What contributed to each of your guitar "breakthroughs"?

Often times it seems like we will reach that next level out of nowhere. Just from a culmination of the previous days, weeks and months of practice finally paying off.

But other times, we make a distinct change, go down a new avenue, try a new exercise, or learn a new technique that serves as a clear landmark for a major breakthrough.

Of those you can remember, what contributed toward your past guitar breakthroughs?

(I will share mine as a reply to this post so it is not too long, but I mainly wanted to make this topic so I can learn from all of the replies and hopefully integrate these things into my practice.)

Here are some of my breakthrough moments:

  1. Finding Troy’s pickslanting videos. As soon as I started incorporating this idea, it was only a matter of weeks and I felt like I had progressed more than I had in years.

  2. Troy’s video about leading/trailing edge picking. I was a trailing edge picker for 15 years, and had no idea that most people used a leading edge. My picking hand was ALWAYS sore/injured due to the angle of my wrist. When I learned the leading edge grip, my speed increased dramatically, my picking hand was much more relaxed, and I haven’t had a sore hand since. Also, this big knot in my wrist went away.

  3. Focusing on learning scales with different note groupings on each string (opposed to only 3NPS, 2NPS, 4NPS etc). This forced me to adopt 2 different escapes, and really opened up my possibilities. In Guthrie Govan’s “Creative Guitar 2”, there are a ton of these runs which are very difficult at first, but have proven invaluable.

  4. Taking nearly a whole year off of exercises to learn ONLY songs. In this year, I focused on trying to learn difficult solos (JP’s The Best of Times, Under a Glass Moon, Breaking all Illusions, Yngwie songs, etc). While I did break the solos down into mini exercises, I was not just doing mindless non-musical practice. The reason this was so important is because it taught me so much about overall feel, and it added so many “tricks” and techniques to my repertoire.

While I still have so far to go, these last 4 years or so since I have discovered Troy’s ideas have been incredibly fruitful for my guitar journey!

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I think usually it’s about introducing a new idea / strategy that I hadn’t considered before.

When the idea works, progress is almost instantaneous!

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Do you happen to remember any specific examples of new ideas you’ve tried that have contributed toward this progress?

Two examples that come to mind from 2016 or so (shortly after I watched the original Cracking the Code series on YT):

After realising that my motion (at the time) was primarily DSX, I tried pentatonics starting on an upstroke and could do them fast after only a few attempts.

In a similar spirit, I found that I could play 3nps scales fast by doing a hammer-on or pulloff to avoid the upstroke string change

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Oh yes, great one about the pentatonic runs! Before CTC, I was absolutely baffled as to how people played 2NPS stuff so fast. After I learned CTC I gravitated toward learning USX, and 2NPS finally made sense in a epiphany-type moment.

I really need to mess around more with adding that legato note for 3NPS stuff like you mentioned. I saw a video on a guy named Josh Meader (I’m sure you are familiar with him) and IIRC he uses a system like that for these blazing runs.

Oh, and Shawn Lane of course. His “Power Licks” DVD is filled with these ideas. He took it a bit further though and had sequences where he would pick the first 2 notes, legato the next 2, pick the next 1, and legato the next 2.

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To be honest for me, with regards to advanced technique, it’s been grunt work. Just ol fashioned hard work - while experimenting with techniques such as the excellent material presented here at CTC.

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For you personally, does this grunt work come in the form of exercises? If so, is it usually metronome work? I am just trying to get a grasp on everyone’s responses so I can find any common threads.

(A huge chunk of my progress has definitely come down to grunt work as well)

My grunt work is strictly in learning and trying to play songs I can’t play because my technique is lacking. Sometimes including songs I’ve written in guitar pro etc. and can’t play at speed yet. However, I will go out of my way to use a weak technique in the song when I could get away with something else that sounds good - like I can play plenty of sweeping runs but if I’m working on crosspicking I will alternate pick them as an exercise and to see if I could at some point perform the song that way. Or maybe I alternate pick an economy run, or vice versa - depending on what I’m trying to improve. But it has to be musical 100% of the time, because the technique for me is fun but a vehicle to make the sounds I like.

My breakthroughs are usually after a period of grunt work where at first I made clear progress and it slowed down because I’ve hit some run that just doesn’t quite work the way I want it to, then I start switching my technique up in small ways and experimenting, and I realize that I some small tweak gives me more control and I can suddenly play that run a lot cleaner. Then I work on refining it more - and it doesn’t replace my previous technique, because my previous technique was there for a reason, slightly more suited to some other run. It just gets married in.

I think this is the case over time as you pick up and refine a technique and blend it with new techniques. Like alternate picking - at first you’re thinking about it as “getting a motion down that works”. That’s a jumping off point. There are going to be limitations, you’re going to tense up doing multi-string runs or trying to string skip or doing odd NPS groupings, and if you can get more motions down that work in different scenarios, and get them all working smoothly together, you get something even more powerful and versatile. That refining and versatility stage seems to take multiplicatively longer than the initial “ah I can play something really fast now” - and it really is you multiplying the things you can play and throw in the mix at any given time.

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I can’t deny personal experiences, but when I see people talking about “grunt work / gym mentality / doing a lot of repetitions” (paraphrased), I am a bit worried that it can give the wrong impression to beginners who may be passing by the Forum.

In short: a million repetitions of a wrong thing don’t teach you the right thing.
EDIT: of course, once you know the right motions for the lick/riff/phrase, it may be beneficial to do some repetitions. But again, I think they should be very mindful repetitions where you are constantly trying to adjust and optimize. I also think, for a single lick or exercise, that there are severely diminishing returns after 3-5minutes).

Back on topic: another thing that really helps me is to frequently try and record the thing I am trying to learn. It’s amazing how many details you miss when you are playing. Pulling some numbers out of my £$$%:

I think you learn more by doing 10 minutes of recording, listening, correcting than half an hour of mindless metronome reps (where you may not be really focusing /listening but just plodding on)

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So This is what I do and I’m not sure it is for everybody -

  1. Choose a lick or phrase I want to learn
  2. Practice it slow and fast until I have it about right
  3. Then move into an analysis phase where I record each take and analyse it by slowing it down and seeing where I am going right and wrong
  4. Then continue experimenting to correct the wrong parts

So this is incorporating what tommo is saying:

But I am going to be honest - for me there are a LOT of repetitions to get it exactly right. This could be due my limitations as a player.

I have no doubt some players could get licks down in less time and reps than me. But this is what I have found I have to do,

The REALLY hard part for me is not the speed - I can play at a reasonable speed. But accuracy is my challenge. When I listen to Paul Gilbert for example, when you slow down his fast stuff - he is hitting the notes. This is quite rare I believe in very fast players. So in my 4 steps above - I can get to step 2 pretty quickly.

Getting through to step 4 where each note is cleanly executed at high speed - this takes a LONG time for me and a LOT of reps.

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When we talk breakthroughs, are we referring to instant levelling up or something that leads to levelling up in time? Maybe I’m overthinking it haha

For example today, I rewatched the tracking video for forearm and wrist blend motion and it’s a “simpler” approach to what I’d been practicing. What I’d been practicing wasn’t working, hence revisiting the video and now I have an answer to a problem that’s been an ass pain for a while now. It will take me some time to adjust to it and learn the subtleties along the way, but I think I’d consider it a breakthrough.

My biggest breakthrough came from going through the picking primer in order a few times. Once I found a comfortable fast motion, I finally felt like I had a motion I could work with, after many failed attempts with instructors and old vhs tapes in the past.

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Which tracking video? Is it the one that’s over an hour long? Can you link it?

No it’s short. It just shows and describes the sort of flextension motion instead of uprooting the arm completely, which is what I was doing and had a lot of accuracy issues with.

Excellent info thank you. I love your idea about choosing a weak area technique in your practice instead of the more straighforward approach. I’ll need to start incorporating this, as I still have so many weak areas (crosspicking, sweep picking, tapping come to mind).

And yeah, that all-encompassing moment when every different thing you’ve been working on starts to come together definitely trumps the small scale “I can play this 12 note run now” moment. I find that it’s always accompanied by a new level of relaxation as well. It’s like a new sense of freedom, and it lasts…far too short before you feel like it’s the norm again haha.

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Very true. I REALLY need to start recording my practice. For some reason, I have the worst case of procrastination when it comes to setting up a camera and hitting that record button.

(I think you just mean audio recording, if so I have absolutely no excuse not to do that)

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During your recording phase, are you mostly recording audio only? Or are you recording video too so you can analyze motion?

And I think you’re right about the dead-on accuracy being a rare thing. I was watching the Yngwie REH video recently at 25%, and there were so many little inaccuracies I never would have imagined. He still sounds great of course and no knock on him, but it really does shed a new appreciation on players like Paul (and I would guess MAB too).

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No not overthinking it, sorry I should have clarified!

I was mostly talking about the quicker breakthroughs, as it can sometimes be difficult to attribute exactly what caused a long-term breakthrough. Also with the long-term ones, these can happen just by practicing over time, even if it’s not the highest quality practice.

But both are still fair game!

And agreed, I would say my absolute biggest breakthroughs came from the Picking Primer as well. Progress came so quickly once I learned about escape motion, and once I changed from a trailing to leading edge grip.

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Generally record both - for 2 reasons.

  1. If I want to post a take here that I think is worthy of putting up
  2. because I experiment with technique so much, sometimes I forget what I have used on a particular take that might sound good in review!

I think the Alcatrazz era Yngwie is the most accurate - the 25% speed test holds up really well. Listen to the live 84 stuff or the No Parole recorded solos - amazing. this is one of the reasons why I am such a fan of this eara of his work!

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I think my main one was down ward pick slanting, or usx.
I was always obsessed with trying to alternate pick everything with little legato.

Once I got over that, I could play things much better, I spent a few months just playing like Gypsy jazz players and it really helped me see how you can play 90% of things with little thought, a single pick escape and pulloffs.

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