I am confused. I have been playing a lot of the bluegrass material from the Andy Wood and Carl Miner interviews. This is a section from Whiskey before breakfast from Andy Wood. It feels ok but when I am looking at the slowmotion (at the end of the video) I can´t see what the he…I am doing. Troy or anybody else
Troy? Anyone. Any help would be really appreciated.
Hi Tom. This looks pretty good! You’re on the right track here. Since you already have the anchor points and general idea of the motion down, I think the best way to evaluate this is sort of with a big-picture checklist. Is it “bluegrass fast”, like 140-150-bpm sixteents or better? Is there no arm tension? Is there no appearance of bouncing? Is there no / little forearm involvement? If these check out, then you’re where you want to be.
In general, I notice that when I look down from player perspective, the actual double escapey-ness of the motion is very subtle, and almost hard to see. If I look at the hand I can’t see it at all. I have to look at the point of the pick and only then can I see it just barely exiting and entering the strings. And there’s very little feeling of muscular effort anywhere in the forearm, even though that’s where the wrist muscles are located.
So the checklist for this, again, is sort of a lot of negatives - no arm motion, no arm tension, no bouncing, no speed limit, etc. Don’t be afraid to go faster than you can play cleanly to really get into the fast / smooth zone. It’s ok, and even preferable, to hit some unintended strings or miss notes if it helps communicate what the correct form feels like.
It looks like you’re feeding this with a nice variety of phrases which is great. I think this is one of the advantages of bluegrass as a style, since it focuses so much on playing whole tunes, you don’t find players getting into ruts practicing the same licks over and over for hours. The more variety you can throw at this, the more opportunity you’re giving your hands to learn that smooth feel across different picking patterns, different anchor points (like when you’re on the low strings), and so on. Keep feeding this with variety and noticing when things click and feel fast, smooth, and increasingly accurate over time. Those are signals that it’s working.
Nice work here.
Thanks for the reply Troy:-)
I tried it at 145 bpm and it just fell apart. I think it is more of a mental thing than a technique thing. I simply could not think fast enough to get the notes so back to the woodshed for me:-)
Hi Tom! What do you mean by “fall apart”? Do you mean sloppy, or do you mean you can’t go fast because the motion is bouncy (or something other motion issue)? Because sloppy is ok. When you’re trying to learn a new motion, you want to make sure you’re starting with the smoothest / fastest version of it, even if it’s not totally correct yet. That’s what the fast part is about. You’re not really trying to get all the notes right at first. Mostly you’re trying to get the motion to be as realistic as possible. What you don’t want to do is spend a ton of time stuck at at 120bpm or 130bpm where the notes are accurate, and the motion might feel ok at that speed with no tension, but you can’t go any faster because the motion is actually still somewhat incorrect. Instead, if you can go fast first, with a feeling of smoothness and no tension, even if you’re hitting the wrong strings or missing notes, that’s good. Slowing that down a small amount should reintroduce the ability to feel where the mistakes are so you can try and correct them. If you’re not making at least some mistakes, then it’s hard to know what to correct!
That makes a lot of sense. I gave the Red Haired boy a shot. This is 150 bpm. First at tempo and then again a slowed down version. I am missing some notes when playing so I guess my question is if this is to fast and if I practise at this tempo I will only develop bad habits. Or is this exactly the kind of tempo I should be practising at to get it down?
This actually looks great. You can already see how different your form here is from the other clips. Are you intentionally doing the classic “two way pickslanting” approach for this or is that something your hands are doing on their own? This is similar to what David Grier does when he plays these tunes at a faster clip, like his version of “Wheel Hoss” that we filmed recently, where you can see similar form changes depending on the line he is playing:
[ sorry, hit “enter” there before I finished typing ]
I’m not saying this “classic 2wps” approach is better or worse than using a double escape motion all the time. Both of these approaches can work, and actually in David’s case it’s a mix. Some of his pickstrokes are double escape, others are not. His hands have figured out that mixture on their own. That’s probably what is going to happen in your case as you play these tunes faster.
Instead, this is more of a general comment on how being in the fast, smooth, and sloppy zone works. This is the form that your hands are telling you can go fast. The reason notes are missing is because you don’t know how to do that form perfectly yet. That’s what you’re trying to learn. Going slower isn’t going to teach you this because your form is totally different at those speeds, with far fewere errors, so there’s not really as much to “fix” and therefore learn.
Now that we know what your “fast” form looks like, you can slow down a small amount from here, to get a more conscious feel of where the dead notes are, so you can try and fix them. You want to get that contact sounding more consistent with fewer dropouts. If you forget what “smooth” feels like, or you think you might be returning to the slower form, you can always come back to this speed to remind yourself what fast/smooth feels like. I constantly ping pong back and forth between this sloppy zone and the slightly slower zone as I try to improve the error rate, the smoothness of the pick attack, and so on. What you are really doing as you flip back and forth is teaching yourself how the motion is supposed to work, smoothing out the inconsistencies, and memorizing what that improved form feels like. Over time the error rate goes down as you work on more and more phrases in this zone, and even the fast/sloppy zone will become less sloppy. Eventually you learn what all the tiny differences in form feel like in different anchor points, picking patterns, and so on, so that your form is consistent no matter the line and no matter the place on the guitar.
I don’t use a metronome for this type of work because that approach is backwards. The speed is chosen by what it feels like and sounds like, not the other way around. I want the freedom to play things at different speeds, to increase or decrease the error rate according to what is working, or what I think will work, at any moment. I don’t want the machine telling me how fast I can or cannot go and forcing me to stay at that speed.
Let me know if this helps!
Thanks Troy. That is probably the best explanation on speed I have ever receiced. Are you familiar with Claus Levin? I bought his alternate picking program som years ago (before CtC). His main thing is practise slow and perfect and speed will come. It made a lot of sense at the time so I spent months if not years doing this. But I never saw the kind of results I wanted. Instead I developed some kind of “fear” of practising to fast and sloppy. So what you are saying really makes a lot of sense.
The twoway pickslanting is just what happens when I speed up. I started the bluegrass thing because I wanted to develope my crosspicking but the twps feels ok and seems to work so for now I will stick to that:-)
No problem! You’re really on the right track here. It’s kind of hilarious, because what you think looks like “falling apart”, my immediate reaction to hearing this was, hey, that’s really coming together! I mean, think of the players you see who are blazing through these tunes at this kind of tempo, and you’re pretty much in the realm of experts like David at that point. And here you are knocking on that door right now. For me, that’s exciting.
Given where you’re at I would expect to see some noticeable results over the next couple of months as you start to slow this down just a little bit and try to get those note attacks more consistent. Try this same thing with other tunes you know. The more variety, the better. Some phrases will just “work” for reasons which are hard to pinpoint, and those little victories will start to ripple through everything you play.