Just being picky


#1

I have a problem that I think is pretty common. I don’t know if there are common solutions other than repetition. My problem is repeated down / up strokes on adjacent strings where the down stroke is on the higher (pitch) of the two. For example, a down stroke on the G string followed by an up stroke on the D , then repeat forever.
My problems are two-fold. One is the physical movements are demanding. After each stroke I have to cross and clear the string I just picked to get in position for the next stroke. The second is I can practice slow and get it clean, and then work up the speed. But when playing a known piece at similar speed, I often make mistakes such as clipping the higher pitched string while crossing back over for the lower pitched string. The string crossing is just generally not very as smooth or precise. I am kind of concerned that I have repeated poor technique enough that it is now a near permanent feature. So any suggestions on:

  1. Specific technique?
  2. Transference from drills to “real” playing?
  3. Breaking away from established poor techniques?
    Thanks a bunch.

#2

Mike, I hear you! I had a lot of trouble with this too and the one exercise that helped me the most was practicing a 3-string crosspicking pattern, over and over. I’d use patterns like 3-2-1-3-2-1-3-2 and repeat, and sometimes changing up a string to 4-3-2-4-3-2-4-3 and just doing those 8-note patterns over and over. It never got terribly easy, but it did help a LOT with the 2-string problem that you’re struggling with. I have a habit of anchoring the heel of my palm against the bridge pins and this tends to inhibit the looseness needed to go up and down on a 3 string pattern, so I have to make a conscious effort to try and keep my palm just barely touching the bridge pins and that helps me feel more fluid.

The other thing I found that helps a lot is to work on a tune that includes the issue that you’re struggling with. Playing a song melody is definitely better than crosspicking or scale practice and I find I’m more apt to practice longer than I would by just doing exercises.

Max - Arizona


#3

Cool! I love specific questions like this. It will be interesting to see what kind of answers turn up. I got out my guitar to see if I could learn anything about my picking, and when the strokes you describe are repeated I think my wrist angle changes a tiny bit, so that it feels like I’m picking more out and away from the guitar on the downstroke and more down and in toward the guitar on the upstroke. It’s not much of a change, and I’m not sure if it’s the correct technique, but I believe it’s something I’ve been subconsciously doing to help clear the higher pitched string on the upstroke.

Maybe this geeky diagram will help my explanation. If the top diagram is my normal picking, the bottom one is how it feels on the repeated stroke (exaggerated for the diagram).
[attachment=0]pick-strokes.jpg[/attachment]


#4

Thanks Larry. Great geeky diagrams! The first diagram (both up and away) is much like what I do as well when I am focusing on it and playing at a slow enough speed to see it. As I speed up, I think my pick stroke shortens and the amount I get above the string decreases. I have a hard time playing at speed and telling what my hand is doing, but that seems to be what’s going on. I’ll try playing into the soundboard more on the upstroke and see what happens.
Thanks again!


#5

Mike, I recently decided (after 40+ years of playing) to change the way I flat pick so that I could play more powerfully. Since the beginning, when I used a flat pick to play single lines, I would rest the fleshy part of my right palm lightly on the bridge. This helped me feel where my right hand was when picking. But it also did some bad things, e.g. slightly restrict the top of the acoustic from vibrating, limited the amount of pick power by using mostly wrist and finger muscles to pick, and had me picking mostly at the bright sounding section of the string near the bridge.

So after 40+ years, I decided if I was going to try to play bluegrass, I better develop a stronger and more independent right hand. 2 years later, I am just now starting to feel comfortable with a floating right hand. At first my playing was extremely sloppy and very much out of control. But I work at it slowly and very mindfully and it is just now starting to come around.

My point is, you can learn what ever you want to learn. Take it slow. Be very patient with yourself. I realize all to well that frustration is your enemy and thinking, “I should have this by now” is a terrible way to think. Like the turtle, “slow and steady” will win that race.

If you want to be scientific about it, set a metronome at a speed so slow that you cannot possibly make any mistakes at that speed. Practice exercises that will improve your cross picking every day and once a week, turn up the metronome to a speed slightly faster (3 beats per minute faster should be plenty). After 52 weeks, you will be playing more than 150 beats per minute faster and your playing will be dead clean. You’ll be scaring folks with your cross picking!

Have fun!


#6

Good thoughts. I’m sure I do need to be more tortoise like and give it some time and focused work. I probably need a technique overhaul as well. I can relate to the problems of going from an anchored to a floating hand. For fingerpicking I started out anchoring my pinky and developed that habit. The anchoring serves me well in that my fingers can find the strings pretty accurately, but there are some things that an anchored finger just is a hindrance (e.g. classical tremolo). For flat picking things with a fair amount of continuous pickng, I generally lightly anchor on the bridge as well (and I am wrist dominant). I also play floating, but the faster I go, the more I miss the accuracy of the anchor. I have tried loosely dragging my pinky as a location reference, but I haven’t developed a feel for it yet.
I am thinking to best move forward, I might have to move back a few steps. If I do, I want to ensure I am moving forward in the best way.
Thanks for all the thoughts.


#7

great topic …i need to slow down a bit too .and be more precise …i know it just takes practice practice practice …I have Old joe clark learned and can cleanly play it at about 90% (100 sometimes but not always clean at 100%) …thanks for all the insight on here from my fellow pickers …i dont always post to everything i read …but i read it all and learn from it all …thanks all have a great weekend …saw something about a “banjoben festival” in one of the threads …that would be awesome if we could all get together somewhere someday !..


#8

— Begin quote from "canyonhiker"

I’d use patterns like 3-2-1-3-2-1-3-2 and repeat, and sometimes changing up a string to 4-3-2-4-3-2-4-3 and just doing those 8-note patterns over and over.

— End quote

Thanks Max! When I first came back, I missed your post. I’ll give the patterns a shot. I play songs much more than patterns. I think taking the music out of the equation will help me focus on my right hand (it’s not the point to be expressive in drills). After the comments thus far, I am thinking I should probably have a set of drills and do that every day (or at least every day I play). If I get into the habit of that being the first thing I do, I’ll get the stuff better ingrained. Incorporating that with Docs’ suggestion to creep the time up weekly sounds like a winner. I tend to ramp up the BPMs much quicker. The downside to that is that I butt up against the threshold of playing clean quickly and then I stagnate there for a while. Some days I do better, some I do worse. By forcing myself to slow down, I think it might ultimately give me fewer plateaus and a better end result. My next step might be taking a fresh look at my overall grip and technique to see what I need to change. If I am going to be slowing down, I may as well get things as “right” as I can.
Thanks again!


#9

Playing patterns is a great way to get warmed up and to build muscle memory. But there’s also a lot of value in picking out the hardest part of a song and using that as a picking exercise. Think of it as the 80/20 rule applied to music: spend the most effort on the small part of the song that causes you the worst problems.

My most recent and useful ‘breakthrough’ is to force myself to really push the up-strokes all the way instead of trying to rush and cut them off. To do this, I have to pull the pick through the string using my wrist. It all comes from the loose wrist. Up-picking well is the key to getting my playing sounding OK. Down-picking takes care of itself.

— Begin quote from ____

My point is, you can learn what ever you want to learn. Take it slow. Be very patient with yourself.

— End quote

Yeah; we can all learn if we really want it.


#10

Thanks Julian,
That’s a good point. I do end up dwelling mostly on the parts of the song that give me the most trouble. Sometimes as the speed increases the hardest part changes. Sometimes when I go back to a song I haven’t played for a while, the harder parts are better ingrained and the easy parts give me fits. Anyway, I could incorporate the hardest parts of whatever songs I am working on into my drills. Maybe do them at the end of the drills. It will certainly test my patience to creep up a few BPM per week, but in the end if it gets me better, then I can learn to be patient.


#11

Thanks again for all the help (and for all that may come). Given my problem, I was thinking about posting this cool riff in the “share your licks” topic:
[attachment=0]HotLick.jpg[/attachment]


#12

— Begin quote from "Julian"

But there’s also a lot of value in picking out the hardest part of a song and using that as a picking exercise. Think of it as the 80/20 rule applied to music: spend the most effort on the small part of the song that causes you the worst problems.

— End quote

This is a really good point. I’ve found that to work especially well, when I’ve gotten my way through 90% of a song but for some reason have always gotten bogged down on a particularly tricky spot. Working on just that one or two measures and repeating them over and over again. Right now I’m doing a version of Sally Goodin’ and there is a measure or two where I never seem to play it as cleanly as the rest. I’m going to use this technique to finally get past this stumbling block!


#13

— Begin quote from "mreisz"

I was thinking about posting this cool riff in the “share your licks” topic

— End quote

That is one hot lick. At first I thought it was Neil Young’s Cinnamon Girl solo, but then I realized your riff actually had two notes - twice as complicated as Neil’s solo.


#14

— Begin quote from "canyonhiker"

— Begin quote from "Julian"

But there’s also a lot of value in picking out the hardest part of a song and using that as a picking exercise. Think of it as the 80/20 rule applied to music: spend the most effort on the small part of the song that causes you the worst problems.

— End quote

This is a really good point. I’ve found that to work especially well, when I’ve gotten my way through 90% of a song but for some reason have always gotten bogged down on a particularly tricky spot. Working on just that one or two measures and repeating them over and over again. Right now I’m doing a version of Sally Goodin’ and there is a measure or two where I never seem to play it as cleanly as the rest. I’m going to use this technique to finally get past this stumbling block!

— End quote

I also always seem to have one part of a song that is tricky …i am learning a lot here about being patient and its definitely not in my nature …i want to be able to do it fast and clean right away …a lot of helpful info here though thanks all …


#15

I have modified my playing routine based on the suggestions given on this topic. I have a set of string crossing exercises that I think Julian posted on the old site. They seem pretty well suited to the task. There are a total of 10 patterns. I slowed them down to where I can do the “toughest” one cleanly and easily. I ended up landing on 100 bpm. It’s pretty slow for some of them, but I am trying to focus on quality of strokes. So now that’s the first thing I do when picking up the guitar each day (and so far multiple times a day). I was working on FMtnBreakdown, so I worked the more difficult areas into the tail end of the drills. I slowed it down maybe 30 bpm to where I can sometimes play it just the way I want, well articulated and clean. I plan on hanging at that speed for as long as I can stand or until playing it real well becomes better than 90% of the time. I think I will slow it down even further (it’s tough to slow down and stay focused). In the past I would already have been pushing the speed, but in the end I would end up where I can play something cleanly only once in a blue moon, then I stagnate. Could I play something at a speed I enjoyed? Yes, but it wasn’t nearly as clean as I wanted as often as I wanted. I am trying to be the turtle. I keep thinking that this is going to be a slog, but I am trying to change my thoughts. Speed is instant gratification, but instead I am trying to value (and enjoy) playing clean and articulating. I am not there yet, but I am trying to change my mindset. I liked Doc’s suggestion of a few bpm per week, it changed my perspective on goals. I would typically jump much faster than that. I still will likely progress a bit faster than that initially (I play most every day, and I am too old to be real patient), but I want to ensure that I am only increasing the speed when I am playing something well and can comfortably do the toughest thing at that current speed. As I near my limits, pushing the bpms up will become more difficult, so at some point maybe 1 bpm per week will be too much (and that’s ok).

For my original problem, I examined what I was doing and it was very similar to what Larry described in a tilting of the wrist. So I think technique wise, I am probably in the right ballpark. I think as I speed up, the strokes become smaller and closer. So as I am working on it, I exaggerate that clearing of the strings a bit, just as a mental reminder. Hopefully, as I slowly creep the speed up, I will continue to maintain the clearance I need.

I am floating my hand more (although it does drag a bit). I have tried a closed hand grip and a couple other things I have seen suggested, but it just doesn’t feel or sound right. I think I’ll leave that alone for a bit.

So how are the results? Frankly, they are humbling at this point. I realize that might be a good thing. Where I was playing something 30 or 40% faster with 80-90 percent of the notes the way I wanted (and that’s just a guess), I was just happy to be trucking along at the speeds that sounded “right.” Now, even slowed way down, I muff notes and make note of it and try to correct it. Whereas before I had a positive goal (go faster), I think the big challenge is re-wiring my brain to make my focus on playing clean a positive goal based thing. Instead of “I want to get through this without messing up”, I need to be thinking something like “I want to nail the timing, tone and articulation.” My brain still thinks the way it does, but I am trying to change it. Over the weekend I have also played things I already had wired, and the results were scary (bad scary not good scary). Ben’s Red Haired Boy basic used to top out for me around 250 (barely hanging on speed). I would probably start it without a metronome somewhere between 220 and 230. Last night it wasn’t very clean even at 200, not what I would have expected, but maybe it’s just a “feature” of my change in approach. I knew things would get worse before they got better, but I was still surprised. I hope to know if that am headed in the right direction in a few months.

Sorry for rambling. Keep the suggestions coming, and thanks for the help thus far.


#16

Every expert player says that you get faster by slowing it down, relaxing, and playing cleanly. So there must be something to it. My playing is a lot more satisfying when I slow it down and try to concentrate on getting my up-picks to sound good.


#17

great stuff Mike …any chance you could repost the string crossing exercises so i can work on my chops …SLOWLY …( i have to keep telling myself that lol …thanks for all the great info here everyone …1st jam tomorrow night …nervous, excited …all those things in between …just gonna soak it in and fit in where


#18

Thanks Julian and Ron,

Ron enjoy the jam! You’ll do fine. And a dirty little secret is, it really doesn’t matter if you don’t have your best playing night ever. Have fun!

Julian I know what you mean by concentrating on the upstrokes. My most recent pet peeve is some of my pull-offs (e.g.third to second finger) are kind of weak, and I am working on getting more pop. The devils are in the details.

In all my rambling, I didn’t say it, but ultimately if I can get smooth and fluid… then I’ll be happy. It’s hard to take the focus off of speed, but that’s what I need to do. Somewhere between between playing slow and playing at typical bluegrass speed, my smoothness starts fading away. When you hear Ben, Tony Rice, Brian Sutton play, they are always smooth and fluid. That’s what makes them so enjoyable.

Attached is the pickercizes.pdf someone else uploaded previously. I don’t see a copyright notice so I assume it’s public domain. Under the title it is attributed to John Moore, so thanks John! It’s zipped as PDFs are not allowed for upload (kind of an odd restriction).


#19

thanks again Mike …off to work on “old joe clark” along with the excercises you just provided …looking forward to tomorrow night …the first of many …


#20

— Begin quote from "mreisz"

…It’s hard to take the focus off of speed, but that’s what I need to do.

— End quote

I’ve become much less focused on reaching top speed since I started going to jams regularly. Tony Rice, Bryan Sutton and Ben Clark have been absent from all the jams I have attended, and the regular folk at my jam don’t play at 220 bpm.

I’ve been working on Blue Moon Of Kentucky and I got it up to about 190 bpm last night and I figure that’s probably fast enough. And the cool thing about it is that I can get most songs up into the 180 - 190 bpm range in a couple of nights. It’s that last 30 or 40 bpm that takes so much practice. I’m hoping I can broaden my repertoire pretty quickly this way.