#1
Hey everyone, I'm new to the forums, and I've been spending time reading a lot of the stickies, as well as other threads, but I figure I'll make my own and ask some questions and voice the concerns I have, regarding my guitar playing.

I've been playing on and off for a few years now (mostly off, due to other obligations), and am entirely self-taught. As of late, I'm just about ready to break the guitars I have (one acoustic, one electric), because I finally decided to start playing again (after another 3 month break), and it's just awful to see how little I've managed to progress. I'm seriously getting discouraged with it all.

Now, I've read .pdfs of Jamey Andreas' Correct Principles of Guitar Practice, as well as other resources, and I understand that you're supposed to go slowly and build up over time, but no matter what I try to do, I don't seem to go anywhere.

Let me get to my main questions/concerns:

1) When I play, especially my electric, I sit with my left food on a block slightly elevated, so the guitar can rest over my left thigh, and the head comes up about eye level or so. This, as I understand it, is best, to have it elevated. When I do this, however, I try to avoid "anchoring" my right arm, but if I don't allow my forearm (closer to the elbow) to touch the body of the guitar, I find it slips away from me. I seem to keep my forearm there to stabilize the guitar. After looking up some stuff here, I can't tell if that's normal or not, but I'm hoping it is, because I've grown so comfortable that way, and trying to lift my arm up and around so as not to "anchor" is making everything that much harder.

2) When I practice, I generally warmup with a few different scale rules, some chord transitions, and then play a couple of riffs or songs I know. They're usually not whole songs, and are pretty limited (i.e., plain picking and fretting, no bends, vibratos, or anything else), so I get little other practice. The thing is, I've been trying to drill scales more than anything because I was told that learning to run scales properly, and increasing your ability on them, will do a lot for progress.

The problem is, no matter what, my scales just seem shaky and slow. I haven't tried learning any new songs for awhile because, as I see it, if my scales are this off, I shouldn't be bothering with songs - I'm obviously doing something basic wrong, so it doesn't matter whether I run scales, or play songs, I need to fix something else.

3) I'm noticing that, when I try to play slowly on a scale, lifting my index finger and going to the pinky, or vice-versa, the pinky tends to leap up and away from the fretboard... even when I'm going painfully slow. However, when I try to just run my scales quicker, my fingers seem to naturally hug closer to the fretboard, and this is almost a non-issue. Why would this be? It makes playing slowly, which is the "right" thing to do, that must more frustrating. I almost notice more problems that way!

4) I never had a professional, or advanced player watch me pick and fret, and I'm wondering if maybe my "self-taught" method, despite having looked up various resources, has betrayed me. I'm wondering if there are stupid things I'm doing while playing that I'm just not seeing, that a teacher would correct. Would you guys think I should get someone to look at my form and such?

I'm sure I'll have more questions and stuff, but this is enough for now. I know I'm wordy guys, so bear with me. thanks.
#2
I think I can understand where you're coming from. Sometimes I think the same thing too about scale work -- that I'm terrible at it. Right now I'm around 120 bpm at 16th notes going up and down the major scale, but I perceive that as sucking very bad when compared with normal playing. I think the main reason why I think this is because when I do my scale work, I am concentrating on absolute perfection. I think a lot of guys simply focus on being able to play the notes at the desired speed, but I'm focusing on hearing any and all imperfections in tone, pick attack, angle, articulation, etc. As a result, I'm not just wanting to play the notes, but to stay at a particular speed until I can play it perfectly without thinking about it. To me, that is the main unmeasurable factor that separates a great guitar player over a good player, and a good player over a mediocre player, and so on.

For me, I always learned new songs as a 10-20 minute segment in my 1 hour practice routine. If I just did scale work through all that time, I would have definitely gotten burned out on it, and I would have quit after just a few months probably, Also, it's important to know that just practicing technique and scales won't do you any good if you don't know how to jam and improvise. I always dedicate a 20 minute segment to improv, because improv demands a knowledge of so many aspects of guitar work, it's almost like hitting several techniques all in one sweep.

I also try to mix up my scale practicing so that I don't get bored. I rarely do this:


-----------------------------------2-3-5
------------------------------3-5--------
----------------------2-4-5-------------
--------------2-4-5---------------------
------2-3-5-----------------------------
-3-5-------------------------------------

Usually I'll mix it up by only playing the scale on two or three strings, and going back and forth, and trying to incrementally building up speed and then adding an extra note, like this:

-----------------------------------------------
-----------------------------------------------
-----------------------------------------------
-----------------------------------------------
------2-3-5-3-2---------2-3-5-3-2--------
-3-5--------------5-3-5--------------5-3---

I'll do that until I'm at a speed I'm happy with AND to the point where I don't even have to think about it to play it perfectly, and then I'll add to it incrementally, like this:

--------------------------------------------------------
--------------------------------------------------------
--------------------------------------------------------
-------------2------------------------2----------------
------2-3-5---5-3-2---------2-3-5---5-3-2--------
-3-5-----------------5-3-5--------------------5-3---

To me, that's the most logical way to build speed consistently, reliably, and accurately. You see, I can only play the entire scale up and down at 120 bpm with 16th notes, and even at that speed I'm a little sloppy, but I can play two string exercises like that at a much faster speed, like 150 bpm with 16th notes with perfect accuracy. This translates into a more applicable development of technique. Not many licks in real songs are going to have you start at the low e and work your way up to the high e. For me, if I concentrate on perfection for just these two strings, and refuse to add speed even when I COULD, but instead wait until I'm 100% confident at my current speed, eventually I'll be able to run the entire scale without effort. This will take a long time no doubt, so certainly don't expect it to be a one month journey.

Another thing I like to do is sing the notes of the scale while I play it. This really helps with programming that knowledge of the scale into your head. If you can sing the notes of the scale while simply running through the scale without playing it, then you're much more likely to have a greater command over the scale, especially when it comes to writing your own licks, runs, solos, improvising, or whatever. If you can't instinctively sing the notes simultaneously while playing it, then you don't truly know the scale at all, even if you can scale run at 180 bpm w/ 16th notes. Speed will never translate into good guitar playing without total knowledge of the notes you are playing.
#3
Thanks for the reply, Crimson. Anyone else have anything to add?

Also, I had another thing come to mind - no matter what I do, fretting and running scales on the top four frets causes me pain in my wrist, and my fingers just can't move around as freely up there. I find they cramp up easier, and I have to reach more. I try to force myself to run scales up there the most, but it just gets that much more frustrating. Does anyone else have this problem? Should I not even bother running scales up there? Any advice?
#5
First off, if you're concerned about your playing, and don't feel like you're improving, I'd definitely recommend finding a good teacher - even if you don't stay with them for long they can identify and help you correct any major errors with your technique and can get you back on track as far as progress goes. Personally I believe my teacher is worth his weight in gold - I would certainly be nowhere near where I am with my playing if it wasn't for him.

Watch Freepower's posture and finger independance vids - http://www.youtube.com/user/FreepowerUG?blend=2&ob=1

As far as running scales goes, I'm not really sure what benefit you get from just practicing them up and down - if you know the sound, and the fingering, then practice them in different patterns - 3rds or 4ths or your own sequences, and practice them like that single string, 2nps, 3nps and in all directions. That way you're praticing something you might want to use in a song.

Use these scales you've been putting all this effort into - get yourself some backing tracks and start improvising!

Learn some songs - the whole point of learning an instrument is to have fun and make music!

Don't worry about speed - focus on playing everything as cleanly and accurately as you can, however slowly that may be. Speed will come naturally as your accuracy, coordination and economy of motion improve.
#6
*waiting for steven seagull to pop in saying that scale exercises aren't the goal itself*
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#7
Quote by 08L1V10N
*waiting for steven seagull to pop in saying that scale exercises aren't the goal itself*
I'd have thought you'd agree with him! You've said yourself (unless I drastically misunderstood yesterday) that learning theory doesn't help anything unless you apply it - surely the same thing applies to exercises. Being able to play a scale is all well and good, but the aim is to be able to use that scale to make music surely?
#8
Quote by 08L1V10N
*waiting for steven seagull to pop in saying that scale exercises aren't the goal itself*

Cool, you've saved me a job
Actually called Mark!

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#9
Alright, thanks for that part, guys.

Now, as for my fretting the upper frets, and the pain... any ideas what I should do regarding that?
#10
I'd definately get a teacher, even if only for a few lessons. A good teacher should be able to spot where the technique problems that are holding you back and point you in the right direction.

The first thing I noticed from your post - the biggest problem you have is lack of consistency in practicing. You are having so many periods where you don't play for a while, that I'm sure you are forgetting a lot of improvement that you are making. Although you need more to make faster improvement, even making sure that you get just 15 mins per day, 6 days a week, come hell or high water, will at least mean that the improvements you make when you practice more will stick.

Regarding scales. I agree with Steven Seagulls take on this. It's easy to get into the trap of saying, "well, I already know that I'm not good enough to play whole songs, so I'll work on a bunch of techniques until I'm ready". The problem is that you get into this state of always preparing for something, without ever actually doing what it is you are preparing for! When you do this, you are going at it kind of blind - you need the work on playing real music to be able to find out where your technique problems lie, so that you can pick the right technique exercises to work on those problems. When you do work on scales, I agree with Crimson Horn that working on fragments is a lot more effective at getting your chops up.

The flying pinky thing - that's tension/lack of finger independence. There are some exercises that will help with that - check out the link zhilla gave you to Freepower's vid. The main thing about this is to not fight it - that will cause even more tension - just try to relax as much as possible and gradually try to work out the kinks.
#11
It's vital that you recognise distinction between practice and playing, and maintain a balance between the two. If you don't practice enough then you won't develop as quickly as you want to, but if you practice too much and don't play enough then that's equally a waste of time because, well, the whole point of learning to play is just that, to play.

You get better at anything by doing, if you keep your current mindset you'll never go anywhere because you'll never be good enough to play a song in your eyes...because the only thing that's going to make you better at playing songs is to start trying to play one!

This thread of Freepower's pretty much sums it up

https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/forum/showthread.php?t=1230682
Actually called Mark!

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Last edited by steven seagull at Nov 27, 2009,
#12
Mark I swear that you just get better and better at giving out advice, don't know why but it I think that last post was just about perfect.

1) When I play, especially my electric, I sit with my left food on a block slightly elevated, so the guitar can rest over my left thigh, and the head comes up about eye level or so. This, as I understand it, is best, to have it elevated. When I do this, however, I try to avoid "anchoring" my right arm, but if I don't allow my forearm (closer to the elbow) to touch the body of the guitar, I find it slips away from me. I seem to keep my forearm there to stabilize the guitar. After looking up some stuff here, I can't tell if that's normal or not, but I'm hoping it is, because I've grown so comfortable that way, and trying to lift my arm up and around so as not to "anchor" is making everything that much harder.


Sounds fine to me.

2) When I practice, I generally warmup with a few different scale rules, some chord transitions, and then play a couple of riffs or songs I know. They're usually not whole songs, and are pretty limited (i.e., plain picking and fretting, no bends, vibratos, or anything else), so I get little other practice. The thing is, I've been trying to drill scales more than anything because I was told that learning to run scales properly, and increasing your ability on them, will do a lot for progress.

The problem is, no matter what, my scales just seem shaky and slow. I haven't tried learning any new songs for awhile because, as I see it, if my scales are this off, I shouldn't be bothering with songs - I'm obviously doing something basic wrong, so it doesn't matter whether I run scales, or play songs, I need to fix something else.


Oh god no! Learn songs or write songs or make music - running scales up and down does not create progress! At best it helps you learn a few scale patterns. What you want to do is take a song or riff a little out of reach and perfect it. Or maybe finish off those old songs.

Unless you're having an lot of fun doing those scale runs - which it doesn't sound like.

3) I'm noticing that, when I try to play slowly on a scale, lifting my index finger and going to the pinky, or vice-versa, the pinky tends to leap up and away from the fretboard... even when I'm going painfully slow. However, when I try to just run my scales quicker, my fingers seem to naturally hug closer to the fretboard, and this is almost a non-issue. Why would this be? It makes playing slowly, which is the "right" thing to do, that must more frustrating. I almost notice more problems that way!


That's one of the many reasons for playing slower - you do notice lots more problems.

(hence you can fix them )

4) I never had a professional, or advanced player watch me pick and fret, and I'm wondering if maybe my "self-taught" method, despite having looked up various resources, has betrayed me. I'm wondering if there are stupid things I'm doing while playing that I'm just not seeing, that a teacher would correct. Would you guys think I should get someone to look at my form and such?


Good teachers are good at helping you play better. Ask around and see if you can find one.
#13
I appreciate all the help, everyone. I feel a bit more motivated now.

Back to practice... and playing.
#14
Good-oh.

Just remember to not be afraid of doing stuff, the worst thing that's going to happen is you won't be able to do it yet! You need to be realistic and try not to overstretch yourself, but as long as you're honest with yourself and set achievable, short term goals you'll progress. One of the things a lot of people lack is the ability to be objective about their playing, you seem to have that pretty sorted so it'll stand you in good stead.

No amount of practicing will allow you to jump into complex stuff, you have to start at the beginning so learn some chords along with those scales and learn to play some simple, chordy songs...Creedence Clearwater Revival is always good for that.
Actually called Mark!

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#15
1) anchoring your forearm near the elbow is fine, because you're not supposed to move your forearm a whole lot, and your wrist is still free to move.

2) the metronome is your friend. Also what feels like it's helping me is not just accenting the first note of each string, for example if you are playing a scale in a 3 note per string fashion you would naturally accent it 123456712 ....etc. Instead of this try accenting every fourth or fifth note eg 123456712345..... etc. It's pretty awkward at first. Look for the guthrie govan video on it

3) The way you play fast should be the same way you practice slow, so if you go slow and your pinky is far from the fretboard it makes me think you're just not noticing it as much when you play fast. Instead of practicing painfully slow, practice exercises like the spider ones and differently ordered chromatic runs EXCRUCIATINGLY slow moving only one finger at a time.

4) there is a thread in here somewhere where you can post a video of yourself playing and have people like freepower bag you out for being crap (just kidding, I mean help recognize some flaws). Watching some of the best players around certainly helps to get an idea too.
^Note: Probably sarcastic
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