Picking me softly

A concept I feel is not talked about enough in guitar playing is when you practice to pick as softly and delicately as you can. The reason being is in our body we have two different muscle activations.
One is full force employing the use of bigger less controllable muscles, and the other is almost no force employing the use of much smaller and more “controllable” or finer muscles.

The speed and control is all in those little supporting muscles, and that are activated and trained when you pull back on the picking force.

At first, like with everything it seems to delicate and not applicable to a real performance, but with practice these muscles and the nervous system controlling them becomes much more robust, the smaller muscles will over time be capable of much greater force and by nature, control.

If you’ve ever noticed your playing improve after taking certain drugs, beer, tobacco etc… The main reason is greater control and stimulation of these smaller muscles due to the nervous system being stimulated. Obviously this is a fine balance. But it’s no coincidence most performers best performances are while high on some drug. It’s the finer muscles that separate us from other apes. They can’t control them well at all.

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What an interesting subject.

I would never openly endorse or promote the idea, but likewise, I cannot deny the influence of erm, outside factors during songwriting/improv and/or the effect mild intoxication it has on my practice/playing regimen.

I have a feeling overall, long-term it might not be the greatest strategy, but like the 50% ape I am, I tend to remember only those rare occasions, and try to excuse every single decadent behavior of mine.

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Interesting topic. Do you have suggestions on what to explore or look for exactly?

Just occured to me that a video showcase about this might be cool to watch.

I’m not advocating drug use, if that’s what you’re getting at. More treating the guitar like a woman. Delicately. With some periods of hard use.

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A video showcase is a pain in the ass atm. I’ll make videos about it in future.

In terms of what to look for… Yourself, I can allllmost guarantee you’ve experience being a bit tipsy from alcohol and having your shredding or playing just flow, as if the guitar felt different, more connected, more intimate. Like it became smoother, as if the guitars material propriety’s changed and your fingers just connect and slide so well it feels good.

That’s your nervous system being simulated and enhanced. Allowing you control and expression you’d have a hard time achieving sober.

The thing thats changing here is dopamine or serotonin, I’m not a chemist fyi, as if that wasn’t obvious lol but these chemicals bring your closer to reality, more connected, more in control. They are like fuel for our conscious connection to physicality. I think it might have something to do with removing doubt and fear from our minds. With that removed you have a more direct connection too your body, less lag. And therefore can feel more, express more. Flow more. The guitar feels smooth, fun. After a few beers. For example. And you play with a smooth aggressiveness that I can only describe as being in more direct connection to the instrument.

Practicing softly will over time build this connection that drugs provide.

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I don’t drink or take any drugs with the exception of caffeine, and I like having one or two sugar-free energy drinks every week. I am aware that they are absolutely ****ing horrible for you, but I can say with absolute certainty that the increase in adrenaline is palpable for my fastest playing and I have a higher level of concentration.

I think I might have a video of one day where I played faster than I’ve ever played on a death metal riff if anyone is interested. It’s not clean but the level of speed I accessed was really high and that was with taking a lot of caffeine. It did help.

edit: I just looked it up and apparently caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, reducing blood flow to the muscles. Maybe it’s not as helpful as I thought, so it could be just mental.

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Vasoconstriction won’t stop speed, as far as I’m aware caffine constricts the brains veins, not body.
Thats why you get caffeine headaches if you quit.

Vasoconstriction will actually speed up blood flow. But increase blood pressure But as always, I’m no Dr.

Yeah I can definitely feel the effects, but I’m not sure how it works. I wonder if it influences muscle control. Probably out of my league to understand this since I’m not a doctor either lol.

I have never been able to play well after more than 1 pint. I’m not drunk or even tipsy, but playing is a mess. I’ve known a lot of people that would drink and they playing would remain intact and others that find being drunk very creative. For me, nothing takes me further away from being connected musically or physically fron the guitar. Listening to music whilst inder the influence on the otherhand is a completely different matter - I can get very connected to it…

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Different strokes, different blokes.

If I drink to much it all becomes sludge too, but about three to four beers, the guitar begins to feel like silk, really interesting.

I’m sure it’s worth recording your playing and seeing if this phenomenon remains observable when you play it back sober.

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I never said you were advocating and didn’t need to because you had already mentioned it in your OP:

“If you’ve ever noticed your playing improve after taking certain drugs, beer, tobacco etc…”

I merely acknowledged its influence (as you did) with personal but insignificant anecdotes.

And on second thought, with all due respect I think the approach is a little backwards and not conducive to building quick, solid, and long-lasting technical movements. Acknowledging this distinction is not as fundamental as applying technique, and what we perceive as smoothness or relaxation is a byproduct of good technique. There are also of course many physical techniques (even in guitar alone) that don’t necessarily have smoothness or relaxation as a key indicator of mastery.

I don’t know whether the sexist analogy holds because per the comparison, you’re relating seemingly exclusive and separate guitar motions to a biological act which is rather on a spectrum. To be honest, I’m not sure if any guitar technique can be divided into that sort of strict dichotomy; imo that exists on a spectrum as well.

While we’re on the subject of analogies, I think it’s like trying to decide consciously whether to use big or small muscle groups instead of working out good sprinting form. If you do, the muscle selection will be trivial in comparison because the body will know what to do, and that is more important than merely noting the difference in one’s head.

Kind of like going out to NYC’s restaurant week and ending up going to a different restaurant because you get confused with the smell from a neighboring restaurant. A map would have solved it without much doubt because the implicit goal is that you want to arrive at the restaurant you signed up for. Thus a map beats smell in accuracy and time even though olfactory engagement is fun and can sometimes work.

So not to digress, but that map analogy is really the ethos of CTC primer (and subsequent materials), so that we keep it short and don’t get sidetracked with just knowing about how to play it- we just play it.

The amount of blood flow that caffeine (via coffee or else) may reduce is variable on so many factors, and even if it does in your case, I doubt the amount of it would be significant enough to deter picking speed (otherwise I really need to quit!).

And I’d never be able to quit my coffee sadly. Despite my stay here, I’m much more acquainted with coffee jargon than I am with CTC- which is something I should work on because jargon is important when communicating with others, but since I am the way I am, I just say things like “Yes the floppy wrist, thick thumb grip, down down, go!” XD


Re: drugs - I’m not sure about the connection to soft picking, but I’ve wondered many times whether an altered mental state could help with discovering new picking motions and overcoming stringhopping for example.

It’s “Cracking the Code”, not “Licking the Toad”.


So thaaat’s why I smoke like crazy when playing… )
Though… I do it when programming too.

I think the main way that caffeine could be negative is through dehydration. I’m pretty prone to dehydration and it increases my likelihood of muscle fatigue and strain. But I won’t givebit up either! :grin::coffee::coffee::coffee::coffee::coffee::coffee:

I think a good analogy is writing, you do it softly if you want to write fast. You can add a bunch of hard flicks, but rarely dig into the paper.

A big part of it is when you’re high on drugs or alcohol your inhibitions are lowered and you stop caring so much. Eddie Van Halen‘s talked about it a million times that one of the biggest reasons why he would be drunk on stage is he didn’t care as much if he happen to make a mistake. I think we also stop so intently focusing on what we’re doing which can screw us up as well. :man_shrugging:

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I think the effect is caused by a syncing up of the sub conscious and conscious. And more direct input from our senses, like the signal from our body to brain is speed up making things feel more detailed, I swear I can lach onto the guitar strings more after a few beers. Just feels more connected. And to many beers will ruin that tho.