Practicing...and getting worse!

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by drfrankencopter, Aug 31, 2006.

  1. drfrankencopter

    drfrankencopter Member

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    I'm not sure what's going on here, but the past month and a half I've been really woodshedding, working on primarily pentatonics (started listening to Eric Johnson again) in all sorts of positions, and have been finding that my playing is actually getting worse.

    My understanding of how the notes on the fretboard all connect is improving somewhat, but overall, my feel and phrasing is getting steadily worse, and my hands are feeling tired and slow. This is not doing good things for my confidence....

    Is it supposed to get worse before it gets better? Maybe I need to get a good guitar instructor as opposed to learing from books/magazines.

    Any advice?

    Cheers,

    Kris
     
  2. Kappy

    Kappy Member

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    It would help if you talked more about how you're going about practicing. How much time spent, what kinda' exercises/material besides "pentatonics", how you're practicing what you do practice, what kinda' dynamics, what kinda picking, how you're using the metronome, what kinda' backing tracks/looping devices are you using, what time of day, what else you do in life besides practicing guitar (like are you a roofer baking in the sun for 9 hours, then practicing for 6 hours? etc).

    A lot of different things go into making a good player. Practice of any kind generally means gradual improvement. 1 month is not a very long period of time to decide whether assiduous practice is working for you. Try judging it after 18 mos.
     
  3. drfrankencopter

    drfrankencopter Member

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    Well, I'm working at alternate picking every note, and playing in groups of 2 & 4, ascending and descending through the pentatonics (mostly minor), with 2 notes per string. I do this in all positions within one key. Then I try to just play/improvise, but conciously try to stay away from the first position (since I know that one pretty well).

    I'm far more comfortable with 3 note per string shapes, like 3 octave major scales, and have little problem flying through that at tempos about 40% faster than what I can do the 2 note per string pentatonics at. I have been favouring a legato approach, probably out of laziness and poor right hand technique, so I'm purposfully trying to stay with a strictly alternate picked practice regiment to get my picking hand in shape.

    Other things I'm woring on is triads and their inversions within the pentatonic scales. I must admit that I've been a pattern and 'by ear' player for most of my 20 years of playing, so I'm rather slow when it comes to trying to identify the notes of the fretboard. the triad/inversion thing is really stretching my ability, and I'm rather slow at it. I think the problem is compounded by the fact that because I've been playing so long that I expect these things to come easily and quickly and am dissapointed by what appears to be only moderate progress.

    I haven't really been using a metronome...maybe thats a part of it. I guess I could better measure progress with that.

    After practicing, I'll throw a backing track into guitar Rig2 and try to jam away with this new found knowledge, and I feel lost....like it's not natural and there's too much thinking involved.

    Time of day...thats a factor. I can only practice late at night, as I've got two kids under 3 years old that pretty much prevent me from getting good practice in earlier in the day. during the day I'm mostly at a computer, so theres a fair amount of typing....but not excessive. I do try to get some practice in at lunch. I have a Peavey Wolfgang and a POD that I keep at work for this.

    Thanks

    Kris
     
  4. bobgoblin

    bobgoblin Supporting Member

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    Hey, man, don't sweat it, I think all musicians find that when they hit the 'shed (without going out on the bandstand every night, too), their playing begins to seem a little stale. It's a consequence of hearing yourself practice, make mistakes, correct, re-correct, etc...

    stick it out, move your focus in the 'shed to something different (like rhythm playing, or exotic scales, or spinning your guitar 'round yer head!) & the stuff you've been practicing will get moved into "semi-permanent" status in your head. The stuff that sticks will begin popping up in your improvs or compositions & before you know it, you'll feel like you need to hit the 'shed again to cop some cool new licks.

    Good Luck!
     
  5. Kappy

    Kappy Member

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    Kris, FWIW, playing 2 note per string/5-note scales is harder to play well and sound good than the 3 note per string 7-note scales. At least it is for me. It's more picking intensive (in a string skipping way) and the fingerings don't always feel natural. I have 3 different ways to play the pentatonics - 1) regular 5 positions, 2) Frank Gambale's speed picking layout, and 3) a 3-note per string pattern. (There's also Shawn Lane's fingerings which are cool but I haven't learned them yet). They're all really hard to play well at a good clip. It does come in time. Sounds like you're pretty much doing the right thing, but that playing them like you came up with them yourself will come in more time. The metronome might help, if only to track your progress as your tempos increase.

    Good luck!
     
  6. Mickey Shane

    Mickey Shane Silver Supporting Member

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    At least you're not practicing the riffs that you already know, that may sound good, but don't advance your abilities.

    You're supposed to sound uh, not so great, when you are practicing new things.

    Keep up the good work!
     
  7. drfrankencopter

    drfrankencopter Member

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    tell me about it....probably the biggest thing I regret in my playing was just noodling on the same stuff for probably 15 years. I wish I could go back in time and kick my own ass! I got good at little nuances, but my overall ability/proficiency stagnated for a long long long time as a result.

    I'm looking into getting an instructor too in the Fall....so I can get some opinions on how best I should structure my development/practice. Should be eye-opening after being self taught for so long to find out how many bad habbits I've ingrained in my playing.

    Cheers,

    Kris

    Cheers
     
  8. Miles

    Miles Member

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    For me, it helps to write music rather than just practice scales and technicalities. That can become very tedious and you're not creating your own feel and emotion with the way you play. So when I create something, I learn a little more about what feels like home in the way I want to play the instrument.

    Try to create something. We all hear the million virtuoso solos around, but I am much more appreciative of something that emphasizes texture over technicality, especially when it's created from your own mind.
     
  9. xroads

    xroads Member

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    To me, learning new guitar stuff is like expanding your language:
    if you learn too much vocabulary at once, you will be able to understand
    everything, BUT it won't be possible to speak fluently.

    What I tend to do is to learn a lot, but then to include things only very gradually into my playing. Try to make one step back and play what you
    feel you can master easily, then start including the new stuff in small steps.
     
  10. GenoBluzGtr

    GenoBluzGtr Supporting Member

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    "All work makes Jack a dull boy".

    It's VERY possible that your newfound knowledge is the culprit. I find that as I learn more about the theoretical aspects of playing, the more subconsciously critical I am about my own playing. I start to concentrate more (too much, perhaps?) on "doing it correctly" rather than playing what I feel. Once I begin to strive for technical perfection, the musicality ALWAYS suffers.

    Not knocking theory and getting better at the technical aspects, but as you move along that path, every so often..... JUST WAIL! That will re-cement that you truly AREN'T getting worse, just more critical of your ability. Eventually, if you keep at it, the motor memory will catch up with the new knowledge and you will suddenly find your fingers doing what you want them to. In the meantime, take more breaks to just play and enjoy.
     
  11. torquey

    torquey Member

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    It sounds to me as though you're practicing material just beyond the horizon of your ability, which is exactly what you should do to acheive growth. This is true not just for guitar but for any subject. In my experience, it has taken a long time for the guitar techniques and knowlege I've acquired to seep into my playing to the extent that they're natural. I can rarely look back and pinpoint when I was able to execute a certain technique, for example. So I think there's a leap of faith involved. Keep plugging away and eventually the dividends will manifest themselves.

    And follow the advice of GenoBluzGtr; turn the amps up to eleven and torture the neighborhood for the sheer pleasure of it. After all What Would Nigel Do?
     
  12. mojo69

    mojo69 Member

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    IMO - you should have a "known good player" listen to you for a while and tell you how you are doing periodically. i have heard people play and then i hear them years later they are playing the same crap as the last time i heard them (like really stuck in a rut and repeating the same mistakes).
    also sometimes its good to stop for a while and re-think the approach you are taking - and what you want to accomplish.
     
  13. jzucker

    jzucker Supporting Member

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    I disagree with your first statement. I agree that it's helpful to take lessons or set your standards high but it's not practical to always play with someone who can instruct you. If you're a careful and thoughtful person and practicer there's no reason you can't get better on your own. How do you think Coltrane and Bird did it?

    I do agree with your 2nd statement though. The biggest contributors to not getting better are:

    1) Practicing your mistakes (i.e. practicing too fast)
    2) Entertaining yourself instead of practicing
    3) Working on the wrong stuff

    I believe that you need to split your practice time between several subjects. You should always play music as part of your practice regime. I would advise against concentrating on only technique. You need to have time to apply what you are practicing.

    The other point I wanted to make is that when you are trying to shed technique, you should be thinking in terms of months. Particularly if you are trying to learn a radically new (for you) concept
     
  14. Kappy

    Kappy Member

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    I took one lesson with HarryJ from this board and got so many great ideas for things to work on and improve. These were subtle things that I would never have been aware of had I not gone to that lesson. (It probably helps that he is extremely organized and is a really terrific player.) To me it's absolutely imperative to periodically get a lesson from a good teacher/player. They often immediately see things that you'd been overlooking the whole time you've been playing.
     
  15. countandduke

    countandduke Member

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    If you have been playing a long time, I find that marked improvement comes slower. It's compeletely natural to have a sag in your ability when working on something new. I always suggest taping yourself frequently and dating the cd or tape so you can judge for yourself at a later date.

    Just stick with it, sometimes inspiration can come from a new book or cd or dvd too. And sometimes a break in your playing is good for overall development allowing you to take a fresh look at things when you resume.

    Good luck....

    Chris
     
  16. gennation

    gennation Member

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    You might just need some inspiration, a little hand holding, and some questions answered.

    Stop over to my lesson site: http://lessons.mikedodge.com

    For inspiartion, and some new ideas, check out the On Topic subjects. Those subjects are designed to take someone who's been playing for a while and give them some new ways of looking at things, and to give them some new sounds and how they've come about, and how to play them.

    After 30 years of serious playing in all sorts of situations, just this year I started woodshedding myself...and yes, I had to pull the reigns back and found I was so out of shape. I could jam, write parts and pull them off...but in front of a metronome I was worthless, playing straight jazz went out the window years ago.

    Let's say I've learned a lot, and am on a consistant path upwards. I'm even starting to take lessons next week...I think I've had 3 formal lessons in my whole life.

    Good luck with you situation, but if you stay at it you'll get over these humps. Try those subjects at my site, they might open your eyes to some cool stuff that'll last you a long time.
     
  17. drfrankencopter

    drfrankencopter Member

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    Thanks Mike...I've skimmed the material at your site, and it looks really good. I certainly have no shortage of material to work on, now my challenge is finding the time to dedicate to it, and practicing the stuff that has the best payoff (the stuff I'm likely to remember).

    Cheers,

    Kris
     

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