Developing Speed


#1

I’ve been working on ‘Jerusalem Ridge’ off and on for about 6 months now. I have all the notes down, but none of the speed, bounce, or needless to say, the feel for the tune. I’ve been trying to slowly build up the speed, but it just hasn’t come together for me. Last night I slapped the Tony Rice version on from youtube and tried playing along. And what do you know? I’m missing a bunch of the notes, but for some reason I can get alot closer to what it’s supposed to sound like.

I hear alot about using a metronome and slowly working your way up that way. Does that really work for anyone? I don’t think I have the discipline needed to go that route. I just reach a certain speed, and something in the technique seems to need to change and I can’t find it from that direction.

Mostly just curious, I know from listening to some of you guys, that you’ve got it. So how did you do that and how long did it take? I’ve been playing guitar for 30+ years, but mostly fingerpicking, what flatpicking I’ve done has been pretty rudimentary, Carter Style stuff, so I’m hoping to eventually get that fast flatpicking going on the guitar too.

Also, it’s taken me 18 months, but I’m finally reasonably comfortable switching between that Monroe G and D chord. I still have little use for them, but it’s nice to know I’ve got them if I need them, but day-um, it took a long time to get those.


#2

I am not a speed demon and I don’t “got it” yet, so my advice is not going to be the best. Nonetheless, here it is :smiley:

— Begin quote from “Jim_G”

I hear alot about using a metronome and slowly working your way up that way. Does that really work for anyone?

— End quote

That does work, but it takes time. Part of it is physical and part is mental. I find that I always run into some limit and then progress goes slow. I wish I knew how to short circuit the process and add 40 BPM in a week, but I don’t.

Sometimes I’ll find a technique change that helps speed up the process. I haven’t seen you play, so I am suggesting in the blind, but here’s some things I think are worth looking at for the right hand:
1)Change the angle the pick attacks the string in a couple ways a) the angle the edge meets the string to get through the strings cleaner b) rotate your wrist position down a bit (like opening a door) to help make your upstrokes as easy as down strokes
2) Ensure you hold your pick with alot of meat so you don’t have to grip as hard
3) Practice slow with rest strokes (I don’t know why, but this helps me)
4) Find songs you can enjoy playing slow and keep your entire arm loose. I think staying loose is the key.

For the left hand:

  1. Press as lightly as possible while making good tone (related is playing close to the fret)
  2. Keep your fingers close to the fretboard to minimize required movement

I really wish I had the magic solution, but I don’t. I am slowly improving. It will probably sound lame, but in the mean time I have learned to enjoy what I can do.


#3

Thanks Mike! I’ve heard your guitar picking elsewhere around here, and you do that well and as fast as I’d ever want to play anything. I’m trying to stay loose, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. I did play around with pick angle last night, and forced myself to work on rest strokes a little bit too. Patience and discipline. In other words I’m doomed, because both are in short supply with me.


#4

— Begin quote from “Jim_G”

Patience and discipline. In other words I’m doomed, because both are in short supply with me.

— End quote

:laughing: Patience is tough. One thing that really helps my attitude is that I don’t worry as much about what speeds I can’t do but rather I try to focus on what I can do and enjoy. I try to do songs and arrangements that I enjoy playing at speeds that are possible for me. I still try to learn new stuff and improve, but I am sneaking up on it rather than trying to get to the finish line immediately (because for me anyway, I couldn’t get there immediately). The nice thing about banging one’s head against a wall is that it feels so nice when you quit. :smiley:

Another thing I might suggest as a possibility would be to make a video of playing showing different angles of various things (picking hand/fretting hand/overall posture/a close up of how you grip the pick/ as much detail as you can put into it). I wouldn’t worry about the video making a “song” as the point is just to show mechanically what you are doing. You could put the video as private on youTube and link to it on these forums and I can all but guarantee you will get some good and helpful (and maybe some bad) advice. If it seems too daunting to put it out for public consumption, you could send a link via PM or email to some of the players on here that seem to have lots of good advice. Even if you don’t ever send the video out, I bet you could learn alot about your playing from making and watching your own video.


#5

— Begin quote from “mreisz”

  1. Find songs you can enjoy playing slow and keep your entire arm loose. I think staying loose is the key.

— End quote

I think that says it all. I’m getting better, and whenever I make progress, it is because I am able to detect and remove some tension from my hand and arm. As an inexperienced player, I wasn’t even aware that the tension was there. It’s hard to release the tightness when you don’t know what it feels like to be loose.

It seemed impossible to loosen up and still be precise enough to hit the strings properly.

You have to recognize that tension that creeps into your hand during difficult parts, then immediately do whatever you can to release it. If that means slowing down a bit, so be it. I sometimes force myself to move the pick strokes through a full range of motion, which is difficult on the up picks.

I think it is a mistake to practice with bad, tension-filled pick strokes, just for the sake of getting through the song. When I realize my hand has tightened up, I relax it and focus on my wrist as the driving force that flings my hand up and down, even if it means I miss notes.

I make progress or ‘breakthroughs’ when I have the time to sit down and practice for like 3 hours in a row. That’s long enough to really relax and get warmed up and loose. Of course, it’s hard to get a 3-hour block of time, and hard to really focus and concentrate for the entire session. Progress is slow but it does happen.

I was able to get up to 200 or 210 beats per minute with a tight, tension-filled right hand. But it sounded and felt bad. To break through and go faster, I had to completely re-learn how how it ‘feels’ to pick with no tension and with a nice legato sound. I’m still pretty bad at it, but I’m better than I was so it’s encouraging.

Think of your hand as a whip: flexible and loose. Your arm holds the whip. All the motive force comes from the arm side of your wrist, not your hand. Add finger movements later.

— Begin quote from “mreisz”

Another thing I might suggest as a possibility would be to make a video of playing showing different angles of various things (picking hand/fretting hand/overall posture/a close up of how you grip the pick/ as much detail as you can put into it). I wouldn’t worry about the video making a “song” as the point is just to show mechanically what you are doing. You could put the video as private on youTube and link to it on these forums and I can all but guarantee you will get some good and helpful (and maybe some bad) advice

— End quote

I made vids a while back and asked for advice and I got a lot of really helpful tips.


#6

I have to echo what Julian said about practicing for longer periods of time. I don’t even really feel comfortable with my playing until I’ve been at it for over an hour. After that first hour, I seem to naturally relax.

I have also hit a 210 bpm tension filled wall. My hand just won’t move any faster than that. For the last 6 months I’ve been trying to figure out how to get over that wall. I’ve tried a few different techniques and even going to different size picks.

I happen to come across a thread where someone was talking about playing from the elbow. I wasn’t too sure about that advice since I’ve always heard to play from the wrist and fingers. The person giving that advice was Clay Hess, so I figured I’d give it a shot. :smiley: His idea was that the forearm is a bigger muscle than the wrist or fingers and it would not fatigue as quickly. He plants his pinky and rocks his arm back and forth on that. That immediately reminded me of what I see many fast mandolin pickers do.

It was hard for me to wrap my mind around “playing from the elbow”, and how to go about it. I try to limit the movement in my wrist and fingers and just concentrate on the elbow. I thought this would be a very tense way to play keeping your wrist “loosely locked”, but it is not, for me. Although I still let my fingers articulate some, it’s much less than it use to be. When I was playing from wrist and fingers, a major problem that I could not seem fix was bringing the pick too far away from the strings between notes. Playing from the elbow has cured that immediately and I’m amazed at how loose I am able to hold the pick with my fingers not doing all the work. I’ve only been at it for about a week and I am already seeing progress and feeling more relaxed.

Disclaimer: I have seen people say not to play like this. I think Ben had a video where he talks about NOT playing from the elbow and playing more from the wrist. I’ll try to find that and the Clay Hess video.

I don’t know, I had hit a wall and I am willing to try anything at this point. Good Luck!

Just wanted to add that rhythm is completely different for me, that’s all wrist.

[video]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=--oqUDvnVvw[/video]


#7

I think I’d be ok with playing like Clay.


#8

As Clay is discussing his technique, Tim Stafford (at about 1:13) starts trying it out. I don’t Tim think needs to reinvent his right hand at this point :smiley:


#9

:laughing: I saw that too, Mike. It definately makes you want to try it out. I like how they both smile (bout 1:27) and it looks like Jim Hurst says “that’s fast”.


#10

I saw that look as well. I bet they were thinking something along the lines of "that whippersnapper is pretty impressive."
I guess except for one person, there’s always someone faster.


#11

Phew, there’s alot to digest here. I’ll try to get my wife to use her iPad to make a short video of my playing. Won’t happen this weekend b/c we’re having friends over for dinner tomorrow, and family for Easter on Sunday, but later next week for sure.

Seems I am going to have to dust off my metronome, you’re all talking BPM’s. My tapping foot and head have 3 speeds: slow, medium, and crash-and-burn, but no clue what those would be in BPM’s.


#12

I found this little nugget from Banjo Ben in the banjos forum ( https://banjoebenclark.com/forum/t/how-do-you-build-speed/545/6 ) - That whole discussion might be of benefit to all looking for speed on any instrument.

— Begin quote from “Banjo Ben”

…I find that to build speed, I have to not only spend time playing with quality, but quantity as well. In other words, I think you build speed better by playing for long periods of time at a slower tempo. I often play my “fastest” after I’ve been playing mid-tempo tunes for an hour or so. If I try to push it before that, I’ll play sloppy and uneven.

— End quote

I personally find that speed is only built for me when I play along with a metronome. But I know not everyone uses those.


#13

— Begin quote from “TNTaylor414”

His idea was that the forearm is a bigger muscle than the wrist or fingers and it would not fatigue as quickly.

— End quote

When I was learning to play clawhammer banjo, the guy I learned from said the exact same thing re: striking the banjo strings. He said something like you can play all day if you use proper technique (which comes from rotation of the forearm), but if you try to ‘muscle’ it with only your hands, you will fatigue in 15 minutes and start missing strings, and you won’t even realize why you are missing.


#14

I have not been able to get it together as far as getting my wife to record me playing. Too much going on, and now I’m fighting a bug. Here’s a lousy selfie I did pretty much right away after Mike’s initial suggestion. , But I’m sitting on my knees, which is not optimal but I was having trouble propping her iPad up any other way:

dropbox.com/s/1d34iportmvjr … .18.57.mov

I’ll try to get her to record, from different angles, sometime soon. And this video I suspect I’ll delete and burn after about a week too. I don’t think I can play it any faster than this, it sort of works at this speed too I guess, but it really should be at least 50% faster and I don’t know how to get there from here.

Thanks for any tips. Heckling is fine too.


#15

Shouldn’t be responding to myself, but I just watched this for the first time since I recorded it. I definitely have to stop all that upper body movement, it’s a nervous habit. But it also looks like I’m not striking both strings in the course at times.


#16

Hey Jim,
Please take my suggestions as only that… suggestions. What I suggest may very well not work for you, and for that matter, I might just be giving bad advice. With that said, these are things that I see in your playing:

That’s a great song and I like your tone and playing. You have a really great foundation. I didn’t look at your left hand much, but when I did I immediately noticed we both have thumb joints that allow our thumb to bend backwards. Maybe we share some common ancestors :smiley: We also share a common bad habit (at least what I consider to be a bad habit). When practicing a song that is memorized, if I mess up, I tend to want to quickly pause and redo the section I messed up. The reason I think it is a bad habit is that it ingrains a behavior that you can’t do while playing in a group. It is taking me a long time to undo that habit and I may never be free of it. I figured I’d mention it in case it wasn’t something you were aware you were doing. Playing with a metronome or a backing track helps me eliminate that tendency because just like playing with others, the tune is going to go on and we don’t have the luxury of redoing bits. Everybody makes mistakes. It seems that the high level players don’t even “miss a beat” when they do… they just keep plugging away. If you don’t own one there are free online metronomes which work just fine. I don’t always play with a metronome or backing track, but it is helpful to do at times.

I was primarily looking at your right hand. You use your finger and thumb motion great. It looks alot like Tony Rice’s movement (although not quite as exaggerated). Overall, your right hand looks tight. I know that’s not particularly helpful in and of itself. A couple things to try to loosen it.

  1. Loosen your pick grip as much as you can. Altering how you hold the pick so that there is more skin in contact allows one to grip looser, but still hold on.
  2. I notice for me that when I play rhythm, my right hand is looser. I am trying to make my picking out of melody right hand technique more like my rhythm technique. At times I can get the feel of it and it seems to help. Perhaps try looking at what you are doing when playing rhythm as visual guide to looseness.
  3. It looks like your arm is about flat against the mandolin top and then your wrist bends backwards to get the picking hand over the strings. To a certain extent, I do the same (bending the wrist backwards) and it’s probably hurting both of us as it leads to tension. To demonstrate this, hold your hand in front of you like you like you are going to shake hands. Rotate your wrist up and down a little (no problem). Now bend your wrist back and do the same rotation… I can feel the tension all the way through my elbow. To correct this, try raising your wrist up so that the back of your wrist is about flat.

Any time there are mechanical changes, it takes some time to get used to them. Slow down just a tad for a while until you can easily play whatever it is you are playing. In fact, if at all possible, eliminate speed as a concern. Just try to focus on eliminating tension and then worry about tone and evenness. Whenever I have speed as a goal I tend to revert to whatever form I have learned over the years (and it’s self defeating). Work on playing with a looser hand and playing a song as smooth and fluid as you can, and the speed will just happen. I don’t expect it to happen overnight, as it never has for me. With that said, I hope it does happen quickly for you.

Again, take all I said with a grain of salt. I suspect you will get some great advice from others who post here.

Best of luck to you!


#17

Thanks Mike!

I use my thumb often when I’m playing guitar to fret notes on the low E, maybe I loosened something up along the way. I’ll have to go back and watch the video again from home tonight.

I was aware of the stop, restart habit. But I’m good about not doing that with both my band, and if I’m playing along to a backing track. It only seems to happen when I’m solo, and no one else is around to listen. That video was never intended to see the light of day, so it was like I was alone. I have an old zoom h4 recorder, I should probably record a couple of backing tracks to play this song along too. I have no hope of playing along at Ben’s third speed on that, but I can probably go faster than his second speed.

I was wondering about the way I was resting against the top. That’s going to take me a long time to unlearn that. I was kind of hoping you’d have something for me that didn’t involve patience and self discipline! Kidding, thanks so much for the tips!

-Jim G.


#18

— Begin quote from “Jim_G”

I use my thumb often when I’m playing guitar to fret notes on the low E, maybe I loosened something up along the way. I’ll have to go back and watch the video again from home tonight.

— End quote

Me too. Most notably for an F chord or the F# of a D/F#. I can bend my thumb backwards about 90 degrees (and have been able to since I was a kid). I think a “normal” thumb doesn’t do that.


#20

Thanks Ben!

I took Mike’s suggestion to heart last night and was trying to keep from touching the top. I found that just taking the hand off the top naturally moved the wrist up over the top of the bridge. At the same time where the pick is striking the strings moved too, up which was nice because the tone is nicer up there. Now I just have to not lean too much on the bridge, but easier said than done at the moment. If I’m not touching something and not looking down at my right hand I tend to lose where I am. I am glad to hear a little bit of touching is okay.


#21

I am finding that some of the teachers I have learned from are correct. SPEED is NOT IMPORTANT as compared to playing accurately and in time!! If you can play the song slowly and correctly and in time, then the speed will come. Timing is something I really struggle with, and the fact that I can play some parts of a song better than other parts, when they all need to be played at the same tempo. So, do I know the song as good as I like??? I have to practice the same song over and over again correctly in order to get faster.
I hope that makes sense.