Muscle memory and slow practice

Hi, a quick question. They always say that the body needs to do over 1000 repetitions to get something imprinted. Like training the muscle memory. Is this beneficial? If so, doing this at a low tempo, or a comfortable one, with no mistakes and or flaws, would be the best way. Or are the speed mechanics too different at various speeds???


I’d classify myself as an intermediate level, but I’ll share my experience of what works for me in my practicing. When I first started, I didn’t practice slowly. Looking back, I think it was a colossal waste of time and energy. I tried to muscle through it with countless repetitions until my hand turned into a claw, and not only sounded like shit, but hit a wall in terms of speed. When I practice slowly, like MUCH more slowly than I think I should, I get better and faster with each practice session. I read a book a few years ago called Principles of Correct Practice for Guitar, and it’s a really great guide. I forgot the author’s name, but it emphasized the importance of paying super-close attention to the muscles involved in the movement and learning how to play relaxed. Letting go of tension in the hand and whole body while practicing at a very slow, controlled pace was something I found to be transformative. The hardest thing in the world was to learn how to play slowly after years of playing only at fast speeds…but I eventually got too frustrated to the point of blaming the guitar and wanting to throw it right out the window and concluded that going back to the basics and practicing slow was the only way I was ever going to improve.

I saw the interview that Troy did with Michael Angelo Batio, who is insanely fast and accurate, and he said that practicing slow is the key to getting fast. Most of the guitar players that I like also emphasize accuracy over speed; but they also recommend pushing yourself little by little. Like if I can do a lick perfectly and comfortably at 120 bpm, then move up and try 128 for a few reps. Then back it down to 120 a few times, then back up to 128 until it doesn’t sound like shit anymore. Wash, rinse, you get the idea.


Jamie Andreas!

I got this years ago and I’m not sure I ever had the patience to really work through it properly, I should revisit it.


What seems to be working for me lately is taking basic movements on the strings. I do simple three notes on one string, making sure left hand/right hand sync. I do simple pentatonic licks on two strings, again making sure both hands sync up. In other words, I think of very simple movements that are incorporated in just about any lick you can think of. I started doing this about two weeks ago and I have seen vast improvement. I’m sure the reason why is I have been paying attention to technique and mechanics, especially DWPS and UWPS. I focus on being relaxed. Sometimes I use a metronome and sometimes not. I track my progress by the metronome and in these last weeks I started at 120 bpm and have worked my way up to 190 bpm for 3 notes per string. My ring finger on my fretting hand seems to be slower than all of the others, and I’ve heard that is quite common, but again in these few weeks of going back to the basics I have also seen vast improvements. I am discovering a certain feel when both hands sync up; my fretting fingers seem to have strength and individuality, my picking has become less laborious. I also have found that the muscles in my forearms feel lick I have had a workout like at the gym. I have felt no pain in my wrists or tendons.

So I think, probably each player has to find what works for them. And also, I have found those days where you start practicing and it seems nothing is working, within a few minutes, my hands and arms get warmed up and everything comes together. I would say that the slow practice method is key. And lately I’ve noticed so much shredding on YouTube videos where people just play a bunch of nonsense. Everyone wants to be light speed fast! I’m backing down from that mindset and focusing on what sounds “cool”, “wicked” and accurate and clean!


It has been discussed before, and usually the best thing is to start slow (especially while you are still learning the notes), but there comes a point where you know the notes and then it sometimes is beneficial to also practice at intermediate tempos and “too fast” tempos so that you feel how it is when playing at higher speeds.

Troy has often described this as trying to learn how to run by running in slow motion; it’s not going to work. However, to be able to run, you still need to know how to walk, so running is an accurate metaphor. You need to start slowly, but you can’t learn to run by just walking, you really have to run.

There is a very good book on practice and it’s called “The practice of practice” - Jonathan Harnum. There are a couple of very good chapters in there about what the best way is to practice.


Yup yup!! Good memory. I should revisit as well, actually. The material on here is really helpful, though, esp pickslanting. It’s like exactly what I was looking for. Good luck with the practicing, dude. Great to connect over the net, buddy! -James

Great question. I think the X factor here is what we mean by “correct”. When you’re trying to learn technique, you can’t always judge “correct” by the notes. This is especially true when you’re practicing slowly. it’s just really hard to know if you’re doing something right when you’re playing at super slow, step-by-step speeds. And if you’re not doing it right, doing it 1000 times really slowly isn’t going to magically produce the right movement, even if all the notes match the staff notation.


I’m checking out those recommended books. Looks really interesting.

I’m trying to learn that blazing fast run from toto’s hold the line solo. I’m gonna try this at a slow pace with an occasional burst DWPS for the next month and see what the results are going to be like.

To play fast your cns and muscles need to become developed, this takes years, decades. Just like bodybuilders take years to build what they have with simple repetitive exercise.

Playing slow and playing fast are two different skills. The forces acting on your hand are much higher at faster speeds. Playing fast doesn’t feel the same at all, it feels more like you’re shaking your arms about rather than intricate small focused movement such as in slow playing.
And the reason is we perceive consciously at the same normal rate, playing fast or slow, so the slow playing feels like direct guided control, the fast like you’re just shaking the guitar and being aware of the overall force on the pick and attending to that. There is a point in speeding up your picking where it all becomes a blur feeling wise and you can’t really feel most of your movements.

Because of these two different feelings you can not just slowly gradiate your way faster.
You practice slow till it’s automatic and clear, then you play as fast as you can, cleaning it up as you listen out for errors.

And you must keep in mind, no matter how much you practice, what gets you faster is the muscles etc building up, adapting. It is impossible to reach certain speeds without the appropriate strength and control in the hands, this really does take years if not decades.

I think the best analogy is endurance runners and sprinters. They both benefit from stronger muscles etc, but two very very different things.


Besides the two different types of playing, slow or fast. A very important concept is presentation.

Your body will adapt to the forces you put it under, this means to play fast you simply play faster and jump into those higher inertia forces to build up your muscles.

And gravity also plays a big role, if you practice sat down with the guitar in a position different from the guitars natural position when standing, your body will adapt to those forces, meaning soon as you sand to present your skill to others, you feel like you’re holding an alien, all the forces change.
So it’s very important to practice as if you’re presenting your guitar playing to an audience. So somehow try get yourself in a comfy position with the guitar near exactly how it hangs when standing.

It’s annoying as it takes some comfort away from hours of practice, but the way you hold the guitar when practicing can mean the difference between bedroom player and legit guitarist.


I’m a big fan of playing slow to get fast.

I think you occasionally have to ‘burst’ out of your comfort zone so you know how it ‘feels’ at the faster speeds… but consistently playing something too fast, that you arent comfortable with is generally bad.

I’ve noticed that, i’m for sure getting more precise at the lick i am practicing. So in a way i’m getting faster at it. :blush:

Have you ever seen a sprinter jog as his main form of training?
You have you put your body under load to force it to improve, going slow will never put your hands under the added weight/inertia required to build up strength.

Everyone is different, but the worst thing I ever did for my guitar playing was trying to play something fast without being able to play it slow. I honestly wasn’t even aware of how bad I was, until I recorded my playing, and played it back at various speeds, and it was terrible. I was missing many of the notes… it was so sloppy.

Now, I almost always play things slow and precise… and slowly speeding it up after I’ve mastered it. I saw a few youtubers, like Rick Graham mention how important this was. It has helped my playing quite a bit. For the super-tough arpeggios (like the diminished and/or 7th), I often start as slow as 80 bpm (16ths), and very slowly speed up. I’ve found that is the only way I can play them fast.

But as I said before… I still think its a good idea to do ‘bursts’ beyond your comfort zone… so that you can get an idea of how the pattern feels at high speeds. I do these bursts a few times a day for short periods of time.

Also… when I am speaking of playing fast… I don’t mean playing at 280 BPM. I really don’t even touch those speeds anymore. I try to keep things under 200 now.

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I’m not advising you play fast before you speed up, it needs to be automatic and clean first by slowly training yourself to perform it correctly, but once you’ve reached that point there is very little to be gained continuing slowly in terms of speed. It’s EXACTLY the same as weight training, you learn the movement, then load up over time, you have to play fast to load up your arms/hands with the weight.

So I agree with you, but think rather than going out of your comfort zone as a concept, it’s better to think of it exactly like weight lifting. There is decades of documented weight training truths and facts out there. As for speeding up on guitar, there’s really not much, troy’s doing a nice job changing that though.

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This is interesting. For me when I play slowly my pick hand movements, even the grip and where I hold tension completely changes when I switch to fast mode. So when I’m trying to work through a new motion slowly, I will do a couple runs using my fast grip, then try to maintain that while playing slowly. If you don’t yet have a fast grip, maybe try learning tremolo picking and single string patterns to develop that, then you will know if your string crossing movements will work when sped up.

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I think the recent clip of Oz Noy playing scales slowly and the quickly demonstrates that most of us play slowly very differently than when we play quickly.

That’s not to say there’s no place for slow practice, but if you want to get fast, you need to practice playing fast.


I’d say it’s not alyways possible top copy fast motions to slow.
It’s pretty tough to find a good practice routine for that.
Sometimes it even takes more strength to things slower with the same movements as fast, which ist not bad at all cause it helps building strength.
Anyway the worst thing that might happen is that you get the false motions in your muscle memory, so definitely it should be dealt with care.

I personally try to either
a) isolate parts of the fast movement that can be transformed to slower motions
b) practice at the slowest tempo that still feels like the fast (which is mostly still pretty fast) and overemphasize accents

Still that is exactly the process I’d love to get investigated closer.

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I’ve noticed this too recently. Around 110bpm 16ths my picking motion start changing somehow, to a hopping motion. I guess i still have to find my second gear.

This is not easy. I have a motion that goes a lot faster, but with this motion i cannot play 2ns patterns.

So my next quest will be the search of a second gear picking motion that works for me.

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