What contributed to each of your guitar "breakthroughs"?

I think this is my biggest problem. My practicing methods are not well organised and I get frustrated very easily and quickly. I really need to look into practicing methods and how to stay focused etc etc

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I like to experiment with small details like pick angle / depth, grip depth / angle (as in which way the pick leans compared to fingers and how each finger leans compared to each other, sorry for the bad explanation), attack, finger movement, wrist angle and pivot… Basically a bunch of small details like those (and more) and how it affects the playing. All with the constraint of alternate picking everything. I just experiment with something until it feels good, then do the “usual” routine people so to speed it up.

Probably the first thing I got fast is “Petrucci 6s”, then I started doing more long scales 3nps, then non-repeating stuff like Shawn Lane.

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I don’t know if this is anything of substance or if anyone has come across this before but with my fractal modeler I am able to emulate the balance of the output to come out of one speaker, one headphone side or both. This might be a bit different than just having sound come out from both sides and taking one headphone off/out; not sure though. Anyway, by mistake the other day, one of my presets was only coming out of one headphone side and it provided a different listening experience. I didn’t do this for long because I’ve heard it’s dangerous to only play through one headphone, but it was helpful. It just made my picking sound different and allowed me to have a more effective practice based on what I was hearing better. I am going to experiment with it again.

I think anything that introduces new stimulus to regular practice increases the brains adaptation.
Though one thing I read before while learning about perfect pitch was our ears process sounds at different speeds and it may be linked to hand dominance. So like your right may process faster than left, Bit of a tangent but something to look at I guess.

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Makes sense. Another thing I’ll add (and this happened/happens with my old tube amp setups as well as my digital modeler) is that sometimes my ears just get bored of sounds I normally like to play or use for practice. And then when I switch to a new amp model or preset, it can be very refreshing to practice with

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A student came to Master Ichu and said, “Please write for me something of great wisdom.” Master Ichu picked up his brush and wrote one word: “Attention.” The student said, “Is that all?” The master wrote, “Attention. Attention.” The student became irritable. “That doesn’t seem profound or subtle to me.” In response, Master Ichu wrote simply, “Attention. Attention. Attention.” In frustration, the student demanded, “What does this word ‘attention’ mean?” Master Ichu replied, “Attention means attention.”

I just had a breakthrough and was about to open a post to tell you about it, so thanks for this post!
Simply, my pick was too deep between the strings (when downwards). Then by chance, I started picking where the fretboard is, which limits the depth of the picking to just a mm. I could then magically play super fast things that have been practicing for a long time! I clearly was picking too hard (sometimes I practice with the acoustic guitar, like going to the fingers gym), and this softened my picking by reducing the length of strokes (increasing speed).
Of course as mentioned, the real breakthrough is: Finding Troy’s pickslanting videos. Thanks man, you saved us!!

Conscious relaxation. Still working on it and I don’t play much shreddy stuff, but it has def opened things up for me. I made a vid about it: Relaxing your picking hand and arm - YouTube Cheers! Z

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I can’t remember that far back very well, but here goes.

When I first started playing, I learned how to tune my guitar. Much like Troy, I sat in my room and I figured out songs from bands I liked. It started with Black Sabbath, then I moved to Iron Maiden and Ozzy with Rhoads, then Metallica. I remember getting Kill 'em All and I sat in my room all weekend and figured out every single song on the record sans the solos. I think in the 2 years I spent doing this I learned more than in any other period of my playing.

I started taking guitar lessons from a well known shredder in my area, he opened me up to ear training and theory and would challenge me with all kinds of things from arpeggios to picking exercises to figuring out what key the song I knew were in and what modes and things they used.

I joined a band, that elevated me further as playing with other people and preparing for gigs is exciting and fun and learning to play with others makes you a better player too. I did this for a decade or more, but I eventually hit walls and I could not learn to play the things I really loved outside some of Randy Rhoads solos which I spent weeks and weeks figuring out just one of them.

Somewhere along the line midlife crisis happened, no need to discuss the details, but I ended up not playing for 10 or 11 years at all.

Enter Covid. I picked up my guitar again because I was bored, isolated, and I really missed my happy place. So I began looking around to find out what stuff I could find on youtube and other places. After a couple of months I stumbled on Ben Eller’s channel, which directed me to Troy’s channel. I was literally shocked at Cracking the Code, where was this when I was 16 in 1988? Up to then I only had guitar magazines (which I did learn a lot from various articles) and the tapes we had in the music store I worked in from Eric Johnson, Joe Pass and others. Suffice to say I began the journey a new, armed with this new found knowledge and completely open community of guitar wizards sharing everything they know and how to do it. Quite the opposite from the 80s and 90s where everyone guarded everything and often gave you wrong and bad advice.

In the last couple of years I’ve had breakthroughs of varying impact, many massive epiphanies and a new found desire and confidence that I can finally attain the things I want to do, despite my small hands and struggles with muscle memory in general.

The sessions with Andy Wood have done the most, he speaks my language. Feel, Flow, Relaxation, Listening. Terms that I get rather than hard technical ones which often don’t tell the whole story for me, but most of all, I have Troy to thank for teaching me to SEE what players are doing and getting a lesson from almost everyone I see play. I feel I’m armed with the knowledge I need now to succeed, and that is the greatest breakthrough of them all. I just have to continue playing and working on the things I can’t do, which helps me do the things I can do better.

So thanks to all that support this community and thanks most to Ben, Andy and Troy for the guidance, you guys rule.

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Changing string gauges.

As a teenager, I started off with 8’s, moving to 9’s after a year or so, then finally 10’s after a couple of years of playing. Every time I moved up a gauge I felt like I had to really work on all the details. You know, vibrato, bends, hammers and pull-offs. All the hard on your hands kind of stuff. I vividly remember it being a huge milestone marker at the time.

It kind of stalled out when I tried moving up to 11’s and 12’s, but nowadays I’m feeling like I need to go back down a gauge… my hands are feeling a little old lately.

This is a really interesting topic.

I tend to think when learning a new discipline that performance is linked to incremental and marginal gains, and not to specific breakthroughs.

Looking back at my guitar journey, I would say this holds true for me. Most of my sweetest moments have entailed going back to a tricky song or lick and breezing through, surprising myself in the process. Such moments are usually the result of hard work and tiny steps that seems to add little value to the whole journey on their own, but add up to a lot in the end.

I do think epiphanies and eureka moments are realisations that cannot happen isolated from this effort.

In the spirit of exploring this question (which has been quite through-provoking), I would like point out a few key moments in my journey below. However, I must say that I believe they are not key breakthroughs, as much as they are a coming-together of all the experiences and hard work I have referred to.

  1. Understanding picking motion techniques, my own escaping routes, and pickslanting.
  2. Buying a keyboard to visualise and understand music theory on a different layout.
  3. Moving from high-output humbuckers to low-output single coils. Understanding the role of dynamics and how to play in cleaner channels.
  4. Nick Johnston - his legato phrasing.
  5. Doing fewer exercises and transcribing more music instead.
  6. Listening to a lot of new genres, going to concerts.

I have to say, to add some controversy -or should I say, spice-, that when I change some gear (instrument or amp, mainly), I find myself discovering new paths, exploring new techniques, and end up improving a lot. Perhaps it is not such a marketing ploy when we hear new gear pushes us to the next level.

So, when my new guitar arrives in October, I hope I will be making new breakthroughs.

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There have been a couple recent discussions here about how introducing a new stimulus increases neuroplasticity, which means increasing learning and increased mental flexibility. Somebody definitely made the same point about changing your gear/amp/guitar in the last couple weeks.

Also this is a good excuse for me to upgrade my Axe FX and more guitars lol, gotta have that tone diversity!

Not sure but this might have been me, if not I’ll just agree again! I’m a full on digital/ modeler convert now and I use line 6 shuriken Variax with fractal modeling. This basically allows me infinite tonal opportunities. Aside from live presets and tones which I generally keep the same, but for practice, my ears will still get tired/bored of a tone I once found amazing and the tone won’t work with my brain/fingers as well. At that point, I can change the tone to whatever I want to find an eq that works with my ears in that moment and it’s so much more refreshing for any type of practice.

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The neuroplasticity line will help me deal with my wife’s stance when she sees that I haven’t bought one… but two new guitars.

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Is there any latency issue with those? It looks like you can even adjust the tuning with settings. I use an Axe FX Standard and am considering upgrading to a III

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To my ears it is very very minimal latency and in a mix I can’t notice it at all. Yes, you can customize the tunings however you want and change them by just turning the knob. Live, I can go from E, to Drop D, to Eb, to Drop B back to E standard in seconds. They also function as a normal guitar and the shuriken is a very nice guitar on its own in my opinion. It was a love hate relationship at first but now just love once you get used to some of the differences. And yes dude def upgrade to the Axefx III or new FM9 turbo!!

Oh yes, me too! You may relate to this: I will find a particular sequence I want to work on. I tell myself: I WILL practice this consistently until I reach (some desired goal).

A few days in, I move on to something else. Definitely improved, but goal not reached.

This cycle happens a lot with me, but I think it’s just how my brain works.

A lot of the greatest players claim that they never got into any consistently structured routine, and worked on different things every day. So I think there are benefits to be had in many different avenues of practice.

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Awesome - I really need to experiment more with pick depth. It’s one of those things where once I am warmed up REALLY good (after about an hour of playing), I start to notice that my pick depth is just naturally more shallow. So if I seek that out at all times, it seems beneficial (though I know Troy would definitely disagree!)

And yeah, working on the non-repeating runs with different amounts of NPS marked a major breakthrough for me. I had been working mostly on 6NPS, 2NPS, 3NPS, 4NPS etc for years, but as soon as I started working on more complicated runs with varying notes per string, my escape motions started to improve as they weren’t confined to an expected pattern.

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I definitely agree with the working on different things every day, I like to practice particular things one day then something else the next, and so on and come back to the first thing after a couple days after it has “sunk in”.

I try to figure out something every day from the things I listen to. Some new, some old.

Instead of playing just exercises, I try to take a technique and making something musical out of it. This helps me develop my own style and licks and phrases and makes practicing a technique more fun.

I switch up my sound while playing, sometimes clean, different drives, and I love to practice with fuzz as it’s unforgiving in terms of noise and slop and forces me to clean up what I’m doing.

Two things:

  1. Starting an old school death metal band with lots of open (not palm muted) tremolo picking where the object isn’t to necessarily lock into a grid or be super precise but just go as fast as possible. This helped me shed some mental hang ups about speed and to just “go for it.”

  2. I stopped practicing any tapping or pure legato for 3 years and only practiced things that involved my right hand. I was taking lessons from Emil Werstler and he told me that I was only going to get better if I just tried to pick fast/more live and suck at it on stage until I got it. So I humbled out and did just that. I still don’t quite have Yngwie chops, but I wound up developing a nice one way economy approach similar to Marty Friedman with lots of “down down up” patterns for playing lines like his as well as Michael Schenker and Gary Moore, and this seems to work well for me with how I want to express myself.

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