Musings on Developing Technical Skill

johmica

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I've been tinkering with guitar for the better part of 35 years at this point, but I never took it seriously. At the onset of the plague, I purchased an All Access Pass to TrueFire, and the lessons there have revolutionized my playing. I've improved more in the last two years than I had in the previous decade.

That being said, I had a bit of a frustrating day today. I've been working on Anthony Stauffer's SRV licks course. It's an ambitious course for me - I've never been much of a lead player (I know my blues pentatonic scale in all positions, and I can doodle, but I've never focused on really developing lead chops), and the course gets right into some of Stevie's faster licks right out of the gate.

I've been at it for about four weeks now. I'm on Lesson 9 right now. The first 13 lessons are basically different variations of a quintessential SRV lick. Everyone who's ever heard SRV would recognize the theme immediately. Anyway, I've taken my time, focused on getting the notes, and slowly built up my speed. Right now, I can pull off the more demanding of the phrases at 90% speed with maybe 85% consistent accuracy (meaning I play it perfectly about 85% of the time, at 90% speed).

I know that the short answer to the theme of this question is just, "slow down, build muscle memory, use a metronome," etc. But as I sit here, sipping a nice locally brewed IPA, it makes me want to read the musings of those of you out there who have developed the technical speed, accuracy, precision, and consistency that I'm working for. For those of you who gig SRV songs, how long did it take you to feel like you could pull it off well enough for the drunken patrons to dig it?

So really, this thread is just an open invitation for those of you out there with a little bit a skill (I'm talking gigging-level, not virtuosity, although comments from you wunderkinds out there are also more than welcome). Talk to me about your personal journeys to get to the skill level that you're at.
 

Leon Grizzard

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The biomechanics of running are different from the biomechanics of walking fast, so after you have the notes learned I think you really just have to go for it. And keep practicing it slow also.It can take me several months to years to be able to get hard stuff to where I can really play it well at gigs, but I try to play it anyway. Sometimes I get it and sometimes I don't. I don't get to play enough gigs, so it takes me longer than it might if I gigged all the time.
 

klasaine

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I will echo Leon's excellent post.
Once I can technically play something where I think it should be (cleanliness/speed), it takes me months before I can make it work convincingly within the context of a song. Sometimes it's taken a couple of years.

My personal journey over the past two years (the Covid time) has been to force myself to incorporate new things into my playing at a faster rate. To that end, participating in the weekly 'backing track challenge' over at the Twanger Central sub forum has been an absolute god send. It's helped me with 1) greatly improving my home recording capabilities and 2) consistently forcing whatever new lick, line, chord voicing or concept into my playing.
 

loopfinding

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To add to the running different from walking thing...

If you can play it at 90% perfectly, then ram through it at 100%, mistakes and all. Then back it down to 95%...it should feel easy to get perfect by comparison. Go beyond just trying to get perfect accuracy at 100%, keep doing this until you’re “good enough” without mistakes at 110% or something (so ramming through with mistakes at 115% and backing it down). Then 100% will be even easier.

Essentially, start from where you can play it perfectly, “unreasonably” overshoot, walk it back.

Otherwise also try using the licks as a matter of habit in your own music or while noodling at your speed. The more you do it, the more it becomes second nature to play it quickly. There is stuff I play on my couch while noodling as a matter of habit for years now, just because it feels good in the fingers to play, and much of it I can play faster cleanly than stuff I’ve actively worked on. If you’re uncomfortable copping someone’s lick outright, change or combine stuff to make it yours.

I also find that it makes it easier to get the licks under your fingers if you learn longer licks or full solos. That way, you’re not being forced to go from zero to sixty, you’re training your brain to associate moving through them while the music is moving underneath you. In the same way you’re overshooting for speed, here you’d be overshooting for information.

Using these methods while working on coltrane’s solo on giant steps, I was able to get my speed to where I could play the solo perfectly at 90%, but occasionally screw up and fall off the bike at 100%. That’s fine, I’m not trying to be coltrane. Where it really helped was it made “slower” tunes with more intuitive/natural fingerings like some of wes’ stuff much easier to get up to tempo.
 
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drumtime

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If you can play it at 90% perfectly, then ram through it at 100%, mistakes and all. Then back it down to 95%...it should feel easy to get perfect by comparison. Go beyond just trying to get perfect accuracy at 100%, keep doing this until you’re “good enough” without mistakes at 110% or something (so ramming through with mistakes at 120% or 115% and backing it down). Then 100% will be even easier.

Essentially, start from where you can play it perfectly, “unreasonably” overshoot, walk it back.

This -- There's a video somewhere of Shawn Lane giving the same advice. You need to practice speed as well as notes.
 

Peegoo

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Improvement takes effort. Actual practice is hard work. Will sitting on the couch and noodling do any good? Maybe...but it also reinforces bad habits and it makes one's playing repetitious.

Regarding the ability to play SRV licks: his style is probably 80% feel and attitude, and the rest is a combination of Albert King, Johnny Taylor, and others' styles. Very few players could smolder and swing like Vaughan.
 

twangjeff

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When you talk about precision, accuracy, and consistency... these don't really scream, "SRV," to me. I think Stevie was much more of a visceral, 'Grip it and rip it,' type of player. I don't think that practicing licks or sequences with a metronome will make you sound like Stevie... I think that playing along with Albert King records will make you sound like Stevie.

Practicing lines with a metronome is more likely to make you sound like Eric Johnson, which is great in it's own right.

This is what the Truefire's of the world miss in a lot of cases. SRV didn't sit down with a book of Jimi Hendrix licks and practice them with a metronome until he was comfortable. He just flat went for it. Listen to live recordings, he never plays the same thing twice.

Contrast that with an Eric Johnson... you can tell that he probably does sit in his practice room running scales and arpeggios with a metronome. His playing is much more precise, much more refined.

I think that these two players are a really great contrast... EJ plays guitar like Pablo Casals plays a Cello. SRV plays guitar like a wrecking ball.
 

Lynxtrap

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It can be fun to nail a certain player's licks of course, and you can learn something from it.
Personally I don't practice licks and never have, really. Blues and jazz is improvisational music and IMO licks are the opposite of improvisation.

To pull off, in this case, SRV covers is more a question of adopting the style than executing licks note for note. You know what he sounded like, and that will get you in the ballpark.

Time/timing is surpisingly not often mentioned when people talk about SRV's playing, but I think it is absolutely essential. He seems to have been unable to play anything that was not in the pocket or floating in relation to time and groove. He also played every note with conviction.

If you get those aspects down, just play the blues and it will be SRV enough for most "drunken patrons" at your local gigs. 😉
 

thankyouguitar

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To add to the running different from walking thing...

If you can play it at 90% perfectly, then ram through it at 100%, mistakes and all. Then back it down to 95%...it should feel easy to get perfect by comparison. Go beyond just trying to get perfect accuracy at 100%, keep doing this until you’re “good enough” without mistakes at 110% or something (so ramming through with mistakes at 115% and backing it down). Then 100% will be even easier.

Essentially, start from where you can play it perfectly, “unreasonably” overshoot, walk it back.

Otherwise also try using the licks as a matter of habit in your own music or while noodling at your speed. The more you do it, the more it becomes second nature to play it quickly. There is stuff I play on my couch while noodling as a matter of habit for years now, just because it feels good in the fingers to play, and much of it I can play faster cleanly than stuff I’ve actively worked on. If you’re uncomfortable copping someone’s lick outright, change or combine stuff to make it yours.

I also find that it makes it easier to get the licks under your fingers if you learn longer licks or full solos. That way, you’re not being forced to go from zero to sixty, you’re training your brain to associate moving through them while the music is moving underneath you. In the same way you’re overshooting for speed, here you’d be overshooting for information.

Using these methods while working on coltrane’s solo on giant steps, I was able to get my speed to where I could play the solo perfectly at 90%, but occasionally screw up and fall off the bike at 100%. That’s fine, I’m not trying to be coltrane. Where it really helped was it made “slower” tunes with more intuitive/natural fingerings like some of wes’ stuff much easier to get up to tempo.
I second all of this ^^^^ 100%
 

regularslinky

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I've gigged SRV tunes, but I almost never copy guitar solos note-for-note. I try to do my own thing while keeping the flavor of the original. As for drunken patrons, they like high sustained notes and painful facial expressions. 😊

I'm self-taught for all intents and purposes. I had a teacher early on show me chords and the "blues" scale, but as soon as I was good enough to play in a band my education stopped. I'm not a blazing fast player, and I'm sure my technique is improper. I've never tried playing difficult stuff faster than I was able, then backing down. That is interesting advice, and I may try it. I've always done the other way, slow to fast, gradually increasing speed as my hands got comfortable.
 

Tele Jr

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Just like the hand is quicker than the eye it is also quicker than the ear. But to me the constraining factor is the processing clock speed of the brain that controls the hands and developing the nerve conduit between. I settled on a pretty comprehensive battery of finger independence as the constitutional of my daily warm up to try to tecnically develop this.
 

Larry F

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I try to get to a point where I imagine walking out on stage, and staring down the audience. Sneering, lip curls, and no monkeying around with levels and tweaking. I've often locked eyes with a beauty near the stage and telepathically ravage her before playing a single note. If I can pull this off before playing the first tune, then I'm the boss for the rest of the night. If I'm cooking, I can lure them up to the stage before breaks. If I sound over-confident here, it means that I'm ready to play.
 

CupofJoe

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I learned early as a graphic designer and art director that “if you want something to look like something, you’ve seen, then make it look like that” it works in music too, just know what sounds you want to hear then take a deep breath and try to make those sounds … it takes a while for sure but your ear will tell you when you have it or at least what you personally want it to be. Kinda sucks until you learn the language of the genera you want to speak … but once you get close it all falls into place.
 

sax4blues

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If a piece of music is 120 bpm, work at playing it at 140 bpm. Work at it seriously for a couple of days. Then come back to 120.
This has never worked for me. All I do is build muscle memory of sloppy, mistake ridden playing. Especially the most difficult sections get almost passed by without ever playing them correctly.
 

SRHmusic

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Cool thread topic. A few things helped me in the last few years quite a bit. Still on the journey here, but some things I can share. Not for SRV specifically, but similar, more technical blues rock stuff.

First I found I wasn't quite holding the pick in a way to lock my thumb joint. It's really basic, but getting the first finger tip to be more parallel to the edge of the thumb instead of pointing down toward the tip of the pick made a huge difference for speed and accuracy. (Apparently it's a very traditional grip and lots of players know about it.)

Second, working on economy picking even in common blues licks is critical to gaining speed. It's a puzzle to sort out sometimes about up or down strokes etc. but worth a little time to pay attention. Among others, Jimmy Page licks and some of Stevie's go-to licks benefit a lot from this kind of breakdown. (I haven't seen many instructors focus on this outside of some shred and, of course, Gambale.)

There is more, like minimizing picking depth and breaking down longer sections into small groups to practice. None of it is Earth shattering, but worth taking time to break down and build up the mechanics of these things.

The whole groove, swing area takes a different approach, I think, really getting in with a recording and better with a good band. Seems like a lifelong endeavor to really get there, but so worth it. Really getting the phrasing and accenting of SRVs (or anyone's) lines is really important, too. I'm amazed how many subtleties can be found in both BB King's and Eric Clapton's lines in some of their live recordings, for example.
 




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