A little lengthy but please bear with me.

This may seem like an odd question but I'd really like some guitar players opinion.  I am 58 years old and have been playing guitar since I was about 16.  I live in a small town and could not afford guitar lessons when I was learning so I'm pretty much self taught.  I realize that I developed a lot of bad habits since I had no one to correct them.  For example my picking hand wrist is usually in a locked position and I do most of my picking from the index and thumb fingers.  I also don't hold the pick the way most people do since the index and thumb fingers constantly move as I pick.  

I have tried to correct this in the past but because I was always playing in bands I never had the time to work on my technique because I was too busy learning new songs and getting ready for shows etc.  I no longer play in a band or play out so I now have the time to work on my bad habits but I worry that because I have played this way for so long I may not be able to correct it.  Cant teach an old dog new tricks kinda thing.  Do you guys think I should just not worry about it or would it be worth it for me to try and fix the years of bad habits.  

Thanks for any suggestions, opinions etc.
I don't think I'm qualified enough to give any advice, but I know of people that re-learned guitar and or altered their technique after decades, so it may be worth trying. On the other hand, does having a faulty technique really matter if it doesn't impede your playing? When you think of it a lot of legendary players had such quirks. 
You can do it, it will probably take a minimum of months of dedicated practice though. But you have to want to do it, or you'll just slip back into old ways. 
What exactly are your goals? If you just play home for fun and you are having fun at the moment, you're not really doing anything wrong. Even if you did play in a band at the moment or if you're planning to in the future, if your "bad habits" don't interfere with your performance what is the problem? Do you yourself notice the effects of these bad habits, or did you just read up online about the "proper" way to learn guitar and noticed it doesn't match your own?

The point is that the guitar is a very freeform instrument that can be approached in a lot of different ways. Of course there is the "standard" way, holding the pick with your thumb and index while picking with the wrist and planting your fretting hand thumb at the center of the back of the neck etc, but unless you're a professional musician who aims to play in a professional orchestra no one really cares.

The only drawback here might be that bad technique might lead to strain and injuries. Are you experiencing any of the sort? If you aren't, and you don't notice your technique interfering with your skills or holding you back, you might have to think about if it's even necessarily to re-train yourself. If you come to the conclusion that you do want to clean up your tech, idk, I don't see why you couldn't. But since I'm still young I can't really speak from experience.
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Interview comments from various top guitarists seem to converge on the figure of about three years to fully implement a change in technique... that is for pro level players that make the dedicated commitment to adjust. But the first step in any analysis is to verify the need to change something. Why do you think that your picking style is a bad habit? Did a fist gripping strict floating alternate picker tell you this?

What you describe sounds like it has elements of Chuck Wayne picking, scalpel picking, cross picking, economy picking... all highly regarded as very natural, fast, effortless, and totally legit swinging picking styles.

Maybe if you could link a video of your right hand picking it would be possible to clarify whether it looks like a problem habit or not.
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I really appreciate the responses.  I guess one of the reasons I am looking at correcting my technique is that over the years I have encountered several songs and situations where it seemed like it was a lot harder for me to replicate what was being played using my style.  I have also noticed new styles of playing like sweep picking etc that that look like would be impossible given the way I play.  In a classic rock music environment I can usually pull it off.  The video of Chuck Wayne is close to how I pick but even he seems to use a little bit of wrist motion where mine is usually locked with all motion coming from the fingers.
Your bad habits might also be considered by some as a guitarists style. There's no steadfast rules when it comes to guitar and rock IMO. 
Many of those who we consider guitar gods of the rock and roll era had unorthodox techniques and no formal training.  If you need to change your normal technique to play new songs, just do it! Guitar is an instrument in which everyone is always learning regardless of age or skill level.
The technique you use works for some situations but not others. I would add technique to work for the situations where the old technique doesn't work rather than abandoning it outright. Players like Richard Thompson for example use a variety of  picking techniques for a given situation. 
Whether you decide you want to put in the effort to fix some of your bad techniques or not, it would probably be wise to consult with an instructor or two.  They might be able to point out some things you didn't realize, or even offer some assurance that some of your "bad" habits are okay as long as they work for you.  You can gain a lot of insight from just 1 or 2 sessions and it doesn't have to be an expensive weekly thing.
Last edited by bptrav at Apr 28, 2017,
I only briefly skimmed through your post but it's definitely possible. ANYTHING can be fixed if you actively work at it. You just have to be willing to put in the time and effort. I remember an old friend of mine once wanted to change from playing with a closed fist to an open hand so he taped all his fingers open together when he played.. It eventually worked haha
Great feedback from all-thanks!  I think I am going to keep playing as I always have, flawed or not, and then as Lunchtime suggested switch to different techniques when certain types of playing require it.  My theory is that if I do it that way any bad habits will take care of themselves as I use the new  technique to make certain styles easier to play.  
glanders, it's never too late for anything my friend.  I've been playing professionally for 30 years and I STILL try to improve on my 'bad habits'.  that said, i'm not trying make myself into something i'm not - just merely trying to be the best player that I can be.  I think that is the real lesson for me.  Your honesty is refreshing!


It is never too late. 

I'd consider myself a level 3 hobbyist (3 years in and pretty serious about it) 

no spring chicken either, I'm well into my 30s and I think my goals are fairly reasonable, like not looking to conquer the world shredding arenas to bits etc lol 

but I'd say I've still put in a considerable amount of time and effort into the pursuit of learning to play the instrument so I can offer some advice..

specific details aside, I discovered a huge fundamental flaw in my technique and just worked the fix into my practice time and cured it. 

just concentrate hard and practice it slowly @ zero speed and observe yourself when the 'bad' muscle memory kicks in and fix it. 

isolate the problem, and practice fixing it slowly, observe closely and don't let yourself do it.

10 minutes a day of laser focused technique correction time and you should be out of the woods and into a clearing in a couple weeks.

good luck, you can do it.  
"no spring chicken either, I'm well into my 30s"

Dude...that makes me feel really old
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"no spring chicken either, I'm well into my 30s"

Dude...that makes me feel really old

haha, sorry about that, but we're all getting there eventually, aren't we ? 

I'm sure you have more than a few pointers for us "young 'uns" on matters more important than guitar.

but with guitar, anyone can do it with a bit of correct practice, hell, with your experience, you probably play circles around guys like me but everyone can fix their technique problems, and the learning will never stop, that much I know for sure.
I developed a speech impediment called rhotacism at an early age. In my case it meant I couldn't make the 'thrilled R'-sound which features quite prominently in more than a few languages, including Spanish (my mother tongue). It always bothered me to no end 'coz it made me sound like a foreigner no matter how well I spoke the language. Had my parents sent me to a speech therapist right away I probably would've overcome this doozy but that never happened

I didn't reassess the whole thing until my early twenties, and even then the notion of sitting in front of a mirror for half an hour a day performing tongue exercises didn't seem all that appealing, so it still took me years to finally tackle this thing. So yeah, old habits die hard, but if you make it your priority to hone your faulty technique then nothing's stopping you, no matter what age you are. Look at it this way: you already cared enough about improving as a musician to make this thread, so take that motivation and ride it for all its worth

If you really want to benefit from our help why not get a little more technical? This community is loaded with people who've struggled with the same things as you have. I bet many of them have learned a thing or two about overcoming similar obstacles. May I suggest sharing a lesson you think might be helpful (gathering feedback on the effectiveness of certain learning methods -rather than just diving straight in- can often prove really useful). Or how about mentioning a specific lick you can't seem to play cleanly no matter how much you try?

/] 三方 [\
It is never too late to change bad habits be they guitar playing, financial, drug related or any other habit.

The brain retains its plasticity into the 90's (possibly longer) and change is possible, it just takes doing.

Set a firm course of practice and stick with it you can see changes in as little as a week, get a teacher now that you have time.

I'm older too, I played many years ago and just started up again in January, bad habits were still there after all that time but I set about practicing all the scales I never learned and what chords they work, and now feel I have better, more musical ideas than I did when I was a youngster.

I used to rest my pinky on the pick guard but I found that playing is smoother and less constrained in the upper strings (position not tone) when my hand floats freely, not anchored by the pinky.

Just remember, the thinking mind is like putty, you can mould a new shape no matter how old you are.
Last edited by 33db at May 8, 2017,
Talking about bad habits, look at Marty Friedman and the way he holds the pick, it hasn't stopped him any. It is hard to dislodge, but if you want to and work at it, it could be done. At this stage of my playing, I am actually grasping at every bit of personality I can get to come thru my playing to define a discernible style, so I don't try to correct these things, but I did learn proper posture and picking at early age thanks to 3 years of intensive guitar lessons.
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Talking about bad habits, look at Marty Friedman and the way he holds the pick, it hasn't stopped him any.

That crooked wrist more than how he holds the pick. He says it developed that way because he doesn't like the sound of muted strings, went a bit overboard with it I think lol 

It doesn't make sense if you're talking about not muting either, he's a high gain "metal" player essentially, and muting unwanted strings with both hands should be a skill that kind of guitar playing could do with, why handicap yourself by taking your picking hand out of the equation, I don't get it. 

What a player though, Inferno was  

I created that picking style in a subliminal effort to avoid muting notes during solo or melody play. As with anything, if you do it long enough, eventually you will get pretty good at it. And, yes I'm a big fan of ABBA.

Last edited by 33db at May 10, 2017,
About the thumb being perfectly behind the neck.  I haven't seen a single guitarist who strictly follows that rule outside of a few classical guitarists maybe.  As you probably know classical guitar is VERY different from more modern styles (jazz, blues, metal, rock, funk, etc) all of which tend to use a lot more bending whereas in most classical guitar bending is pretty rare.  They usually use a different vibrato technique too (instead of sort of quick semi-bends it's more length wise).

I think this is a pretty good example of switching positions depending on what works best.  It doesn't seem to be holding him back much.  

Last edited by bptrav at May 16, 2017,