Over the last month, I've been working on the rhythm guitar to the song Powerslave. I finally got to the point where I could play it up to speed cleanly, though I would have to work my way up from a slightly slower speed (maybe 85% of full speed). But last week, I suddenly was not able to get back up to full speed without my playing getting sloppy. I slowed my starting speed significantly, but I've still not been able to get back to full speed. I've been practicing regularly, so it's not as if I'm slacking. Needless to say, I've been feeling pretty discouraged and burnt out. Sudden regressions such as this have happened to me before, and I typically gave up on whatever I was learning when it happened, but I'm determined to not quit now. I have been taking lessons for the last few weeks, and I'll work with my instructor to try to identify the specific problem in this case when I see them next week. But for now, has anyone had similar experiences? If so, how did you manage to overcome them?
ok...first..your not alone..every musician that reaches a "plateau" in their growth goes through the frustration of having to slow down, go back, and start over as it were..the reasons vary...but for my self - it took quite a while to understand the growth process..as a metaphore..you have just had a very large dinner..more food than you have ever had before..to the point that you cant eat any more..and your entire system is out of whack for a few days..your are not even hungry..so you may eat very light the next few days..and slowly get back into eating your regular amout of food..

I play jazz, fusion and blues...so the material I study is advanced..and has many new concepts to absorb..now the original exercises may be fairly easy..but the purpose of the exercise is to integrate it with concepts you already know and use it within that context..so I may be able to fly through the exercise..but when I have to use it in context..I HAVE to slow down..to a crawl sometime .. why? because now I am seeing all the cross connections of the new material with the old..and it is opening up new approaches to solos and harmony that is related..suddenly the MAP just became a lot larger..

sure its frustrating not to be able to absorb new material instantly..sorry even the super pros don't know everything and have to learn new stuff that may slow them down..granted they will absorb it faster because they have been through the learning curve so many times..

be patient with learning .. but determined to learn it..in time you will accept this as a natural part of learning music, guitar..and how it is applied to every day life..

hope this helps
play well

wolflen Thanks for the thoughtful response. I definitely don't have any expectations about learning things instantly, or even necessarily very quickly. It's more about confusion with what typical progress "should" look like (recognizing that will actually look somewhat different for everyone). So to take your example of mastering an exercise, and then slowing back down once you integrate it into a bigger whole. That totally makes sense, and that's been my experience too, of course. But my problem right now is not that I'm struggling to integrate isolated parts into a bigger whole (yet); it's that I got the isolated parts up to speed, but now suddenly struggle with them, even when playing them isolated. I think that's the primary difference between what you described and my situation right now.
it has happened to me several times before. it's often because the first few times i did manage to play something i wasn't able to before, i had no idea what i was doing differently to enable myself to do it. once i figured out what it was (change pick grip, remember how exactly to relax the hand, etc.), and consciously remembered to do those things the next time i practiced, i had less trouble.

you don't just magically get better, you subtly adjust your technique until you find a way. but if you don't pay attention to those adjustments (or aren't even aware that you are making adjustments), you're just shooting in the dark.
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You hit the nail on the head as far as my experience goes. If you can do something one day and not the next, then it goes without saying that something has changed. The change can be something subtle such as a different mechanical motion, excess movement, or unnoticed tension. I try to zero in on the way it feels and sounds when I "nail" something difficult so that I can better recognize when something is off, as it makes it that much easier to diagnose the problem. The rest is just slowing down and drilling until the more efficient way takes over. Practicing in front of a mirror helps, too.
Thanks everyone! After reading these comments and consulting with my guitar instructor, I decided to decrease my practice speed dramatically to reinforce, or relearn, the proper technique I had developed earlier. So far it seems to be making a difference. I also realized that after the first few practices where I had gotten my playing up to speed, I made getting back up to speed in effect the goal of every practice, regardless of whether or not that was actually realistic for that practice session -- meaning I probably rushed forward before I was comfortable, reinforcing problems with technique, etc. For a while that worked, but after a few days it stopped working. So now I'm less focused on getting up to speed in a given practice session, and more focused on getting to the highest speed I can comfortably reach at that time. (Though of course getting to full speed is the ultimate goal).
Here's what I do if I'm struggling with something speed wise: play the song a few times at lower speed, then play the song at full speed, then try to play along with the song at a higher speed: 110 or 120%. Even if you can't keep up, just try to play as many correct notes a possible and stay in the groove. After that, go back to 100% speed. It should be a lot easier than when you first tried it.