Alternate picking slowing down

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RedRabbitRedRabbit Frets: 160
After pestering my tutor he finally gave in and we've been looking at improving my picking technique.

He gave me a couple of exercises to do - a couple of repeating patterns over a couple of strings and a major scale pattern that covers 5 strings, all 16th note based - which I've been practising regularly since he gave them to me a few weeks ago.  At first I was noticing a slight improvement and could do 5 repetitions of the major scale exercise cleanly at 116bpm and 2 or 3 repetitions at 120bpm before things get messy (the two string exercises were slightly faster).

However the last couple of practise sessions I've put in I can barely get through 5 repetitions at 104bpm.  I've not been practising through pain and I haven't (to the best of my knowledge at least) changed my playing position.  Everything just seems to fall apart when I push the metronome any faster.

I dare say that my picking below this speed is cleaner than it was but I'm finding the decrease in the top speed a bit disheartening.   

My tutor is on holiday at the moment so I'm deferring to you lot for encouragement and (hopefully) and explanation of what's happening  :)
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  • LestratcasterLestratcaster Frets: 103
    What subdivision are you doing the picks at? E.g 1 note or 2 notes per beat?

    Try raising the tempo but keep it quarter notes (1 per beat). When you feel confident then add in a second pick so its 2.
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  • RedRabbitRedRabbit Frets: 160
    It's 16th notes so 4 notes per beat.

    Changing the subdivision doesn't seem to help any.  As soon as I get past 16th notes @ 100bpm (or 8th notes @ 200bpm) it's as though my picking hand just can't move fast enough anymore and I'm getting the plectrum caught up in the strings.  

    I was happy that I had made some progress building up to the 116bpm mark and thought that if I kept at it I could add maybe a few bpm a week/fortnight/month and make steady progress with it then I could actually see me sticking to the practice regime this time.  The fact I'm now struggling to get past 104bpm is baffling and quite demotivating. 
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  • octatonicoctatonic Frets: 16239
    edited August 1
    Spend more time playing it slowly.
    Speed is a byproduct of accuracy.

    Once you hit your performance limit you can look at adding about 5 bpm per week if you are diligent in your practice and don't rush too much.
    That is about as good as it gets.
    Most people aren't well organised or diligent enough and it ends up being 5 bpm a fortnight or a month.
    I am the juice of four limes.
    Trading Feedback
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  • LestratcasterLestratcaster Frets: 103
    Maybe try tackling 2 strings at a time, then add another as you get confident you've done it 4 times no mistakes.
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  • RedRabbitRedRabbit Frets: 160
    octatonic said:
    Spend more time playing it slowly.
    Speed is a byproduct of accuracy.
    What sort of approach would you suggest? At the moment I warm up with chromatic exercises at 16th notes @ 80bpm and then start going through the exercises at this speed. Once I've managed 5 clean repetitions I'll bump up the tempo (on the setting I'm using the metronome goes up 4bpm at a time) and repeat until I get to a point where I can't complete more than a couple of clean repetitions. At this point I'll back off the tempo a bit (usually 8bpm) and try to do 5 clean repetitions to finish off with. I'll then take a quick break/shake my hands about a bit and then repeat with the next exercise.

    Once you hit your performance limit you can look at adding about 5 bpm per week if you are diligent in your practice and don't rush too much.
    That is about as good as it gets.
    Most people aren't well organised or diligent enough and it ends up being 5 bpm a fortnight or a month.
    5bpm a fortnight or even a month would be fine as long as I can tell I'm making progress. It's this backwards step that's concerning me.
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  • RedRabbitRedRabbit Frets: 160
    Maybe try tackling 2 strings at a time, then add another as you get confident you've done it 4 times no mistakes.
    I seem to have hit the same barrier with the 2 string exercises as I have with the 5 string exercise. I can maybe do a few bpm more with the 2 string exercises but it's still slower than it was this time last week.
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  • LestratcasterLestratcaster Frets: 103
    I'd be interested to see your picking hand position as well, do you rest any of your fingers on the pickguard area? Sometimes it helps keep the hand stable.
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  • RedRabbitRedRabbit Frets: 160
    I'd be interested to see your picking hand position as well, do you rest any of your fingers on the pickguard area? Sometimes it helps keep the hand stable.
    I tend to rest the outer ridge of my wrist on the bridge.  I never got on with resting fingers on the pickguard.  It seems to stiffen my wrist up - I'm more relaxed with my fingers curled under in a loose fist.

    This is the only picture I've got to hand of me playing

    http://imgur.com/Wcv4H44


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  • LestratcasterLestratcaster Frets: 103
    I find sometimes just putting the 4th (pinky) finger on the pickguard helps with stability. Or if picking the lower strings to rest on the higher strings to mute them off too.
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  • RedRabbitRedRabbit Frets: 160
    Like I said, I've never got on with that approach before but I'll give it a go.
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  • LestratcasterLestratcaster Frets: 103
    Also are you holding the pick with thumb and first finger? Some hold with thumb and 2nd or more than 1 finger and it blocks the pick a bit. And have only a little bit of the tip showing!
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  • RedRabbitRedRabbit Frets: 160
    Yeah, thumb and first finger.  Used to use thumb and second but forced myself out of that habit a few years ago.  I don't tend to have a lot of the pick showing - maybe 2 or 3 mm.

    Edit - found a pick on my desk, this is how I hold it

    http://i.imgur.com/9vB0cMm.jpg
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  • LestratcasterLestratcaster Frets: 103
    That's good, position pick 180 degrees parallel to the string as well to get the optimum contact!
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  • digitalkettledigitalkettle Frets: 214
    Is it that you're paying more attention to cleanliness now instead of blasting through?

    Would help to see the exercises in detail...see if there are any obvious hurdles.

    I'm not a shred-monkey but I have been conscious about pick-slanting for a while now...it's helped me improve some awkward runs.
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  • stratman3142stratman3142 Frets: 539
    edited August 1
    That's good, position pick 180 degrees parallel to the string as well to get the optimum contact!
    I'm not sure that applies to all players if you look at the picking technique of great alternate pickers such as Paul Gilbert, Andy James and Troy Grady (for example) where their pick hits the string at an angle.

    I wasted a lot of time under the idea that the pick needs to hit the strings squarely, which resulted in an awkward approach to picking for me.
    It's not a competition
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  • LestratcasterLestratcaster Frets: 103
    Depends what sound you want, but if I turned mine to the side it'll fall out my hand!
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  • vizviz Frets: 4204
    I would focus on playing musical tunes rather than a certain bpm if I were you. 
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  • sweepysweepy Frets: 1120
    I know that Shawn Lane was a bit of a freak but he recommended playing something at the speed you want it to be, not learning it slowly and then acheiving the speed you require, must admit I sit in both camps a little on that 
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  • mike_lmike_l Frets: 5660
    @RedRabbit ;

    It sounds almost like you're practising these exercises too much. Try 5-10 repetitions of each and move on to something else. Having a piece which is a direct replacement for the exercises works really well. So if you're working on alternate picking, find a piece which is just alternate picked. There is plenty to choose from, and spend time working on the performance piece as well as the exercises.

    Ringleader of the Cambridge cartel, pedal champ and king of the dirt boxes (down to 21) 

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  • digitalkettledigitalkettle Frets: 214
    edited August 1
    viz said:
    I would focus on playing musical tunes rather than a certain bpm if I were you. 
    Can't argue with this but it's fun to work on technical facility every now and then.
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  • RedRabbitRedRabbit Frets: 160
    viz said:
    I would focus on playing musical tunes rather than a certain bpm if I were you. 
    Okay but its not as though I'm trying to improve my picking just to be able to hit a certain BPM. I'm doing it because I feel that my picking is currently holding me back from playing what I want to.

    To be honest I don't really get this point of view as long as being able to play the exercises isn't the aim. I could have started the thread by saying that I'm learning an song and had seemingly taken a backwards step in getting a tricky part up to speed. Would that be more musically valid? Does it matter that in working on it that I'd probably have broken the tricky parts down to what would be, essentially, repeatable exercises so I could slowly build them up to speed?
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  • VeganicVeganic Frets: 226
    So you have hit a wall or gone backwards?

    Try changing your technique radically for a week.  I mean trying Benson picking, finger-picking, or anything different. 
    Return to your prefered technique afresh, fresh and "reset". 






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  • stratman3142stratman3142 Frets: 539
    edited August 4
    Can you post the actual patterns you're using as an exercise? I'd be nervous about giving any advice before checking I can do it myself. 
    It's not a competition
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  • RedRabbitRedRabbit Frets: 160
    I'll try and put the tab up later today.
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  • BarneyBarney Frets: 295
    Something that really sorted my picking out was practising by not really plucking the note
    So for eg ...take a scale and use picking motion as you would picking but dont make contact with the string rely more on the left hand to sound the note .....then slowly introduce the pick so your just making contact ...do this for a couple of weeks for 5 mins a day and you will see a difference ....it seems to sync the left and right hand to work together...also refines the right hand so you font over compensate..

    Try it for a week 5 mins a day so only 35 mins in total and see iff it works..iff it dosnt work for you just that time lost but i think it will :)

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  • PolarityManPolarityMan Frets: 4011
    Just play it legato :)
    This is my rant thread, there are others like it, but this one is mine.
    Bet you're wondering if this is a flounce? Truth is I haven't decided yet.
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  • Old_SwannerOld_Swanner Frets: 10
    RedRabbit said:
    I'll try and put the tab up later today.
    Even better would be to post a close up video of you playing it from slow speeds up to the speed it falls apart at.
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  • bingefellerbingefeller Frets: 4956
    edited August 3
    Just play it legato


    this is what I would suggest.

    For me, after years of trying on and off to get quicker at picking, it just wasn't happening.  I was spending more time on exercises instead of learning music, so I started adding in more legato to help me play fast lines.  Of note, Paul Gilbert and Bruce Bouillet play a lot more legato than they use to, especially Bruce. 

    After analyzing some of Troy Grady's packages Yngwie and Eric Johnson use quite a lot of pull offs to help them change strings when playing a descending line and they tend to, but not always, arrange their lines so they can use economy picking when ascending.  If they come to a situation where they are changing string and the last pick stroke would be an upstroke, they would hammer on to the last note to give them time to get over the string.  Andy James also arranges his lines in a similar fashion, but he angles his pick upwards and starts most of his alternate picked lines on a upstroke. 


    What I'm saying is that when you really look at it, a lot of fast players use a lot more legato than people might think so they do.


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  • PolarityManPolarityMan Frets: 4011
    Thing is I do fast picking when I play actual music but not sustained, rhythm wise I could prob down pick way above the speed you're  talking about playing. Like in a chuggy riff where all the fast stuff is on the open string but when your playing melodic figures across strings then 90% of the time its going to sound better with legato anyway.
    This is my rant thread, there are others like it, but this one is mine.
    Bet you're wondering if this is a flounce? Truth is I haven't decided yet.
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  • bingefellerbingefeller Frets: 4956
    RedRabbit said:
    Yeah, thumb and first finger.  Used to use thumb and second but forced myself out of that habit a few years ago.  I don't tend to have a lot of the pick showing - maybe 2 or 3 mm.

    Edit - found a pick on my desk, this is how I hold it

    http://i.imgur.com/9vB0cMm.jpg
    To be honest, it doesn't matter how much pick shows.  From watching the Troy Grady videos, there are clips where he has quite a lot of the pick showing and he is playing well over 160bpm, 16ths, and he isn't being slowed down.  

    Check this example:



    If you adjusted your grip, it might be more comfortable and you might be able to play faster.
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