I am an intermediate player who has been playing casually on an off for 15 years but only became really serious in my devotion to become great 4-5 months ago.
My focus is 100% entirely on bluegrass. I am transcribing every Bryan Sutton fiddle tune that I love and every Tony Rice break I can find. As this forum is well aware, bluegrass is not a style where you can chose uwps or dwps and then plan out your licks by organizing a certain number of notes per string. The fiddle tunes are what they are and they have to be alternate picked. I guess that means I need to use the double escape or “cross picking technique”. But to me, that technique is eerily similar to string hopping and I am having trouble identifying the line between the two.
I have transcribed a lot of stuff and have practiced some songs like, literally thousands of times. The one song I have played more than any other is Beaumont rag. I know the notes like the back of my hand, so this is really the song that I am using to drill my picking technique and to try to increase my speed.
I can tremolo really fast but for some reason , when actually playing out the tune, I cannot play anything cleanly past 100bpm (16th notes). I have been grinding and grinding and drilling and drilling and drilling and just cannot nudge my speed even my a single bpm over 100. It’s so frustrating. My hand gets so tense, locks up, it feels so inefficient, but I can’t downward pickslant , because just as often I can changing strings after a downstroke. I also feel like none of the great bluegrass players learned to play fast by studying how their grip should change depending on how many notes are in the line. To me it seems they all learned to do this naturally, by feel. Essentially just trying to play faster and faster little by little, and overtime their muscles learned what they had to do to go that one extra bpm faster.
Well, my muscles aren’t. And I think I’m probably string hopping but I don’t know what to do about it. I cannot even begin to explain To you how many hours I have spent drilling this one song over and over and over and over and over , thinking that the practice would somehow make me be able to play it faster. But it hasn’t. And I feel like I have wasted hundreds of hours on nothing. My wife is losing her mind. She doesn’t even like that I play guitar anymore because she finds it so annoying, which makes me sad. At least if I had something to show for it… but I don’t.
Anyway, 100bpm 16th notes is so slow. I understand that I can strategically incorporate hammers and pulls in order to rest for a beat to allow me to go faster, but I shouldn’t be having to do that in order to get to 110 or 120, yea maybe when Sutton plays at 160 he uses some rest strokes, but he can also alt pick straight notes at that speed for several bars.
Anyway, I have been to 3 different teachers. And they all say the same thing. Play slower. Play slow enough so that it is musical, and clean and Crisp… once you can do it like that, you will be able to then do it a little faster. But that was only true for me until I hit this plateau. Now I can put in 100 hours of Beaumont rag at 95bpm and it doesn’t make one lick of a difference. Trust me, I practice slow so freaking much. Not one of these teachers can actually look at my technique and say anything about it. They just think it’s because I haven’t learned the song well enough. Really? I have played Beaumont rag 30,000 times per week, I still don’t know it well enough?
Part of me thinks it could also be a hand synchronization issue because even when I do the chromatic exercise I just struggle to hit the notes cleanly. But maybe that’s just because I haven’t practiced that pattern that much. Beaumont rag is a pattern I have practiced to DEATH. can hand synch really be the issue?
Anyway, here is my video. I would be so insanely grateful if anybody could help me figure out what to do. I suspect the diagnosis is going to be string hopping but I don’t know how to cure that in a bluegrass context.