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Ben Higgins
post Dec 2 2011, 10:55 AM
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Righto, I thought I'd share my current practice regime with you. Until very recently, I was concentrating on several licks. Some of them from my own songs/solos and some I created to improve a certain picking motion. However, as some of you know, I've been busy with recording the first album from The Reckoning, my band. This necessitated that I was able to deliver the best possible performances of my solos. Alas ! I've become a bit rusty at some of them, most of all the solo from a song called Wall of Eyes. dry.gif

So, I've devoted all my practice time (and any spare time I get) to concentrating on 3 tricky alternate picking licks from the solo, mainly this one:


|--3-| |--3-| |--3-| |--3--| |--3--| |--3--| |--3--| |--3--| --
S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S
E||-------------------------------------------------------------13----13-|----||
B||-------------------------------------------12----12-15-12-15----15----|----||
G||-------------------------10----10-13-10-13----13----------------------|----||
D||----------9----9-12-9-12----12----------------------------------------|----||
A||--11-8-11---11--------------------------------------------------------|----||
E||----------------------------------------------------------------------|----||





It's tricky because it involves lots of outside picking in quick succession. The song was recorded without a click track but the tempo is around 110-112bpm by my guess. Now, that doesn't sound very fast. If you were to alternate pick at 16th note triplets on one string it's not that bad. However, the nature of this lick means that there's a lot more being demanded of the picking hand.

You can hear the lick at 3:16 on this old recording of the song.



As I said earlier, I'd been spending time working on licks and solo bits, mianly because I want to improve my picking technique. It's a lot sloppier and tense than I'd like it to be. I started out by practising 8th note triplets at around 80bpm. The extra clicks from the metronome make it easier to keep time. I had various other licks and speeds but I'll stick with the triplet speed because this lick is a triplet lick too. I kept at that speed for about 2.5 weeks until I felt I'd developed a much more even alternating motion.

When I had trouble laying down my solos, however, I ditched my excessive library of practice licks and narrowed my focus. It's made quite a difference.

So, any spare time I get, I pick up the axe and start cycling through some slow reps of this lick. If I'm actually having a practice session, then I'll warm up by doing slow reps of the lick. The faster I go, the more reps I do at each speed because that's where I need to put in the work. So I'll start by doing about 10 or so reps at 80bpm (8th notes, which would be the same as playing 16th notes at 40bpm), go to 90bpm, same again or more, 100bpm, increase reps... all the way to my comfortable limit. At the moment, it's somewhere around 160 - 170bpm, which translates as 16th note triplets at 85bpm. I increase the bpm to about 180 or more and try a few reps to get the hand and brain working harder but I bring it back down again to somewhere perhaps a bit higher than I was previously to do a few perfect (or near as possible) reps to finish before moving on to another lick or finishing practice until the next time.

(It looks like I'm increasing the speed by large increments but it translates as only 5bpm increments in 16th notes)

I'm pushing things along a bit quicker than I would normally do, because I have to record it. Although I know that I'm not going to be able to perfectly and effortlessly play it at the required tempo, I certainly know that the increased accuracy at lower speeds mean that I can push it even further at higher speeds for short periods of time. So, although the technique may not be perfect, it will get the job done. Afterwards I'll be free to hone the lick at my own pace.

One thing I'm finding interesting is the idea of discovering the 'secret' of alternate picking by just doggedly persuing one lick. It reminds me of the Zen phrase 'From one thing, know ten thousand things' and also of Michael Angelo Batio's story:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_QEk1Fyi8w...feature=related Watch from 4:50

I'll keep you informed with my progress ! smile.gif


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Kristofer Dahl
post Dec 2 2011, 12:05 PM
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Very interesting - I remember practicing that lick from Marty solo on Countdown to Extinction I think. I love the sound of it because (as with most pentatonic licks) you cover a lot of ground quickly. Somehow it also changes direction in an unpredictable way.

By the way I love that Reckoning video!


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Ben Higgins
post Dec 2 2011, 12:20 PM
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QUOTE (Kristofer Dahl @ Dec 2 2011, 11:05 AM) *
Very interesting - I remember practicing that lick from Marty solo on Countdown to Extinction I think. I love the sound of it because (as with most pentatonic licks) you cover a lot of ground quickly. Somehow it also changes direction in an unpredictable way.

By the way I love that Reckoning video!


Yes, Marty is a master of unexpected turns ! wink.gif

This lick is a diminshed progression so the finger shifts are also challenging as you need to move diagonally across the neck ohmy.gif

Hehe, thanks.. it was a nightmare to edit ! I trawled through lots of practice footage and tried to choose bits where we didn't look too ugly ! laugh.gif


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Mudbone
post Dec 2 2011, 05:13 PM
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Great video Ben, I'm gonna have to try that lick biggrin.gif


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Ben Higgins
post Dec 2 2011, 05:43 PM
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QUOTE (Mudbone @ Dec 2 2011, 04:13 PM) *
Great video Ben, I'm gonna have to try that lick biggrin.gif


Thanks Senor 'Bone. Yeah, do it !! cool.gif


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Mudbone
post Dec 2 2011, 06:00 PM
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Just tried it... its not happening lol I'm actually working on this one lick, a sequenced G major scale in triplets (123,234,345 etc..) I'm gonna practice it until I can play it comfortably at 160 bpm. I'll practice it almost every day for 20 minutes. Right now I'm focusing on two or three strings at a time. Do you think this is a good approach?


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Ben Higgins
post Dec 2 2011, 07:41 PM
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QUOTE (Mudbone @ Dec 2 2011, 05:00 PM) *
Just tried it... its not happening lol I'm actually working on this one lick, a sequenced G major scale in triplets (123,234,345 etc..) I'm gonna practice it until I can play it comfortably at 160 bpm. I'll practice it almost every day for 20 minutes. Right now I'm focusing on two or three strings at a time. Do you think this is a good approach?


Hehe, it is a tricky number isn't it ?? wink.gif

Well, the funny thing is I change my opinion of how to practice things every now and again. I'm usually an advocate of isolate just one motion and practice the hell out of that but I guess that serves a purpose if you are having trouble with a particular motion. In the last few weeks I'm gravitating towards just practising the lick as it is (if it's fairly short and not excessively long, that is). I find that personal experience is the best teacher there is and lately it's been teaching me that just playing a lick as it's meant to be, slowly, accurately, day in and day out seems to work all the necessary elements in one go. The inside/outside motions and the general accuracy/hand synch.. and last but not least, the speed.

Just by doggedly practising the above lick, my whole picking technique has improved. Even though it's entirely an outside picking lick, I can noodle away with greater ease and accuracy than before. It's amazing how the improvement in one area spreads to the others ! smile.gif


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Ben Higgins
post Dec 3 2011, 12:07 PM
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Friday 2nd Dec - Practiced this lick for about an hour or so.. got up to about 170bpm where it was sometimes accurate/ sometimes not. I have the biggest problem when I have to go from the G to the B.. probably because my hand is starting to get tired by that point. So shoved it up to about 180 and isolated that G/B string section and played that for a bit.

Back down to 170 and things were a bit better. Still not perfect but my hand is handling these sorts of tempos better and with a relaxed state. A funny thing has been happening lately. Normally when you tire yourself out you can't really go on without tensing up or playing through pain. However, instead of hitting a wall and being unable to carry on, I get to the 'burn' stage and it sort of stays there. I don't cramp up or tense and it doesn't get painful (I'm sure it would if I kept doing it for another 30 mins straight) and I think that's a result of keeping correct, relaxed technique.

It's getting better slowly but surely. I'll keep you updated smile.gif


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Ben Higgins
post Dec 4 2011, 11:39 AM
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Saturday 3rd Dec Ok, so yesterday wasn't going so good to start with. I got up to my usual familiar tempos but things felt even less accurate than before. I was still having issues with the G / B string movements. I realised that I had been ignoring my own advice. I was concentrating on speed instead of accuracy. So I took a break and went back to it later. I went up through several tempos as I normally do and stopped at a much lower tempo of 110bpm and realised that my accuracy was starting to deteriorate at this tempo. I could pick it fast enough but the actual pick strokes weren't that controlled, relaxed or even. So I concentrated only on the accuracy, getting each repetition as accurate as the previous one. Needless to say, this still makes your muscles tired so it's a good sign.

Overall, I felt I benefitted a lot more by remembering that speed is a by-product of accuracy. Focus on the accuracy and speed will come as a result, when you're not looking for it.

I just need to follow my own advice ! laugh.gif

This post has been edited by Ben Higgins: Dec 4 2011, 11:40 AM


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Ben Higgins
post Dec 4 2011, 06:16 PM
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Sunday 4th Dec A good one today. Started off with the same approach as yesterday - accuracy not speed. Felt a lot more relaxed as well. I'm sure that the pyschological effect of not striving for speed contributes to being more relaxed too.

Spent plenty of time at each tempo and thought I'd have a go at seeing how accurate I could get it at 120bpm. Not bad but things started getting even better when I tapped into a mindstate that I discovered about a year ago and had forgotten about: Leading with the fretting hand.

What I mean by this is imagine that your fretting hand is in charge of everything. It is responsible for all sound, including picking. Don't even think of your pick hand at all. Let it be led by your fret hand instead. It sounds weird but when you notice this for the first time you'll think 'WOW !'

The benefit of this is unparalleled levels of relaxed picking. If you imagine that your fretting hand is causing your pick hand to move automatically, you end up by not putting as much effort into the picking itself. If you get it right, this means that you can't force the speed by tensing up. That's a good thing because you get an accurate result of where you are with your picking. It tells you exactly what tempo you can handle with natural, relaxed picking and it isn't distorted by extra force or tension. If you play with tension you can kid yourslef into thinknig you're technical ability is better than it is. If you take away the tension, you're left with the truth.


So try it - let the fretting hand 'drive' and let the picking hand be led. smile.gif

This post has been edited by Ben Higgins: Dec 4 2011, 06:18 PM


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Ivan Milenkovic
post Dec 4 2011, 07:57 PM
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Excellent points Ben, will try to follow your advices smile.gif


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jstcrsn
post Dec 5 2011, 01:51 AM
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QUOTE (Ben Higgins @ Dec 4 2011, 11:39 AM) *
Saturday 3rd Dec Ok, so yesterday wasn't going so good to start with. I got up to my usual familiar tempos but things felt even less accurate than before. I was still having issues with the G / B string movements. I realised that I had been ignoring my own advice. I was concentrating on speed instead of accuracy. So I took a break and went back to it later. I went up through several tempos as I normally do and stopped at a much lower tempo of 110bpm and realised that my accuracy was starting to deteriorate at this tempo. I could pick it fast enough but the actual pick strokes weren't that controlled, relaxed or even. So I concentrated only on the accuracy, getting each repetition as accurate as the previous one. Needless to say, this still makes your muscles tired so it's a good sign.

Overall, I felt I benefitted a lot more by remembering that speed is a by-product of accuracy. Focus on the accuracy and speed will come as a result, when you're not looking for it.

I just need to follow my own advice ! laugh.gif
st
well Ben,I can't play that fast,but at my fastest(when I am Playing well), when I am getting close to the speed I am aiming for.I quickly ramp up the speed by 10's until I am about 30bpm faster than what I want,it usually is sloppy ,but once it gets a little prettier ,I start slowing it down by 2bpm and spend a few minutes there .Each time I lower it , it gets a little cleaner and sometimes(not every time)by the time I get to my desired speed,it is slower than I have been playing and I think I can hear the notes better after I have heard them that fast.
of course ,you don't want to program slop into your brain - so I don't stay there to long,and I always try to slow it back down to perfection before I stop

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Ben Higgins
post Dec 5 2011, 10:07 AM
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QUOTE (jstcrsn @ Dec 5 2011, 12:51 AM) *
st
well Ben,I can't play that fast,but at my fastest(when I am Playing well), when I am getting close to the speed I am aiming for.I quickly ramp up the speed by 10's until I am about 30bpm faster than what I want,it usually is sloppy ,but once it gets a little prettier ,I start slowing it down by 2bpm and spend a few minutes there .Each time I lower it , it gets a little cleaner and sometimes(not every time)by the time I get to my desired speed,it is slower than I have been playing and I think I can hear the notes better after I have heard them that fast.
of course ,you don't want to program slop into your brain - so I don't stay there to long,and I always try to slow it back down to perfection before I stop


Yeah, I think the key with using this speed up technique is to know that it's just a quick fix tool - it temporarily makes us feel we can play a bit faster so that the lower speeds seem more manageable. I think it has it's uses mainly with warming up before a show or recording something but in terms of improving technique it doesn't really do anything because all the muscle memory drilling work is still only enhanced with manageable, correct reps smile.gif I guess it's just knowing how to combine the two.


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Kristofer Dahl
post Dec 5 2011, 12:40 PM
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Very cool to follow your thinking and strategy.

I have also expereinced that when you start off by focusing on accuracy instead of speed - you quickly see speed results and then you tend to forget how you actually got there! =)

QUOTE (Ben Higgins @ Dec 2 2011, 12:20 PM) *
Hehe, thanks.. it was a nightmare to edit ! I trawled through lots of practice footage and tried to choose bits where we didn't look too ugly ! laugh.gif


You did a great job - you all look very attractive!! laugh.gif


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Ben Higgins
post Dec 5 2011, 02:29 PM
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QUOTE (Kristofer Dahl @ Dec 5 2011, 11:40 AM) *
I have also expereinced that when you start off by focusing on accuracy instead of speed - you quickly see speed results and then you tend to forget how you actually got there! =)


Yes, us guitarists tend to get excited as soon as we appear to get results and then we run off with it too far ! wink.gif


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Ben Higgins
post Dec 5 2011, 07:03 PM
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Monday 5th Dec: Today was a good one smile.gif Continuing the approach of leading, thinking, driving with the left hand and I tell you that it makes a massive difference to how relaxed your picking hand is.

I took some inspiration from another thread about students at the Juillard School having a break every 15 mins.. seemed to work pretty well.

Got up to around 140bpm.. although it wasn't perfect all the time, it was a definite improvement.


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dark dude
post Dec 5 2011, 08:56 PM
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Nice journal! I miss the practice journals we had on here sad.gif

I reckon that both techniques for boosting speed are essential: slowly programming the muscle memory and creeping it up, and doing bursts beyond your capability (the former has to form the majority of the practice, though). Oh, and I can't disagree with Shawn Lane laugh.gif


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Ben Higgins
post Dec 7 2011, 05:49 PM
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Tuesday 6th Dec: Pretty much the same story as Monday.. excited about the effect that this approach is having.

Wednesday 7th Dec: Ok, things were really motoring today ! Following on from a great video chat session yesterday eve, where I talked about this idea of leading with the fretting hand and used a simple repeating lick against the metronome, I warmed up today using this approach. Just single string patterns, but I quickly whizzed up to around 170bpm, 16th notes. I plan to do this every day to keep pushing my upper speed limits. It feels weird having a picking hand that is so relaxed yet is furiously keeping up with these speeds. As I said to the guys in the chat yesterday, it almost feels as if you have lost some control over your hand.. but it's just less tension giving you the illusion of less control.

After that, I worked on some simple inside & outside picking movements using two strings. I did this for all strings, low to high. Using this new approach, I managed to achieve results that I've never achieved before. Up around 110-115bpm for inside picking. I was pretty shocked but pretty damn excited as well !! smile.gif

This post has been edited by Ben Higgins: Dec 7 2011, 05:50 PM


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jstcrsn
post Dec 8 2011, 04:44 PM
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I was wondering what motivated you to keep the one fret movement from the g string to the b ,hence taking it out of the diminished minor scale
and theoretically having 2 diminished scales(one step apart),unless my theory is incorrect- if it is please fell free to correct me
but either way, sometimes I like it and other times my ear wants to keep it in the same scale
just interested in pickin you nose laugh.gif , uh,I mean your brain for its reason
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Ben Higgins
post Dec 8 2011, 06:03 PM
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QUOTE (jstcrsn @ Dec 8 2011, 03:44 PM) *
I was wondering what motivated you to keep the one fret movement from the g string to the b ,hence taking it out of the diminished minor scale
and theoretically having 2 diminished scales(one step apart),unless my theory is incorrect- if it is please fell free to correct me
but either way, sometimes I like it and other times my ear wants to keep it in the same scale
just interested in pickin you nose laugh.gif , uh,I mean your brain for its reason


Hehe, well picking my nose is an interesting way of asking a question wink.gif

Well it actually is in the same dimished scale.. it's just that any intervals played on the B string and high E string are 1 fret higher on the neck. This is because of the B string. You know when you fret the 5th to tune your guitar strings, but when you get to the G you have to fret the 4th ? The strings are all tuned a 4th apart except for the B, which is a Major 3rd above G. Then from the B string, the high E is another 4th above that. So it's the G/B string relationship that throws everything out. So shapes that are symmetrical elsewhere on the neck change by one fret once you get to the G/B string area smile.gif

I hope that all makes sense. I also hope my theory is correct on this.. I'm doing it all without a guitar in my hand laugh.gif


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