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Clean playing - I just can't seem to crack that egg

Discussion in 'Tab, Tips, Theory and Technique' started by johmica, Jan 29, 2021.

  1. johmica

    johmica Tele-Holic

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    Just looking for a little bit of experienced guidance on how to clean up my playing. A super-quick recent musico-biographical sketch:

    I've been playing for north of 30 years now ("on and off" would be an understatement). I've always just been a hobbyist - I've never taken it too seriously. It's just been a way for me to relax and enjoy myself. I've gigged a few times, but probably fewer than six.

    Historically, I've played blues rock and Americana covers.

    The pandemic led me to picking the guitar back up, after a very long break (about four years without playing). I subscribed to TrueFire in April of last year, and I've been working my way through the Blues Learning Path and the Jazz Learning Path. With both paths, I've completed the first four sections, which focus on rhythm playing, and I'm now moving into developing my lead chops.

    I've noticed both in my rhythm playing and with my lead playing that I'm a very sloppy player. I miss notes when trying to grab chords, and when playing the lead lines presented in the lessons, my performances are inconsistent. I often miss parts, miss strings with my picking hand, slur notes instead of clearly articulating them in the way they are presented, etc.

    My approach to the problem has been to slow down and try to focus on getting everything perfect before moving forward. I recognize that I'm likely a poor judge of my own progress, but that progress seems to be moving at an excruciatingly slow pace. I do seem to be getting better, and my playing is getting cleaner, but after several weeks of working on a particular blues lead, for example (a 3 1/2 minute number by Cory Congilio), I still can rarely play it without a single mistake, and I'm still playing it at 80% speed.

    After 30 years of playing sloppily, I'm really trying to clean up my act, but it is like pulling teeth. So what I'm looking for here is a combination of encouragement to stay the path and maybe some informed suggestions on how to accelerate this process. Am I approaching the problem correctly? Is the slow pace of progress normal? Will it get easier, the longer I work on it? How can I improve more quickly?

    As always, thanks guys.
     
  2. hepular

    hepular Tele-Holic

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    What do you mean by 'perfect'?

    Sloppiness is a technique problem. Do the truefire courses give you ways to build the habits and techniques that lead to precise playing? Or, are you trying to infer what might work, or trying to play clean with 30 years of sloppy technique?
     
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  3. twanger05

    twanger05 TDPRI Member

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    Just remember that Jimmy Page was sloppy too (if you want to feel good about yourself)
     
  4. johmica

    johmica Tele-Holic

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    Truefire does give multi-angle videos of the performances, with the ability to slow down the video without changing the pitch. So I've spent some time looking at picking patterns, fretting fingers, etc., for sure.
     
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  5. hepular

    hepular Tele-Holic

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    then, in that case, 'progress' can be really slow cuz you're unlearning bad habits and trying to replace with better. but try to get your head out of your muscles' way whenever you can
     
  6. nicknklv

    nicknklv Tele-Holic

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    I relate to your situation - I've played for about 12 years, and I had this moment about a year and a half ago. Don't get caught up in your thoughts - just play, play, play and practice. Work towards what you want to achieve - don't rush to just pass that lesson but take your time with each one until you get it right (even if it seems super simple!).

    More playing, less thinking about how you're not where you want to be, and you'll get there! :)

    - Fellow TrueFire subscriber
     
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  7. Peegoo

    Peegoo Poster Extraordinaire

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    Make your practices work for you, rather than against you: practice for 30 minutes at a stretch and then take a break. Give your fingers and your brain a little time for the stuff to sink in before you go back to practicing.

    Do not mindlessly noodle on guitar. This reinforces bad habits that have become entrenched in your technique over many years; it destroys any progress you might make when doing focused practice.
     
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  8. mtglick

    mtglick TDPRI Member

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    Best advice I have been given and have given others:

    Slow down.
    Be deliberate in your motion.
    Think about what you're doing.
    Be present and focus on your technique.

    My biggest mistake when I'm trying to learn something is to switch over to muscle memory before I've actually learned what I'm supposed to be doing, and that usually leads to frustration. Watch whoever played whatever you're trying to play do it live and onstage. Albums are great but even the gods make mistakes and it's just not fair to us mortals to compare yourself to studio-recorded pieces that dedicated professionals had to spend weeks or months getting exactly right for that one perfect take.
     
  9. AngelStrummer

    AngelStrummer Friend of Leo's

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    Only if doing horse can be considered a good excuse for all that slop.
     
  10. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    I'm assuming you want to play cleaner and faster(?).
    This is probably not gonna be what you want to hear but you need to start practicing scales and exercises. Playing them correctly and working on them everyday. At least 5 days a week for at least 20 minutes preferably at the beginning of your practice sessions.

    If you really want to achieve 'better technique', you have to work within the traditional model of how one gets there. Scales, arpeggios, working with a metronome, synchronizing both hands, etc.
     
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  11. blue17

    blue17 Tele-Meister

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    At one point, about five years into seriously playing and taking lessons (not to show off but rather for context, at the time I could play most "famous" solos and other things that make people think you're "good" at guitar), my teacher made me play the major pentatonic scale to a metronome, speeding up each time I did it without any screw-ups.

    Let's just say I didn't make it nearly as far as I thought I would. A good wake up call, and one I'd recommend to others.
     
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  12. 68tele

    68tele Friend of Leo's

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    If this were normal times: find a good teacher.
     
  13. capgun

    capgun Tele-Meister

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    I’m kind of in the same place as OP, give or take a few details. And the above advice is really the answer.

    Capgun
     
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  14. Buell

    Buell Tele-Meister

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    Practice and patience. I still play "sloppy" at times and I really don't care. The more I play the same slop over and over, it tends to clean up after awhile. Just enjoy the process. Trust me, if you keep at it, you'll realize the progress!
     
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  15. PhredE

    PhredE Tele-Afflicted

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    As long as I hear a player say this (^), I know that you're probably on the path to progress.
    That is a good goal to strive for, tempered by a realistic expectation that progress happens slowly for most players and takes time. ..and that is perfectly a-ok. :)

    As others have mentioned, it's important to have good practice habits or regimen:
    a). Practice regularly.
    b). Make good (productive) use of the practice time
    c). Have goals for each practice session that require some real effort [noodling = BAD] (doesn't have to be earth-shattering, just some specific goal you work toward each session). 30-60 minutes/day is a pretty good ballpark for most people.
    d). Don't burn yourself out. Don't 'practice' so much that your enthusiasm or focus suffers.. if you find yourself encroaching on that situation, stop, and play a little for fun or just take a break from practicing altogether.

    It can be really helpful to focus on the music (abstract, mental) aspect of the practice too. Reading and memorizing sheet music of the tune to be practiced will focus your brain into the subject in a different way than just the sheer physical (muscle memory) will tend to do.

    Just my 0.02.
    Good luck!
     
  16. clayfeat

    clayfeat Tele-Afflicted

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    Some of the best blues leads you will ever hear are all downstrokes. Clean and played with conviction. If you are playing sloppy because your are alternate picking everything and it isn't synching up with your left hand, take a deep breath and blow some minds with slow, searing downstrokes.
    Also, stop taking lessons. Play along with records and the radio like the greats did. I guarantee you will learn to become the player you want to be instead of the player some dude you don't know on an instructional video says you should be.
     
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  17. Dismalhead

    Dismalhead Poster Extraordinaire

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    I'm probably a 75% distorted player, and where I really shine is classic rock and metal.

    I find that switching to an acoustic guitar every five years or so for a few months cleans up my playing (especially my picking) and expands my mind a bit, as did switching from humbucker to single-coil equipped guitars when I transitioned from mostly Gibson to mostly Fender. When I got my AC15 and my first Tele I spent about six months playing on the clean channel, just because the sound was so beautiful. So, in some way, you need to find a great clean sound and fall in love with it.

    Humbuckers, a lot of distortion, and coloration effects are tons of fun, but it does allow for some slop that will come out when your sound is cleaner. Gotta pay your dues on the clean side to minimize the slop, no way around it. It's just putting in the time.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2021
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  18. chris m.

    chris m. Poster Extraordinaire

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    The phrase "practice makes perfect" is wrong. The correct saying is "perfect practice makes perfect". You have to slow down and use a metronome and go as slow as required in order to play the passage without any mistakes. It doesn't have to be boring scales or arpeggios-- it can be the song you are trying to learn. But muscle memory is cumulative. If you play a passage at full speed and stumble when you get to a certain spot, then your practice is just programming in the stumble rather than eroding the stumble away. Slow it down and get it right.

    Another good trick is breaking a passage down from all directions. Let's say you have a nine note passage, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9.

    And let's say you stumble at the passage from 6-7. Rather than just doing 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 over and over, slowly, here's what you might do:

    6-7
    6-7
    6-7
    6-7
    5-6-7
    5-6-7
    5-6-7
    6-7
    6-7
    6-7-8
    5-6-7-8
    4-5-6-7-8
    4-5-6-7-8-9
    1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9

    Something along these lines. You focus your effort on fixing the tough parts, get those right, then string it all together. As you string it together and speed up you discover new tough parts. You do the same breakdown again, always slowing down enough to PLAY IT RIGHT, and then slowly speeding up. You are programming your body to DO IT RIGHT, or else you are inadvertently actually reinforcing the muscle memory program for you to always GET IT WRONG.
     
  19. johmica

    johmica Tele-Holic

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    This is all excellent advice.
     
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  20. donrichfan

    donrichfan Tele-Holic Gold Supporter

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    The Replacements rocked pretty hard, too...
     
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