I was just curious if Troy’s discoveries regarding picking speed have any actual impact on the standard metronome practice of working up to your “wheels falling off” speed, then trying an even higher speed, then going back to the previous speed and it supposedly feeling easier to play. Any thoughts or personal anecdotes?
Troy has extensive theories about this that strike me as contrary to best practices in classical music.
In what way? Or do you have links to any of this? Thanks.
I can only share my anecdotal experiences as a player and teacher.
I started playing when I was about 12. I’m 34 now, so this would above been about the year 2001. At first, my father showed me the basic chords and a few riffs he knew, but after a month or two he decided to send me to lessons. I was very fortunate, I had an excellent teacher who is a genuine virtuoso.
I was mostly playing standard “guitar” songs for the first two years. When I was 14, my teacher introduced me to Eric Johnson’s music. It left a huge impression on me, and this ignited my interest in developing my technical facility. By the age of 16 or 17, I was playing note perfect covers tunes by Eric Johnson, Paul Gilbert and Steve Morse.
My teacher never once told me to practice slowly with a metronome. He did tell me to break down longer phrases into smaller parts, bringing the parts up to speed and then connecting them. However, everything was framed as a problem to solve. I was told to go home and figure out how to play something, not to drill for reps.
I didn’t even know that I was “supposed to” practice slowly with a metronome until my family got broadband internet and I started reading online forums, which was when I was about 16.
The internet convinced me that I needed a practice routine, strarting slowly with a metronome, so I planned out my practice schedule and started practicing slowly with a metronome.
I do have to be honest, I had some issues with my sense of time at this point. I don’t think it’s all that unusual, I had only been playing 4-5 years and guitarists are notorious for these issues. Why do guitar players store a pick between the strings and the first fret? They can’t find a pocket.
I didn’t have abnormally bad time, but it definitely needed work. I could “keep time” if I focused on counting along with a beat, but I had a tendency to rush and if I had to focus my attention elsewhere I would lose my place.
My father (a very good drummer) and my guitar both agreed that this needed to be addressed. Both agreed that the best way to work on this was to play with other musicians. Again, no suggestion of a metronome. In lessons with my teacher, we focused more on playing together. I made efforts to start bands with other musicians my age.
My father is something of a drum shaman, and the real breakthrough came from practicing with him. He kept telling me to “stop counting and feel it.” He told me “if you want to groove, you have to move.” I didn’t really understand what he meant for a few months, and then it came on like a lightswitch. I felt the pulse in my body, I couldn’t lose it. I didn’t have it until I had it. Since that moment, I have never been able to turn it off.
Once I had it, the metronome was just a reference and measurement tool. I would just align my internal clock to the external click. As my father would tell me I would “find it, feel it and forget it.”
The metronome work I had been doing may have contributed, but I really believe that no amount of counting to a click was ever going to flip that switch in me. I had to let go of that entirely. I continued routine practice, starting slowly with a metronome for maybe 12 or 18 months. I hit a major technical plateau and I stopped enjoying the process of learning. I became very goal oriented, and I would be frustrated when I didn’t progress as I felt I should. By the end of it, I was sick of the electric guitar. I was burned out, lost interest in technical progression and I spent the next couple of years playing acoustic fingerstyle guitar, then when I returned to the electric guitar I was focused on phrasing, articulation, note shaping, etc.
It was about 2015 when I started working on technique again, but without any expectation of achievement. I just wanted to explore, experiment and experience the process of learning again. The process which works for me, and which has been working for my students is as follows.
Learning to habituate a low background of tension, thereby increasing sensitivity to tactile and kinaesthetic feedback. Find efficient movement patterns by focusing on what is large, powerful, fast and effortless. Strongly connect these movements to your internal clock. Convince yourself that you can move quickly, for example by using table tapping or a spacebar test (Spacebar speed test | 10 seconds | CPS Check). Build “rudiments”, which are transferrable rhythmic coordinations. Trust your mechanics and your internal clock, let go of any notions of “control” and take a shot at playing at a higher tempo, focusing on your haptic experience. Stop and reset if you ever lose your sense of time, if you get tense or if you lose your haptic “connection” to your movements. Do not stop for accuracy errors; if you can recover from an accuracy error you should, so that you’re training that ability to recover.
Concurrently, build vocabulary based on your rudiments and learn to connect your rudiments. Every new rudiment now becomes a lego brick that you can use to build more vocabulary. If you find something you want to play but can’t, make a rudiment out of it and train it in the same way.
Remember that failure is feedback. Every miss provides information that informs your next attempt. Make failure a goal, and learn to love it for what it can teach you. Remember, there are no negative consequences to failure in practice.
The results are far beyond what I could have ever expected. I’m playing things that are absolutely ridiculous and finding new personal vocabulary daily. The process is working for my students too. Students who have been playing for decades and invested thousands of hours of practice time.
I’ve been reading more about motor learning (inspired by CTC), and I’m currently working through “Motor Learning and Control for Practitioners” by C.A. Coker. The more I read, the more I believe that the traditional approaches to teaching and practicing technique don’t work because they don’t reflect the nature of our learning processes. I’m not an expert in this field, but I reflect on what I learn and consider how it can be applied in my own playing and in my teaching.
Interesting story Tom! Lately I have been doing a sort of combo of the two: I practice along with a metronome, or backing track, or GPX file, but for actually trying to increase my speed I just take a tiny chunk or whatever I’m dealing with and isolate it and try to play it as fast as possible. In a way, sort of the Shawn Lane “twitch”, and how he advocates just going for it and cleaning it up later (notably, the exact opposite advice that most others give). But in regards to the sentence in your last paragraph where you state that the traditional approaches to technique don’t work, apparently they do work very well for some people (i.e., Petrucci). I think it may boil down more to a “different strokes for different folks” kind of thing though, and I don’t think there’s really a one-size-fits-all solution for everyone.
Happy to share and give any insights I can.
Shawn is one of my absolute favourite players, I’ve analysed a lot of his playing and written extensively about it here on the forum.
In about 2016/2017, I decided I would spent some time practicing the patterns Shawn demonstrates on Power Licks/Solos, just going for it the way Shawn advocated. I was able to play those patterns at speeds I had never reached before, but that speed didn’t translate to the rest of my guitar playing. I was totally confused. Over the next few years I developed an understanding of his mechanics and line construction (the EDC concept in 2019) and when I paired that with dart-thrower USX motion (2021) it all came together.
I think if you’re fortunate enough to find capable mechanics from the beginning (either through intuition, reasoning or blind luck), the traditional approaches can be effective.
However, I think we have to consider the overall success rate of approaches. My students are all motivated. Most are professional or semi-professional musicians. Most are older than I am and some have been playing since before I was born (I’m 34). They have put in the hours and never achieved the results.
The transformations I have seen are astonishing, and the success rate for the teaching approach is beyond what I could have reasonably expected. I haven’t been teaching all that long (it’s coming up to one year). Sample sizes are still small and I don’t want to speak in absolutes, but the results are already very significant. The process works.
I’ve been a “fast” guitar player since I was a teenager, I’m woopledybloop nonsense fast now. The people here who have taken lessons with me can attest to it. I don’t mean to boast, and I’m not trying to position myself as the final authority on the subject, I’m just trying to add context.
It very well could be. As I said, I can only share my experiences as a player and as a teacher. If somebody else achieves results from the traditional approaches (either in their own playing or with students), that’s great; I’d love to know why it works for them and not for others. However, I am very much opposed to the idea of the “conventional wisdom” being held as dogma.
Sometimes, people think it don’t be like it is, but it do.
I’m interested in learning more about this. I feel that motor learning and consistency is something I really struggle with. Based on the info I’ve shared with you directly and via forum posts, would you recommend this as good reading material for me? Does it contain many actionable insights?
I’m hesitant to make a recommendtion; I haven’t read it all or reflected on it enough yet. I’ll write up my thoughts after I’ve done that.
Cool, much appreciated
I just bought this book after looking at a few alternatives on Amazon, based on the fact that it was cheaper (but still expensive at $60) and recently published (2021).
I recently picked up skateboarding again and will be restarting guitar soon hopefully, and want to make my practice as efficient and effective as possible based on what the science says.
Practicing really slowly gives you the coordination patterns when you first learn something.
Once you learn something, practicing at the speed you can play it perfectly programs your brain to play it perfectly.
Playing at the speed at which you’re about to lose control helps you diagnose what needs improvement.
Practicing above the speed you can currently play gives you the feeling of what it’s like to play faster. Running is not walking fast.
I think these are all necessary. To me, there are a couple of important factors to consider.
In what proportion should you practice these speeds? I don’t know the answer to this.
Secondly, what do you do mentally as you practice at various speeds?
For me, I mentally set my goal and instruct my brain as I do each of these speeds.
I might say (internally) “Really let go to get the feeling of what it feels like to play fast” when I let it fly. If I happen to hit a little section in which all the notes are clean and in sync, I give myself a mental “Good. That’s it!”
If I’m playing at slower speeds, I also instruct my mind as to what I’m aiming for, and give myself feedback, positive and corrective.
Oh yeah I don’t necessarily hold to the “conventional wisdom” either. Apparently it works well for some people, but not others. But even if you have an uber-disciplined player like Petrucci or Vai who developed very regimented practice sessions to develop their chops, and obviously became incredible players, who’s to say that they wouldn’t have become even better players faster if they had done something else instead (although that’s hard to imagine!)? There’s no real way to know. But if you are such a naturally fast player without having to go through the slog most players do, maybe you’ve tapped into something like what Lane had, just that natural ability. Maybe it’s something that you’re doing that just works perfectly for you (your wrist motion or the angle of your hand or a combo of things or whatever) that you wound up just getting right, right off the bat.
I think bursts work wonders for getting a good feel for what it’s like to play such-and-such lick up to speed. It’s also very helpful to learn a longer fast lick if you can break it down to 6-note chunks or something like that, and practice them in isolation using bursts.
I think it’s fair to say that “standard speed practice” is not speed practice at all (if it is anything).
In high school, I spent a lot of time drilling stuff at low/medium speeds with the metronome, just trying to pile up the reps without really asking myself why, hoping that one magical day I would be a virtuoso. Even worse: a lot of the stuff I was “practicing” was a bunch of chromatic exercises that had nothing to do with musical vocabulary.
Since this is super boring and draining, I would occasionally get distracted and start “procrastinating”, and would noodle some fast licks that came easy to me. On those licks, my speed was instantaneous (hint: the keyword here is easy). Surprise surprise, when I went and jammed with people the only fast things I could do where the fast licks from my “procrastination”, not the stupid slow stuff from my “practice”.
So, it turns out that my “practice” was the procrastination, any my “procrastination” was my practice
TLDR: don’t do the endless slow reps with the metronome if you want to play fast.
CAVEAT: slow reps (with or without the metronome) can help with memorising a sequence of notes (e.g. a lick). But if you don’t already have a technique that is capable of playing the lick fast, you will not acquire such technique by endlessly repeating the lick at slow tempo.
I think we have to be careful in interpreting these reports. Usually, these anecdotes are from players who already have the correct motions to play whatever they are trying to play.
So, once they memorized the phrase / lick / riff at a slow speed, they will not find hard limitations in their ability to speed it up. With relatively little work they’ll go (I’m making up random numbers) from 120 to 180 bpm.
But if someone without the correct motions does the same process, they could get stuck at (making up numbers again) 120bpm forever. Ask me how I know
Yep, that’s pretty much what I was saying. Simply put, different things work (or don’t) for different people. I use a metronome occasionally for timing practice, not so much for speed. For speed practice, just going at it freely, using bursts, or just improvising over a track with the lick in question works best for me. The original question was just meant to ponder, for those who do use the “traditional” metronome/speed method, has Troy’s findings in this amazing series altered the way you go about it? I was just curious because since I discovered CtC, it’s made me realize I’m really a DSX player, it’s very natural to me. But because there are still some things (usually rhythms) where you have no choice but to switch to USX, my style has gradually become a nice mixture of the two. So it’s had quite an impact on the way I approach things, although at this point, I don’t think much about it when I go to play something, I just do it.
Quick side note, is this actually true? I’ve recently developed wrist DSX and my muting doesn’t come from my pinky heel anymore it comes more from between my thumb heel and pinky heel at the base of my wrist.
Some things feel awkward but the motion is still relatively new, I’ve been debating seeing if I can turn my wrist DSX into wrist USX with a slight alteration so I can switch to it occasionally when I need it but I’m not sure if it’s really necessary, what do you guys think?
I think Paul plays muted rhythm stuff from a DSX position a lot of the time like in the clip below (if I’m correct in what I’m seeing) but I feel like I’ve seen him switch it up before as well
That’s pretty important. I think Troy talked about this with Andy Wood in one of their interviews. Back when I was working on DBX in the Andy Posture I found that location to be true. It seemed weird at first since I was always used to using that whole fleshy (pinky) side of the palm. But I think even if we do use that side of the palm, we can still use a DSX-ish trajectory. I’m thinking of the Hetfield all-downstrokes rhythm type playing. Technically it’s outside the realm of USX and DSX but to me, that feels and looks more like DSX than it does USX. It’s this really squashed ellipse we have to make and the “down” portion of that has the pick going away from the body of the guitar.
I wonder if I’m an outlier because I’ve always had great success with practicing with a metronome working from slow to fast gradually over lots and lots of repetition. I never practiced scales this way until within the last year or so after about 40 years as a guitar player. I would practice fast licks or segments of a piece or an entire song in this way until I was able to play it to the speed of the record I was learning from. Then playing with a real drummer is another thing and that requires lots of practice with a band after I’ve practiced alone for a long time until I can play it comfortably.
I guess this is all “according to Hoyle”, but this method has always worked very well for me. Maybe I’m just an example of “go with what works for you” as this method of working with a metronome has given me great results for many decades.
I can only assume this general question keeps coming up because we’ve failed to be clear about what we mean about speed being important in the learning process. So every once in a while, when I come up with what I think is an even clearer explanation, we make updated lessons about it. The most recent Primer update includes precisely such a lesson!
I even put a case study in here, with video footage of a real Technique Critique player trying to start slow and go faster, so you can see what happens to the joint motions.
If you watch this, you’ll see in the case study footage that the player’s motion starts out correct, and looks like USX, the motion he is trying to learn. But as soon as he speeds up even a little, it immediately reverts to DSX. Every time.
This is the problem. For the process of learning totally unfamiliar “new to you” picking motions, the only reliable way to do it is to get it right at least once — even by accident — in the speed range where the motion actually occurs during realistic playing. Otherwise, if you try to simulate the motion at a speed which is slower than where you would typically use it, you can’t be sure you’re doing it “for real”. If you’re not, then as soon as you speed up, the motion will just become the motion you already know.
Note that there are many other questions related to practice and accuracy where you might legitimately ask about what “speed” you should be playing. These questions include memorizing fingering, improving accuracy, and so on. And the correct answer to * all * of these questions depends on (1) what specifically you are trying to “practice” (intentional air quotes), and (2) where you are along the motor learning spectrum, from “new to you” to “expert”.
The only sense in which we have ever really spoken about “starting with speed” has been the sense I’m talking about in this case study, where a player is trying to figure out how to “do a picking motion”, and currently can’t do it because we can see with a camera that the motions are actually not correct. For any scenario like this, we have absoluately piles and piles of evidence at this point that making lots of slow-speed “repetitions” of the target motion doesn’t actually do anything.