Have any of you actually accomplish the goals that you were wanting to do regarding technique as far as alternate picking? I’m not talking about making little strides and inching along, but you feel like you still have a ways to go? I’m talking you started something from scratch like EJ’s 5’s or Yngwie licks to where you had no grasp of them at all, and can play them now at tempo? Just curious if any of the CTC students have “cracked the code”? For me I think I’ve spent the last 4-5 years unlearning bad technique, and learning good technique at a sloths pace. So it’s hard to tell what the hell Im even doing any more. It would be nice to know that some of you are where you want to be and not just in some constant cycle never really going anywhere.
Well… This is not real reassuring.
For me, no. Not yet. I’ve been at this the CtC way for < 6 months though. I think, given the amount of gainfully employed work I do, balancing family responsibilities and the 30 - 90 minutes per day I put into practicing guitar it is unrealistic for me to think I’ll have cracked it at this point. I love the progress I’ve made though. I’m thinking maybe another 6 - 12 months if things stay the status quo, I’ll be where I’d like to be. If not, no big deal. It’s just a hobby for me at this point. I know I’ll get there eventually because the lack of proper escaping is DEFINITELY what I spent 25 years doing not the correct way.
don’t know man. I mean, i’m nowhere near at the point, where i always wanted to be. But for me, my goals keep changing even before i hit certain milestones. Since I started with CTC, my technique keeps getting better (i guess). But I recognized, that technique isn’t important, when you lack fundamental, basic music theory. So I recently started to work on that too. For me, at the end of the day it boils down to following question: do you enjoy playing guitar? If yes, then you’re on track mate
I should add, in my typical CtC fanboy fashion, that progress I’ve made the last 6 months (and where I’ll be when I’m “satisfied”) would never have been possible without the material on this site. I guess I am just not an intuitive person. I have the will power to muscle through things and I love playing guitar. Hmmm I’ll bet that’s part of my problem. I bet guys who are elite are inclined to do things the right way. If it feels difficult, they abandon ship and do what feels right and keep rolling with it. Me on the other hand…I would just think “Wow I suck. This is hard. I need to just practice more. All the greats play for hours per day. Practice makes perfect”. Insert other conventional wisdom snippets here lol!
SO glad I finally found the truth and I’m on the path of success.
It’s a bit hard to address this statement without more details, but I would say that the following general principle holds in most cases:
it’s very hard to take a “bad” technique - say string hopping on a certain passage and gradually make it “less and less bad” over time until it becomes “good”.
The more effective way is to ditch the wrong movement - say a string hopping motion similar to “door-knocking” - and replace it with the correct one by trial and error - say a more linear picking motion (e.g. upstroke escape) that has no muscle reuse in upstrokes vs downstrokes.
PS: another principle that is worth keeping in mind is that the “trial and error” thing appears to work best, at least at first, with drastic changes. If your “new” motion, pick grip, hand position etc. is too similar to the “old” one, chances are that muscle memory will kick in an push you back into the old motion. That’s why we recommend seemingly “weird” things to people that are stuck, like “try a 3-fingers grip” (assuming you are not doing it already) or “try elbow picking even if your teacher told you to only use the wrist for 20 years” - things like that
I was hoping others would comment on this, but I don’t want you to be disheartened or discouraged, so I’ll weigh in.
I do feel like I’ve made significant advancements in my picking over the last few years, and I feel the insights I’ve had from CtC have been very beneficial.
I discovered a lot of the CtC core concepts independently for myself when I was a teenager, in particular the ideas of single-escape and double escape picking movements. I’ve had strong alternate picking technique since I was about 15 or 16, and I was able to deconstruct Eric Johnson’s picking technique for myself when I was about 18 or 19.
That said, I was never comfortable with sweeping, and I had experienced essentially no increases in my picking speed from about the ago of 16 to the ago about 26.
For me, the interview with Marshall Harrison, coupled with a few of his videos on swybrid picking really helped me to develop sweep and swybrid picking in the last few years, beginning in about 2015. Having access to the technique also enabled me to develop some new vocabulary. Recently, the Frank Gambale interview has also been valuable to me.
I also didn’t know that swiping was a thing, and I certainly never imagined that systematic swiping is not only a viable picking strategy in principle, but it has actually been implemented in practice by a recognized virtuoso in Jorge Strunz.
For years I believed that I’d reached my potential when it came to picking technique. I thought I was never going to experience any more significant developments in that area. I believed that I’d never play any faster, and that Shawn Lane type speeds were simply beyond me. I accepted the stories of him being some kind of genetic anomaly with a freak nervous system.
The most significant change, for me, has been one of mindset. I stopped believing all of that. I started studying Shawn’s technique in greater depth, motivated by having developed new skills in sweep and hybrid picking. I analyzed his picking and fretting sequences and attempted to imitate his form. Then, I just tried to go for it.
I suppose I wasn’t really expecting to actually get anywhere with it initially. Then, there were a few lightning bolt moments, where suddenly I had access to a faster picking movement, and the next day it was gone. Over time, my body learned to make that movement repeatably. Now, when I’m warmed up, I have access to that movement most of the time. Some days, it’s just not there.
It’s not fully clean yet, and I don’t have a whole lot of vocabulary that I can play at those types of woopledybloop nonsense speeds yet, but I really do believe now that it’s just a matter of time.
Please, don’t get discouraged from trying. If you stay positive and keep experimenting, you’ll create the conditions for a storm. Lightning will strike.
I’ve done all that, so no it doesn’t work. Not for me anyway. I don’t mean to come across as a negative A-hole, but it’s starting to make me wonder if most of us are fighting a uphill battle that we’re not going to be able to climb. To put it in to perspective I bought the EJ cascade package almost 5 years ago. October will be 5, and even though I know the magic tricks, I’m still really not that far along than where I was back in 2015. Things will start to click, then go away. I’ll start to figure things out, and for what ever reason nothing sticks, mentally or physically. Have I improved in the last 5 years? Yeah but if I got up on stage and tried to apply any of this stuff, I’d probably fall flat on my ass 9 times out of 10. The whole point for me is to use it in bands situations to make music. I have no desire to be some internet guy on instagram playing fast licks for clicks. Inching along at a snails pace isn’t going to cut if for me, because I don’t have the next 5-10 years to sit around wasting my time with it anymore. I asked the question originally if anyone ACTUALLY accomplished the goals they set out for themselves and i got my answer. For me if there is any answers of why it’s not clicking is because I’ve spent the last 30 years playing guitar with crappy technique, so think I’m too far gone to ever get it fixed. You can tell someone to stop jumping or twitching around but if it’s so ingrained in your DNA to do that after years and years of playing your instincts are going to win that battle pretty much every time. Maybe it’s for the best, because i should be focusing on stuff that’s really important like writing songs, and singing. I’m giving myself until October so if I’m not there at least 90% I’m moving on. I wish you all better luck than my results, but also don’t lose sight of what’s really important and that’s making good music. Cheers!
I hear ya, man. But how about taking a few lessons? Ask Teemu Mäntysaari for some. He has said that most of his students come to him due to a technical problem. He’s an absolute beast of a player, and seems super friendly and what I gathered from his interview on CTC, he seems like somebody who understands the trouble of how hard picking technique can be.
I’m at about 90% away from a major goal speed wise on scalar playing alternate picking after never peaking over 65% before CTC. I have been a part of CTC for a good few years, but haven’t put monumental amounts of practice in over the years due to life getting in the way, so I wonder how I would have gotten on with a years solid practice.
But I have multiple goals - some of which I havent’ started on.
This isn’t a dig at you in anyway, but you don’t sound you’re trying to find the motivation to keep going. You sound like you’re trying to find a reason to justify giving up.
With this kind of mindset and negativity, you’re already closing yourself off to the possibilities.
If the technique doesn’t really matter to you, why not just move on now and stop “wasting” your time? Why not focus on singing and songwriting now and get a 3 month head start? If you don’t want it, or your not enjoying it, you don’t have to do it. We won’t judge you or shame you for it.
If you do want it, and you really are looking for reasons to keep with it, then you’re going to have to change your outlook. You have to learn to love the process.
I train and compete in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Last year, I had a really, really bad run. In one tournament I lost my first match with the fastest defeat of the day. In my next competition I placed dead last in my divisions and left with a sprained ankle I could barely walk on for a month.
For anybody who doesn’t like me very much, here’s a video of me being strangled:
I could have wondered if I was fighting an uphill battle I’d never win. I could have told myself that the improvements I’d made didn’t matter because I’d fallen flat on my ass so many times. I could have told myself that all my instincts were wrong and that I was wasting my time.
I studied the tape, I went back to the gym, I asked my coach for advice, I taped up my ankle and I trained as hard as I could. I took gold at my next competition.
Learning any new skill is difficult. We try, we fail, we make adjustments. We try again, we fail better. We repeat until we succeed.
You can either be frustrated and demotivated by your failures or you can learn to appreciate them for what they can teach you. As I hope the above video demonstrates, I’m fully aware that repeated failure is deeply unpleasant.
I want to take lessons with someone in person. I don’t think Skype lessons will work for me, because they can’t get up close and see all the little nuances of what I’m doing wrong. I just put my guitar down after practicing for about 20 minutes and from the bottom of my heart it’s scary how off I am mentally and physically with playing. I can barely even hold on to the pick without it feeling totally unstable in my hand. All the sudden I’m doing these massive twitchy, jumping around motions, swinging my pick side to side like a pendulum instead of up and down, and my left hand is spazzing out and speeding up once i get to the D string to the low E going high to low. I felt like i had made some break thoughts in the last 2-3 weeks to where i was finally getting my fingers under things, and just like that it’s GONE! This is exactly my concerns in why I’m sadly thinking that some of us will just never have the capability of playing fast, because it can’t be 98% shit, then every once in a blue moon stumble upon having a good day. It would be one thing to know how to correct it if I was off, but I have no idea how I get from being on or off?? Playing the guitar is becoming a not so fun, negative experience because of this, so I have to figure something out fast, or just sale all my guitars.
Not personally, though you don’t have to look far to find plenty of people who have had success with it. I’ve been playing for about 11 years now and most days I’m lucky enough to get at least a couple of hours of good practice in. Technically, I’m no better than I was a year and a half in. I can’t play anything without stumbling over simple passages and I don’t find the instrument fun in the slightest, but I want to get good enough that I still pick up the guitar every day without much resistance. It’s definitely more about the destination than the journey for me, not to say I intend to stop learning as soon as I can play some songs I like.
I can’t speak for most of Masters In Mechanics material as I haven’t seen it, but I’ve been working on the instructions for wrist motion since they came out about a year ago as well as the CTC stuff on Youtube. Over the last 9 years or so I’ve sunk a good amount of time into just about every other method you’ll find online and been through a few different teachers too. Hopefully I’ll figure it out before the inevitable existential crisis of all that time wasted.
I hear you and i agree with you. I don’t want to give up, but maybe I have to start coming to reality that I’m just not going to succeed with it. I don’t know how old you are, but I’ll be 50 in March, and I have been beating my head against the wall with this stuff for years. Trust me, I’ve put in the hours and hours of hard work, taken lessons, done any and everything that people like Troy suggest, but if the physical talents are just not there what do i do? It’s like desperately wanting to be taller, you can try and try but it ain’t gonna happen. A good example that I’ve seen from a singers stand point is seeing vocalist that train for years and years to be able to hit higher notes, and they really aren’t that more well off than they where before the studied with a vocal teacher. I was lucky and born with a multi octave range, that wasn’t taught to me. It was a born gift, my guess is guys like Troy or the people we try to emulate where the same way with the guitar. Did they work at it? Of course but they figure stuff out, and move on, There’s no way Troy would spend 5 years of beating his head against the wall and not going anywhere like i have. Just my two cents.
I posted a guide to goal-based practice a while back in another thread: Effectivity of practice
If i were to diagnose you over the internet (a very imprecise science), I’d probably suggest a lack of clear outcomes in your practice sessions.
You mentioned EJ pentatonic 5s patterns - that’s a useful starting point as a goal. How would you analyze your process of practicing this type of technique? Have you tried the following:
- Descending 5s in 1 position
- Ascending 5s in 1 position
- Descending 5s in 2 positions
- Ascending 5s in 2 positions
- Descending and Ascending 5s in 5 positions
- Mixed 5s over blues progressions
- Mixed 5s through key changes (circle of 5ths progression)
Are there particular exercises you find easy, any that are difficult? Are you practicing the difficult things until they’re mastered? Are you reviewing techniques periodically to make sure they’re still usable in a performance situation?
A lot of this structured, organized approach to practice is meant to force a type of discipline that may not be intuitive for you. This is a reality of high level musicianship. We can’t expect to play like Eric Johnson or Yngwie Malmsteen if we don’t work like they work. The material is all available to achieve results, but it’s not going to do the work for you.
I can’t speak for Troy, but I’m pretty sure that’s what the whole 1st season of Cracking the Code was about. He was playing for years before he figured out the mechanics of these techniques - and then spent more years refining them prior to publishing the concepts here. It was not an overnight process.
I was a professional stringhopper for a while in the 90s, and have always been more interested in improvising and writing music than in memorizing licks and performing other people’s solos. At the time, I thought playing fast was something I was simply incapable of. I never wanted to be an athlete like Shawn Lane or even Marty Friedman. I was more interested in being quick, fluid, and musical, like Warren DeMartini, Jake E. Lee, EVH, and especially Prince (Let’s Go Crazy and Eruption were equally mindblowing to me). For the longest time I assumed I was genetically incapable of fast, smooth, playing, whether lead or rhythm.
In 2017 or so, I stumbled across the CTC Youtube series. Among the many insights I picked up from the series and my subsequent investigations, a few were responsible for me making very quick gains.
- Learn to pick fast on a single string by ‘chasing easy’. Don’t struggle for speed. Look for a motion you can do fast and sloppy, then slow it down and clean it up. Then try some variations. Let your body figure out how to do it, and pay attention to what you’re doing differently when it suddenly works. The section on the fundamental movements (wrist deviation, wrist extension/flexion, forearm rotation, elbow movement, etc.) was very useful for me here.
- Apply motion to lines over multiple strings by paying attention to trapped vs escaped pickstrokes. Here’s where the upward and downward escape ideas were valuable for me, though they were called upward/downward pickslanting and crosspicking at the time. I did not spend a lot of time memorizing pick grips and setups for the various approaches. I just thought about the ideas of pick escape and chased easy, clean, and musical.
- Chunking. In addition to believing that I was not capable of picking fast, I also believed I was not capable of thinking fast enough for fast lead playing. Chunking unlocked that door for me.
The very first practical step of my CTC journey was breaking my stringhopping habit. This took about one month. During this month, I concentrated entirely on converting my picking technique to pure forearm rotation on a single string. (As a teenager in the 80’s I noticed I could rotate my right forearm very quickly, but could not seem to harness that movement for picking even a single note.) I did this by training very systematically, starting every session at about 40 bpm quarter notes and then bumping upward for about 30 minutes a day (about 5 minutes on, then a 2 minute break, repeat several times on all strings). This is a ridiculously slow speed, but it was kind of necessary at first because I it was like learning to walk again. I had to concentrate on each individual pickstroke, rather than on ‘alternate picking’ a series of notes. I focused on creating a clean and fluid pickstroke, using my kinesthetic sense and my ear to determine when it was working. It took a few days before I could reliably do a single clean pickstroke at this tempo with pure rotation. After a week I could do it reliably at faster speeds. After about a month it was easy. I could reliably tremolo pick 16ths at 180 bpm with no tension or fatigue, and I no longer reverted to stringhopping when I stopped concentrating.
From there I expanded into wrist deviation, dart throwing motions, elbow, and finally finger motion. I did this mostly intuitively. I let my body explore new motions on its own, and only analyzed my motions when it felt easy and produced clean and musical tones. I continue to do this kind of exploration every time I play, and continue to make noticeable gains on a weekly basis. These gains mainly take the form of increased vocabulary and improvements in tone, and they come pretty quickly. After that first month, I don’t find myself grinding away at anything anymore. I usually find a noticeable improvement after about 5 minutes of focused practice, and it gets baked in permanently in less than a week. I don’t really chase speed anymore, except when I’m learning a new pattern or getting a particular line up to tempo. I also rarely use forearm rotation at all anymore, but I can easily turn it on and off at will.
I’m not saying you have to learn pure rotation to make this stuff work. My point is that I found it very useful to start from scratch with a completely unfamiliar picking motion in order to extinguish my stringhopping habits. I couldn’t really play music during that initial month, I just spent my time trying to ingrain a new motion to replace the old one. After that I worked on vocabulary, but I found my form evolving without too much conscious guidance. I could pick up new motions pretty easily because my habit was now to chase easy, and to use physical feel and my ear to make adjustments.
In summary, I used the CTC concepts as a launching point, and designed my own exercises and practice routines to improve in the areas that were important to me for musical reasons. I can now play most of that 90’s stuff I loved so much back in the day with very little effort, even stuff that I never dreamed would be possible (Steve Vai and Paul Gilbert, for example). I bought the Cascade, Volcano, and Antigravity seminars out of gratitude and a feeling of wanting to reward Troy and the team for pointing me in the right direction, but all of my gains came from self-application of the concepts that are available for free in the Youtube series. But that’s how I learn things in general. Start with concepts and explore them on my own. I use teaching materials mainly as a source of new ideas and as a guide for personal explorations. Recipes have never really worked for me, in any subject.
I’m not suggesting that you follow my approach. Your goals may be different from mine. I’m also not claiming to be a guitarist that other people should emulate. But it seems like you were looking for CTC success stories, and I definitely consider myself one. I can now make the music I always wanted to make. I struggled with this stuff for 30 years before Troy nudged me in the right direction with a few key insights, and I am eternally grateful for it.
You should go for it! Online lessons could be an occasional supplement then. The main benefit of lessons like Teemu’s or Ben Eller’s would be that they already know the principles of CtC and can likely advise you from that specific perspective, if you’d like.
That has happened to me at least a few times even after joining CtC, and countless times before it. But I believe it has to be a feel-sort of thing. I do trust that once it starts “clicking” again and again at a more consistent hit rate, it will eventually become a solid thing one can find fast, and rely on.
I live in the Nashville area. Maybe i could get Ben to come here if he was already in town anyway. I don’t know man, I’m just so frustrated and bummed out with always feeling like I’m going in circles. It’s not like I’m a great player having a slightly off night of missing a few notes with picking fast. It’s like. I go from good/great to barely feeling like I can strum campfire chords. It’s just not a real reassuring thing when you’re a musician wanting to get on with your life and make music. If I was a bedroom player, or just doing it as a hobby it probably wouldn’t bother me as much. I want to incorporate these things into my music, and live situations. I hate doing it, but maybe I need to put the guitar down for a few days. Either way thank you all for your advice and words of encouragement…
Take this with a grain of salt as it’s only one person’s experience, but I actually had one of those “overnight” success moments with this course.
I’ve been playing professionally for about 15 years plus another 4 years in high school bands prior. I’ve never been a speed player, in part because it’s not super necessary for the pop music side man role, but more so because every time I spent a long period shedding speed I ran into an upper limit of 16ths at 120bpm for alternate picking. Literally could not get past that mark with hours of practice… so each time I put speed aside for more practical playing techniques and licks and figured it wasn’t in my DNA.
I stumbled onto this course about a week ago while binging on Eric Johnson YouTube videos and decided to give it a try… figured the cost of one month is way less than I might pay for a lesson from a great teacher in Los Angeles. I went through the primer and legitimately with a couple days of practice, my upper limit is now juuuust under 140bpm 16ths. A 20 bpm bump is pretty freaking incredible in my book. Obviously, I’m not breaking speed records here, but I can tell that number is gong to go up with some more work.
I dont think this will be everyone’s experience, and I attribute my quick improvement to the fact that I already spend a whole lot of time on my touch and feel… specifically, the other big roadblock to speed, which is tension in the fingers, hands and wrists. Compared to my playing 10 years ago, I’m barely pushing the strings down onto the frets and I’m constantly stopping myself to breath and loosen my right hand wrist and pick grip.
I think in my case, I had done the ground work, and the downward pick slant was kind of a missing puzzle piece.
If I had learned about this 10 years ago, I don’t think the initial improvement would have been nearly as great. I actually think the biggest improvement to my overall tone and playing came from a light fretting touch and a relaxed pick grip/wrist… the downward picking and mindset about planning pick strokes for a lick simply brought the speed bump.
Still a long way to go, and I’m sure many of you consider 140 pretty slow in the scheme of things but as far as my goals are concerned, this is a big achievement for me