Tiny Chunking Theory


#1

I’ve been working a concept of how to develop speed and accuracy in a simple, methodical way. This came about from my rebuilding my picking technique from the ground up after finding Cracking the Code and Troy’s discussion about chunking. It would great to get some feedback on this approach.

My theory is based around very short sequences, or tiny chunks. These are 3, 4, and 6 note patterns that you see everywhere. If you can play these tiny chunks fast and accurately then it stands to reason that you can play combinations of them fast and accurately with a little practice. The benefits of this simple method are:

  1. Develops hand synchronization quickly.
  2. It’s relatively easy getting these tiny chunks up to speed.
  3. Builds confidence in your ability to play fast. Again, if you can play the 3 and 4 note chunks fast, it stands to reason you’ll be able to play combinations of them fast with a little practice.

We start by practicing these two tiny chunks. Play them using different fingerings (1-2-4/1-3-4), positions, and strings. You’ll want to repeat each one for about 10 seconds, rinse & repeat. Do them while watching TV or listening to a podcast. By cycling these sequences you’re learning to play each 3 note chunk starting with a downstroke or starting with an upstroke at the same time.

“A” chunk: image

“D” chunk: image

It won’t take too long to get these to ridiculous speeds. When you do start cleaning up your timing with a metronome. For myself at the beginning playing these cleanly at 80 bpm was a struggle. After three months I had maxed out my metronome at 252 bpm.

Let’s expand these by adding one note.

“C1”: image

“C2”: image

If you’ve been practicing your 3 note chunks you’ll be blazing these in no time. “C1” is just “A” starting on a downstroke followed by the middle note of “A”. If you start it on the 3rd beat it’s “D” followed by the middle note. You could also look at it as "A interconnected with “D”. Check it out.

image

You can play “A” and “D” fast, right? Therefore you can play “C1” fast with a little bit of practice.

“C2” is the same as “C1” but starting on a upstroke.
image = image

Take a look at the Yngwie sixes pattern. It’s one note followed by the C2 pattern. Easy peasy.
image

Once you have these tiny chunks down start combining them and moving them up and down the fretboard. Don’t want to make the post too long, so I won’t go into pickslanting, string changes, or working on single string combinations but here are a couple of examples of where I think the power of tiny chunks lie.

Here’s a classic Yngwie style run:
image

Wow, that’s a whole lotta notes! But you know what? You got this. This run is completely comprised of “C2” and “D” tiny chunks. Since you can shred “C2” and “D” you can shred this.
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Gilbert Pattern? It’s “C2” plus a note on a higher string.
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Gilbert Sixes? It’s the “A” chunk split between two strings.
image

This old chestnut? “C1” on the B string, “C2” on the E string.
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When learning new licks and runs see if you can break them down into tiny chunks.

I’ve left out a few tiny chunks for brevity but the basic concept is here. What do all you think? Any merit to it?

Thanks!


#2

This looks really interesting and seems to make a lot of sense. I’m definitely going to try practicing this way. I often notice that the chunks I play are pretty big and after a while I start to lose synchronization, so this might help with that.


#3

When I take some time to practice purely “technique” this is usually what I do. I believe John Petrucci covers a similar idea in Rock Discipline, though he doesn’t call it chunking, rather “Scale Fragments” if I recall. He suggests practicing all the scale fragments separately so that you can just string them together as needed, much like your post suggests.

I tend to group my notes into 4’s, so instead of getting the interlocking A+D in your example, I would just make that one 4-note chunk.

The chunking has definitely improved my ability to play and organize fast runs! It rules. The next step for me is to change between different “chunk” lengths in the same lick/phrase without losing the tempo or focus. Grouping 4+6 into 10’s makes me stumble sometimes.


#4

I was just about to post about l/h speed; mine just doesn’t move fast enough. Are you repeating the entire pattern from the first beat at 252?

And, 3 months?! Is that practising at speed every day, or just the playing time in general, with these licks?


#5

I started doing something very similar to this a few years ago. Since I’m lazy, I tried to maximize my “bang for the buck” by simultaneously improving my picking skills as well as my fretboard knowledge. In particular, I’ve been on 2+ year jag to really internalize the melodic minor scale as well as I had diatonic scale (and all its modes) under my fingers.

So I started with very small patterns, picked a “key of the day”, flipped on a football game and worked my way up and down the neck with these sequences. Since I was primarily interested in improving TWPS, I was focusing on scale fragments with a minimum of four notes. In a three-note-per-string fingering system, four-notes gives you three combinations across two strings: 3-1, 2-2, 1-3. But, oh wait, you can play those fragments in either direction so multiply that by two and now you have six different four-note sequences you can play for a given fragment.

Of course it doesn’t stop there. You can start working all kinds of variations in various dimensions. You can juggle the notes within a sequence to stretch them out, you can add notes, you can add strings. You can take four-note sequences and play them as sixteenth-note triplets. You can take three-note sequences and play them as sixteenth notes. And then once you’re feeling pretty cool and you have all that mastered maybe one day you think, “hey what if I played four-notes per string?”

Lather, rinse, repeat. Find a new hard thing. Start small. Work on it. Master it.

A couple years of this kind of work on a semi-regular basis made a HUGE difference in my technical skills and my fretboard knowledge. Working on those little scale-fragments not only improved my picking and fretting, but also helped me to mentally break-out of those scale patterns. Now they just look like big sets of intervals for me to grab at will and less like islands of boxed-in comfort separated by scary DMZs.

I can’t speak for the universality of this approach, but it’s done wonders for me.


#6

Yes, repeating the whole pattern about 6-7 times in a row. More reps than that my syncing begins to break down at high speeds.

I practiced them almost every day for at least an hour at a speed where my hands were relaxed. Every once in a while do a little speed burst. The cool thing is you don’t need to practice them trying to get faster and faster. If you sit in front of the TV for an hour doing them you’ll find your hands naturally speeding up day by day. If you started at 90 bpm after an hour you’ll find yourself at 95-100 bpm.

By focusing on one simple exercise brain it gets burned into your muscle memory quicker. Ten concentrated minutes on one exercise in one day is worth more than one minute every day for a month.

I played for decades with an ugly combination of thumb/index finger, wrist, and elbow movements. It was very hard to get my hands synced because of this. Wrist only movement was pretty new to me so at the very beginning the fastest I could pick a single note was maybe 16ths at 120 bpm. It got faster over time. At around 140 bpm I think my picking starts moving toward forearm flexion. I have a phone mount coming this week so I can start making some videos.


#7

Cool, I’m not crazy :slight_smile: I’ll have to check that out. Fragments does sound better.

The interlocking A+D picture was an example of how to visualize a new chunk that you’re learning. Then you have a new chunk in your arsenal. The Yngwie 6 pattern gave me fits until I looked at as a note + C2 chunk. Now it’s my Y chunk.


#8

Cool, thanks Ian. I’ll check these out.

One thing though, (and this is before I’ve grabbed my axe and tried any of what you’ve graciously shared) isn’t it the change of strings at speed that is the sticking point?

So, therefore shouldn’t that be included in a chunk?

I find the speed of picking is not as challenging as initiating the correct pickslant (upward or downward or both) in time to make the string switch at that speed.

oh wait… I’ve just re-read your post. Seems like you’ve omitted some stuff ofr brevity. Could you share a 2 string chunk.

Thx


#9

String changes are going to depend on the individual and what they’re trying to achieve. Basically find what works for you or what you want to work on and break it down into little chunks. Then drill those little chunks.

In my case I’m a downward pickslanter and swiper. I try to either work around or avoid phrases that require me to change my pickslant. Which is a downstroke on a high string followed by an upstoke on a lower string. I’ll UWPS it if I can’t find a way around but my left hand doesn’t like it.

If the string change starts with a downstroke on the new string it’s just a matter of string tracking. For odd note groupings I practice these with a swipe on the string change so I don’t have to change my pickslant:

image image image

This one is fun and really good practice once you get a handle on swiping
image

For descending sixes I start with an upstroke.
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If descending and the last note would be picked downwards I’ll do a pulloff instead.
image


#10

I stumbled on this old thread doing a search on chunking. Surprised Troy didn’t chime in. Has anyone used these and achieved breakthrough? I’m desperately trying to fix/learn - whatever it is - my picking and have been super frustrated. This is the kind of simple - methodological systematic approach i’ve been looking to find here. Just curious as to whether or not Troy blessed this. I"m struggling and it’s driving me absolutely crazy - but the volume of info here is just overwhelming and really just don’t have the time to wade through it all. I need a simple roadmap.


#11

what is the problem you are trying to fix?

IMo once you have really mastered one thing, it is way easier to master other things

obviously a good place to start is one string. if you cant pick fast and clean one one string then forget string changes etc.

Once you have the single string stuff pretty well mastered, pick whatever string change is easiest for you and really own it. Overlearn it and really groove it. Its downhill from there


#12

Hehe - that’s a complicated answer. I’m planning a much larger post asking for critique and breaking down what I’ve been doing - with video. I just stumbled on this and thought it was a nice approach.

My struggles are many - and i also feel like i have this middle speed where i really struggle and then do better at a higher speed. Everytime i think i’ve found downhill - i haven’t. I will post a much more complicated thread on this when I’m home. Traveling now and just trying to get smart via reading looking for something to practice. I’ve been playing guitar too long to be struggling like i am. I almost feel like I’ve broken my picking this time around (10 yr layoff) during the analysis process.

I will post something once i get my thoughts better organized. Probably incrementally as I don’t want to overwhelm folks here. I might use a couple of these here as video examples. I honestly have felt like I should have it - and yet - something is wrong. And i don’t know what it is. Will begin posting vids this weekend.


#13

Like drum rudiments. I too realized that this was the best way to develop on guitar.


#14

I spend tons of time lately doing these types of patterns. 16ths in this case

G-----------------------5–7--9–7--5
D-------------5–7--8-------------------8–7--5
A–5--7–8-----------------------------------------8–7 etc looped

pretty easy to get that one smoking pretty fast

of course a simpler one may be way harder:

E------5–8--5
B—6-------------etc. difficult due to the single note on the string

or of course any variation of the Paul Gilbert lick:

E-------5–7--8–7--5
B----8--------------------etc

those last 2 are very advanced IMO, or at least very difficult