Having a bad picking day!


Hey all, I never posted here before, been at the guitar now for about 6mo. in the bluegrass realm, played other stuff for a while now bout 3 yrs. Have any of you out there ever had a day when you couldn’t play for poop??? I had just played a couple days ago at 200bpm on a couple tunes and today and yesterday I can’t pick for crap! I’m sure hoping tomorrow is better, don’t know what the heck is wrong, seems like I go for a couple weeks feeling real good about my playing and then all of a sudden it turns sour. Anybody else ever experience anything like this? I slowed everything way down and it’s ok but can’t seem to get up to tempo without my picking getting gummed up…oh, well, hope it improves. Jerry in Oregon


Very common when learning. Happens to me regularly. Can be caused my many things, including amount of rest, what you’ve done recently with your hands, the point your at in a learning curve, etc.

I find my musical progress chart to look more like a stairway, with flat spots and jumps up, than a nice straight line toward improvement.


Fiddlewood had a good point on the things he mentioned. Funny thing is as when you get up to speed, it is no different than an athlete and his practice sessions and maybe one day he goes out and performs badly. Like “slumping” in baseball or “hacking it around” in golf…some days are better than others.

My hands tend to fall asleep a lot, seems it really takes about an hr of playing most days and slinging my hands back and forth to get them to wake up. If I have worked on something that took a lot of work with my hands like turning wrenches /working with hand tools then this affects my fingers for a the day/next morning.

Caffeine tends to help me get things up to speed…but if i drink to much I get the shakes.

So there are all kinds of things, just keep practicing practicing, and practicing until you can consistently get it up to speed and not think about it and then and only then will you mess it up 10-15% of the time!



This happens to me a lot, too, and I don’t have a solution for it, but I’ve learned to let it bother me less over time. I have noticed that when my allergies flare up or my sinuses get congested, my fingers tend to get stupid.

I get the opposite sensation sometimes, too (though not often enough), where the guitar seems really small and I feel like I can really physically dominate it.


Well it’s nice to know I’m not the only one out here going through things like this, my practice as of late consists of about 4 hrs. a day in two sessions, early morning and early evening. Since writing earlier today I just came up to my music room sat down and the guitar felt good again and clean picking, go figure…
I also find it takes me a considerable amount of time to get tunes down, first stage is to tab thru it slow and spot the trouble measures and just work on those first and then I start from one and work thru the whole thing slow and then when I can get thru at about 100 bpm start to speed it up over time. Seems to work pretty good.
The one song I am really struggling with is Grandpa’s clock, have the tab down and can play Very Slow but at the speed I am playing it doesn’t sound like the melody, have a long way to go on this one.
I know what you mean Fiddlewood about hands and how you treat them, I am more careful now about that and try to keep them from harms way, was cutting some cardboard boxes a couple years back and slipped with the knife and cut the whole side of my thumb open and that took about a month to really heal so no guitar
I guess I am lucky as my hands don’t bother me much, used to hurt all the time when I started out, but I think learning to relax is one of the key things no tension. Also I have my acoustic set with a pretty low action and that makes life so much easier, I use lights 12/53’s also.
Well back to it, just wanted to say thanks for the input, I live in a rural area and know no other guitar players so it is nice to have a place like this to talk to others.
I really like this site and Ben is really great IMO, sure am glad I found it. Adios me Amigos…Jerry


Hey Jerry,
I’m late to the party, but it happens to me quite often. For me it’s a self fulfilling prophesy. I play something worse than normal, so I try to work on it. The more I focus, the worse it gets. I am sure I am tightening up, or otherwise altering my technique, but sometimes I can’t get over the hump. After typing this… I think what I might do the next time I have a bad session, is put the guitar down and get away from it for a little bit. Over the last few months, I “practice” much more than I just play. By practice, I mean I use a metronome, I start with drills, I work harder sections, I track my progress. Last night I just played without a metronome, and just played for fun. I played better than I normally do, so like Larry said, the great days come along as well.
I haven’t worked up Grandpa’s clock, but it looks like it wouldn’t sound right slow. I generally have to get comfortable enough with a song to quit thinking before I get to usable BG speeds. Sometimes it takes a few sessions, sometimes it takes weeks. Some songs I have been playing for months and I still don’t have the speed where I want it.
Hang in there!



You know when I am having a bad day I immediately switch to scale practice. Scale practice to me is not really about “speed” but at first understanding where the scale forms are. So when I can’t play for crap one day I take the opportunity to use the time to simply work on scales.


All good advice guys, you know I started out trying to play jazz guitar and spent the better part of three years focusing on every scale imaginable and arpeggios, 4th’s , 5th’s, triad, tri tone subs, theory, positions,etc. etc. and learned quite a few standards and chord melody’s but believe it or not I find this acoustic bluegrass more difficult. Granted in a different way but the right hand technique needed is phenomenal, playing straight scales and jazz lines are difficult but the right hand is much more reserved with lighter touch and lighter picks. I went from a .038 nylon on my electric archtop, to a 1.0 Ultex that I’m using now. Talk about a tough transition but after the past 6 months of staying with it my right hand has fallen into place fairly well. I find also I need to cut back on practice a bit sometimes as playing to long can be more detrimental than good, I have had days where my left hand gets sore from overuse, one day in particular I went about 10 hours off and on all day,toooo much!
It’s getting a little easier to learn now but still slow, I can sight read well so that is a advantage but to play these tunes at speed is a real challenge for me.
I am interested in getting a mandolin as well but have been holding off as I don’t want to mess myself up with a different technique, but I notice many guys do it quite well, still plan to but think I will stick to guitar another year or so before giving it a try.
Hope you all have a great day and thanks for the conversation…Jerry



haha, that pick thickness switch is tuff’! You may just find yourself over the 1.0 thickness pretty soon, that’s the bottom end that most play in bluegrass. Seems a really common thickness in bluegrass guitar tends to be around 1.14 and once you get to that thickness and grab a 1.0 it will feel like you have a piece of meat on the end of a limb off a sapling or playing with a rubbber band. Now when it comes to mandolins…well let me say I’ve asked I few mando players to borrow their pick when I need to open a bottle of beer! :laughing: …those guys get crazy with the thickness.

One suggestion on getting up to speed that helped me get over a hump was learning to keep the up-down picking pattern going and not letting it stop. At some point it becomes subconscious. I liken keeping the alternate picking pattern going to doing “finger rolls” or finger picking. I mean when you start doing rolls or even cross-picking it is tuff’ at first to get them down then once you have it you have it and really don’t need to reference or work on them much, it’s just something magical that happens and you are done with it. Same with the alternate pick pattern in bluegrass, keep that sucker going and your speed will increase…tell yourself next time to keep it going and be conscious about making yourself keep that right hand going. Sure you will have to think about it and one day your right hand will take off by itself and you won’t have to think about it much.

Once you can keep it going and are comfortable with it then back off it, I see a lot of better pickers that can keep it going but they will do double downs from time to time or even use sweeps. On the double down strokes or even double ups (I use double ups from time to time but can’t get the volume out of it) most would refer to this as “economy picking” but they will not use this the entire time, but instead will alternate pick then only use the economy picking for maybe 2 notes then they go back to alternate picking.

Its best to learn it right and there are supposed to be “rules” however I say it’s about the guy playing and what he wants to do.



Thanks Old Hat, I have notes on the top of my tabs that say PICK DIRECTION !! so I keep in mind the need to follow the tabs arrows, It is coming along, the thing where you count the second beat of a hanmer on as a altenate stroke gave me fits for a while but it’s getting to be second nature now. Many times I begin a measure with a up on the first beat and that shows me in most cases to go back a measure and check my strokes. Your right on about working on it and eventually it will be second nature and not require so much thought, if I need to sometimes I stay on one measure and check the direction of the pick and do it over and over until it’s right…Jerry