you thought!

Also, see if you can find some isolated tracks of solos you like and such. You will find that they are not as clean as you may think, and you will also find that it doesn’t matter and they still sound great.

I think a big difference between great performers and not-so-great ones is that the great really nail the big picture stuff (timing, tone, phrasing), so that we are more inclined to overlook the little imperfections (open strings, unintended notes, swipes etc.)

Hi @tommo, yeah by all means branch out to the multiverse (there must be one universe out there where I’m teaching Paul Gilbert how to pick).

I am recording myself more these days, but the lack of consistency is pretty brutal in that I literally cannot play a phrase, solo anywhere near what I have been doing quite well for a reasonable time. I’m not talking a little rough in places or the odd flub, that stuff doesn’t really bother me.

For example, back in what July? I posted a Cliffs of Dover solo attempt that I liked. I can’t play it anywhere near that now, despite it remaining part of my practice since. WTF? I’m not going to lie, I put a massive amount of time to get it there, whilst still trying to have a bit of variety. Whilst not perfect, I would have been super happy to keep it near what it was.

I used to think the erratic flip flop between good and bad was part of the progress of change and exploration, but I never make it passed that. I feel I only have two choices - 1: focus on one thing for weeks and get consistent at it, but no great shift of progress
2: keep variety and accept polarised experience.

I think that emotionally I’m pissed off because In recent times I have tried to be more compassionate to mys guitar playing, less critical/hung up on things and just enjoy my playing for what it is. It has had an opposite effect of what I had hoped… never in my life have I felt like quitting guitar - it boggles my mind that it has crept into my thoughts.


I feel you on that one. I have also recently reached a point where I said I just don’t think I can fix all my problems no matter how hard I try and felt like packing it in. Stressed myself to the point I made myself sick. Ugh

I’m not following what you mean when you say “quitting”. Can’t you just use the guitar for when you have parts you came up with that sound good (to you) on guitar, and use other instruments for other parts? Why does there need to be a formal “doing” or “never doing again” type decision?

I feel like my electric guitar playing consistency has increased a good deal since CtC. One huge difference is the use of rest strokes, intentionally, always. Prior, I was the standard “must use small movements always” type of misguided player, and I think what was happening is a great inconsistency in the size of my pick strokes. I know we’re still talking about millimeters. But the fact is now, using the string my pick hits on the trapped strokes as the reference point, it’s always going the same distance on the down (trapped) strokes. Since my timing seems more improved (i.e. locking into the beat) I’m assuming my upstrokes are more consistent in size too. I should clarify all that is in a USX context. Flip it for DSX, same theory stands.

The other thing I’ve been doing a ton of lately is playing along with recordings, with the target phrase looped, at variable tempos. I think with the recording as my ‘guide’ and the many many repetitions of playing along with high accuracy creates some good variety for the whole motor learning process, as well as giving me some fluffy ‘good feelings’. We all know the power of confidence :slight_smile:

On a related note, does anyone have any insight how a concert violinist or pianist (seemingly) manage so much consistency with challenging material? The fact that you can have ~30 violins all doing the equivalent of ‘shredding’ in unison is pretty remarkable. Maybe a better way to ask this is, how should we be practicing challenging material (that we already have the technical facility to play) so that we can perform it with high accuracy, consistently? I know they probably all say they practice with a metronome and increase it a bpm at a time but there has to be more to it than that lol!

@PickingApprentice for your Cliffs of Dover scenario, to me this sounds like mental fatigue. I think you’re psyching yourself out. I’ve been there before. In college I had to play a challenging classical piece and one measure in particular killed me. It was a quick position shift to the area where it starts getting uncomfortable on a classical guitar (12 - 14th fret). I screwed it up as I was learning it. For some reason, most of the times I practiced it, it was bad more than it was good. I tried slower, faster, a fret below, a fret above, you name it. I screwed it up when I had to perform it for a grade too. About 6 months later I decided to play it again and the first time I tried it, it was perfect. Though I never practiced it as extensively as I had when learning it, I’ve never since had the trouble I’d had when learning it. So spending MORE time on it seemed to do more harm than spending time away from it. I think I’d just made it into some mountain that it wasn’t.


Sorry, I’m confused… I only play guitar! I could use an air-piano I suppose! :wink:

Are you referring to quitting guitar? Or quitting a musical idea?

I feel that the latter happens a lot, because I can’t get the chops to the level it needs to be, say tempo wise. And/or the lack of consistency means that it can’t be trusted in the comfort of my own home, let alone in live performance scenario. When there is plenty of that going I start to question the point of it in the first place.

I hear what you are saying, but with the cliffs example, I was pretty happy with it and got it to the point where I could play it several times in a row and repeated over the course of a few days - I was ‘chuffed’ as we say in UK. Then it just vanished, my picking hand was just a mess and I couldn’t revive it lol. Its like I discover something that works, but the ability is just on loan to me, not for keeps. My picking motion must be changing all the time. My fretting hand isn’t blameless either - suffers very similar issues There are things that I have played for ages that basically don’t work for about a week or so.

My musical memory is flippin’ awful, so it takes me a long time to learn stuff and retain it, so any technical issues make that process even worse when trying to work on something

I do try to ‘back off’ and play easier stuff, but then it can end up feeling a bit boring and isn’t really tackling the problem.

Sorry, I just meant, “quitting guitar” makes it sound a little extreme, like a job where if you can’t do the absolute hardest stuff at the company, they fire you and you aren’t allowed back in the building. I would imagine whatever you know on guitar would always be musically useful or at least enjoyable for some purpose, even if it’s sitting on the couch with the TV on, strumming chords and coming up with cool progressions.

Ah I get ya. Sure its extreme, over the top maybe - but I’m saying it how it feels - 1 step forward and 2 steps back. I don’t have to be the next Van Gogh - I’m happy to paint by numbers, but my pallette is dry!/

Its pure frustration and its coming up to be a 2 decade one. I’m having a mid-guitar life crisis, I’m sure I’ll get over it.

Might have to do a bit of a reset back to the fundamentals

I think most people go through similar phases of frustration and inconsistencies with their playing. I know I have. I still have days where I can’t even bring myself to touch the thing.

Do you have anyone else to play with? Getting together with a peer sometimes helps break out of this as well even if it’s just for fun.

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Semi-related, but consistency is something I’ve been contemplating lately.

Story time:
Every now and again (never immediately, always after 30-40 minutes of playing), I would randomly luck into what seems like a super fluid, tension-free picking style. It feels smooth and effortless, and … I can’t in any way, shape, or form trigger it at will. I can’t even pinpoint the movement type, or contact points, since they never seem to be the same. It’s always wrist, but never quite the same joint movement.

Another problem is that it very often happens when I pick the unplugged guitar before bed, and stay up for like half an hour noodling in the dark; naturally, on the next day, I’m not even sure if it happened, or I was just too sleepy to pay attention to how much tension I feel.

This is in stark contrast to my normal playing, where it sometimes feels smooth, but I definitely know I switch between several different joint motions - sometimes I stop rapidly in the middle of a line, look at my picking hand, and it’s contorted in a very tense, unnatural position.

It really irks me , because I keep thinking, “What if I could do this 100% of the time”

Sorry, this is me rambling, and re-reading my post it feels awkward; but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and it’s definitely related to consistency (and the lack thereof)

This is something I was thinking about myself, but no I don’t have anyone else to play with. I was in a band a long time ago and the only other guitar bud I had basically went awol on all his friends!

I only really have free time later on in the evening when the wife and kids are asleep, so even if I had a friend to play with its not really an option.

This is it. When it happens, you just feel like you have arrived! You have cracked the code… well for 5 mins at least! It tends to happen quite long into a practice for me - I tried doing micro practices with plenty of breaks to see if it made any difference, but not really.

I just don’t get why even stuff that I think I have generally ‘got down’ to a certain level can vanish for a week…

The only thing I can think of is to always have a video device handy. Capture it when you nail it. Capture it when you feel it’s all gone to hell. Compare the 2 and see what you can spot. I guess that will only work if there is a clear ‘technical’ problem though. Something like “your hands just not behaving the way you want them to” may not show itself on film.

That’s all I got lol! Selfishly speaking, I can say that fortunately I have never experienced anything like this. Sure I have good days and bad like anyone (and even my best aren’t much to brag about). But I’ve never felt the backwards directions you’re mentioning. PLENTY of stagnation, but never backwards :man_shrugging:

Hang in there though :slight_smile: I’ve told you privately but it’s worth mentioning to the group (as I’m sure anyone who’s seen your videos would agree) that you are quite a fine player. I taught many a poor schmuck that would have to make about 20 steps forward to arrive at the backwards place you find yourself in currently :slight_smile:


Yeah, will try and get the camera rolling whilst practicing more - its a good shout.

Beats me! Its weird. Even seemingly simple things like a tremolo thats even, just doesn’t work - mechanics go all a bit wonky and jilted with random elbow. I have been experimenting for over a year and a half trying to get a super smooth tremolo because when I’m on a good day with it, my picking is better.

“Relatively” is always a good way to look at it. Most of us, even the professionals that inspire us, may not ever feel like they are where they want to be. But, you can always rest assured that there are many poor saps struggling even further.

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Well at least I know I’m not losing the plot :smiley:

Cold, uncaring logic dictates that if it has happened at least once, it will happen again, and with due time should become an ingrained, “activate-able” skill.

Emotionally, though, it sure can be disheartening.

Again semi-related, but I’ve lately decided to take a stab at something I’ve always wanted to learn - drawing. I got a stack of printer paper, some fineliners, and am following drawabox’s structured plan.

I absolutely, unashamedly, 100% fully suck at it.

It is, however, hella fun, and it’s given me new perspective of what it is to start a new skill from the absolute zero, and the (if slow and uneven) progress I’ve made on guitar.

This was a skill I was naturally very good at, and pretty much came out of nowhere when I was six or seven. My family members weren’t artistic, so I wasn’t really submerged in it. I just remember being in library period in class, and the teacher wanted to keep us occupied so she made us draw our favorite character from a stack of books she had up. And for some reason I could just do it.

I thought that’s what I was going to do until I turned 13 and discovered guitar. It all went downhill from there.

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I might be stating the obvious here, but this really sounds to me like a mental issue rather than a physical one.
I can only speak from my own experience but when it comes to issues relating to the psyche, I have a lot of experience.
I have to do exercises, daily, which I’ve learned from years of therapy for ocd.
I had to relearn guitar almost from scratch due to the damage i caused from allowing myself to get caught up in obsessive rituals. I’d change things in my technique not because it made things better, but for “obsessive “ reasons. That doesn’t look right, im not supposed to rest on this part of the guitar etc etc.
I’m still in the relearning process.

My point is, to sum up, state of mind has a major influence over what you can and can’t do. Ironically the less I care, the better I’ll play. I’d be nowhere near your level, the sad thing for me is, had I never had ocd, I’d likely be far more advanced than I am. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.