Really feeling like I have a fine motor skill disorder

Sorry in advance - this is probably going to end up being a pretty ranty post.

I’ve been playing guitar with fairly serious practice dedication for a bit under 3 years now. I started out like typical beginners probably do, struggling through chord shapes and simple songs, etc. But as time went on, I kept getting more and more of these creeping feelings… “Why am I not able to get this? What the hell is wrong with me?”

This community is absolutely fantastic. Tons of great resources, great discussions, and great people. Since I started working on picking techniques, I’ve managed to make pretty good progress - I have a DSX wrist motion that is coming along pretty nicely and I’m able to incorporate some extra little tricks to make it even more flexible (like starting on an upstroke or throwing in bits of economy to switch strings after an upstroke).

But I struggle to such an insane degree to get anything up to even meager speed and it drives me nuts. For a long time I blamed myself, thinking maybe I’m lazy, maybe I’m not dedicated enough, maybe I’m not practicing hard enough. So I went and tried to fix it. I bought books like The Practice of Practice and tried to apply the techniques described. I designed detailed practice routines with specific incremental goals. I bought exercise books, worked on boring exercises endlessly, worked on fun exercises endlessly, worked on song riffs and passages endlessly. I took lessons with several different teachers. And of course I read lots of posts on this and other forums.

And what I come across is people describing how they had fun learning all the flashy classic rock solos and riffs as teenagers but now that they’re older they’re honing in their picking skills to be able to play songs in the 180-240bpm range. About a year ago I came across a video someone made of their attempt of a Crazy Train cover after 1 year of playing. It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty damn good. I decided hey, that would be a great challenge for me. Now, almost a year later, I can sort of play the lick at 1:18, messily, about 1/4 of the time, at maybe 120bpm (the song is at 138), on a good day. I haven’t even made it to attempting the solo because every time I work on the song, I spend an hour just trying to get that lick down; slowing it way down, working up 2bpm at a time, trying to “just go for it” at full speed, reworking the finger placement, reworking the picking technique - I just can’t get it. Even worse are the ascending chromatic licks - I can’t even get close on those ones. And at this point I feel like I’m forced to conclude that there is something uniquely screwed up with my fine motor skills, because nobody really seems to complain about any of the problems I’m having.

To summarize: my fretting hand just sucks. I can play some specific 3-note repeating patterns okayish sometimes around 150bpm, but it’s like my fingers just don’t respond fast enough beyond that. With non-trivial patterns, I already start to have problems at 90-100bpm. Even if I know the pattern well and I’ve burned it in lots at lower speeds, as I work my way up through tempo, at a certain point it always just breaks down and I feel like I have no control. Sometimes, I can play chunks of 4-6 notes at a time quickly, but after that it’s like my hand runs out of gas and just kind of slows down or goes tense. Hand sync also gives me endless trouble.

And those are just the speed-specific issues. In general my playing tends to be really inconsistent. I have a hard time making it more than 30 seconds without some glaring mistake. Sometimes my fretting hand will even just decide to play the wrong note for no reason, even if I’m very familiar with the passage.

At this point, I’m losing hope and I’m pretty much out of ideas. More often than not, a practice session just leaves me feeling kind of depressed. I guess at least if I have some underlying neurological issue, I can stop blaming myself for not trying hard enough. It still sucks though.

I don’t know what I’m really looking to get out of this post… I guess I just don’t really know where to go from here. Keep practicing, keep taking lessons, keep learning, try to write some songs, I suppose, since that’s my goal anyway. I wish there was a solution to this problem like Troy has created with solutions to picking… but I fear that there simply isn’t one.

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That all sounds extremely frustrating - a quick video of your fretting hand doing something you can do fairly well and then something you struggle with would probably be helpful.

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Agree that this sounds very frustrating and I hope we’ll be able to help you!

posting a video in Technique Critique is definitely the way to go!

Give us a single string fast tremolo to see where you are with your basics of picking motion, and I like @Prlgmnr 's suggestion of showing us two examples of something you can do well and not well.

One thing I will say immediately is that you should ditch the “raising the metronome 2pbm at a time” approach. At this point we have plenty evidence that this method does not work for learning complicated motions.

Finally, have a read at this to get an idea of the various available options for technique critique :slight_smile:

How’s your legato? I can play legato at much higher speed than I can accurately pick something, maybe try and see how well you can do Yngwie sixes legato, say 115bpm 16th note triplets? That would help establish if your fretting hand is the problem

I would suspect you just don’t have a learned motion capable of the speeds you want to play at, in my own experience that was definitely the case :slight_smile:

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Thanks for the replies everyone. I’m hanging out with family for Thanksgiving but I should be able to post some recordings of your suggestions on Saturday.

Agreed - the whole “running isn’t the same as walking fast” thing certainly applies a lot of the time, and definitely for picking motions. That is by no means the only approach I’ve taken, just one of several. Though I don’t think it’s so devoid of value that it’s worth totally ditching, especially when the problem seems to be “my hand knows the right motions, it just gets confused and laggy when trying to perform them quickly”.

The problem is that I haven’t found any practice method that seems to work well for me:

  • Start slow and work my way up. What tends to happen for me with this approach is I’ll make my way nicely from say 60bpm to 90bpm. Then from 90bpm onward, I’ll start to make more and more little mistakes (correcting them each time) until I hit a speed where it just falls apart. And doing this consecutive days doesn’t really seem to improve that ceiling.

  • Start with speed! This seems to work great for picking motions but usually it’s a disaster for fretting patterns. It feels like flinging paint at a canvas and expecting to get sharp lines.

  • Chunking. This works super well - for sequences of 4-6 notes. Things start to fall apart when I stitch the chunks together.

  • Adding notes one by one - similar to chunking. When the phrase starts to get beyond 4-6 notes, my hand loses gas.

If there are other approaches I’m unaware of I would love to hear them.

I’ll give this a try on Saturday as well. I think that pattern might be okay? It’s stuff beyond the basics that gives me problems.

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No worries, post an example when you can and we’ll take it from there :slight_smile:

I hesitate to suggest specific approaches without having seen the problem first.

By the way, I’d higly recommend for you to check out Tom Gilroy’s series on the fretting hand, you may find some useful info:

the only technique i found that really developed this way was thumb index technique, and it burned pretty bad for about a week. but i was noticing speed gains in my two way economy picking ascending and descending 3 nps scale shapes. most other techniques this doesn’t really work for me anyways.

although i will say i do practice songs this way and eventually i can bump them up faster and faster the longer i play through them over time.