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Set Number: #7 - February 2008
Guitar Guru: Troy Stetina

Q. as more and more guitarists have achieved truly perfect technique and speed what do you see as the future of guitar playing; as nearly everything has been done before? John Aiton

There are so many proficient players these days. The result of that is that technical proficiency is not longer a big deal because it's not unusual. What's important is the music itself. Of course, that part has always been true. The only difference now is that technique for technique's sake is forgettable. The thing to remember is that technique isn't an end in itself, it is only the means to achieve the music of your imagination... How relevant and interesting and different and creative is that? Whenever you start to think that "everything has been done" in music, it's time for someone to come along and reinvent things in a new way. Pay more attention to the music and less to the "how" of it.

Q. Hi troy, what would you say is the best way to make use of a weekly 2 hour practice session? I know it's not enough to become an awesome guitarist but i don't have much time. Currently I seem to repeat the same thing every week to get myself back up to speed, then stop. Do you think it would be better to do different things each week, because i assumed if i had something like a rota of 8 different topics, by the time the first one comes round again it will have been 2 months and i will have forgotten it all! Hope i am making sense, thanks for your help. 5th horseman

Two hours a week isn't much practice. Maybe write down a list of the different practice approaches you want to incorporate and then break it into that many segments. So if you have 4 different practice areas, work on each for 30 minutes. I wouldn't recommend rehashing the same thing every week. Review is important, but you should always start at least one new thing every week, even if it's just a single new lick or exercise.

Q. First of all, thanks for all the help Troy! Second, I've got a legato-related question: How can you play legato licks on different strings without picking, à la Allan Holdsworth? Whenever I try it I end up getting loads of string noise (I'm using a decent amount of gain though) when I change strings. My muting when going down a string has gotten better, but I still haven't figured out how to mute when you're going up a string, from the E to B string for example. Thanks in advance! Kailoq

You're welcome. Stopping extra string noise is a critical part of technique. The best advice here is pretty straightforward: Look at what string is ringing in a particular situation, and figure out how you are going to mute it. Basically, the higher-sounding strings above the played string are muted with the side of one or more of your fret hand fingers. The lower-sounding string immediately next to the played string can be muted with the side of one or your finger tips. In other words, if you are playing the 4th string with your index finger, you can mute strings 1-3 with the under side of that finger and mute string 5 with the top edge of the fingertip. To do that you have to lay your finger at an angle... not pressing straight down from above with an arch the way you would to allow the other strings to ring (as in classical approach), unless of course, you want those strings to ring out.

Now to move from one string to the next without picking, you need to execute what is called a "hammer on from nowhere." This is pretty commonly done in descending and repeating type licks, where you might hammer your third finger onto the next lower-sounding string without picking it. It is much harder to do this ascending, as this usually requires you hammer your first finger onto the next higher-sounding string. The reason that is harder is because we are less accustomed to hammering the first finger. But it's only a matter of repetition to get it down. Keep in mind that most legato playing is not ALL hammers and pulls. Usually the first note on each string is picked, and the line still gives a legato effect overall. In fact, hearing the different articulations of occasional picked notes against hammers/pulls is part of the interest. Nevertheless, if you do want to perfect the "hammer on from nowhere" technique, and you are getting extra string noise in the process, the solution is most likely that when you hammer the new finger down it is not properly muting both strings on either side of it, as I have described above. Look carefully at how that fingertip sits on the fretboard after you hit it and adjust it's position so it lightly touches the strings on either side and that should take care of the problem.

Q. Dear Troy, your Speed mechanix book is an incredible miracle, but well you have not mentioned anything about how to use the maximum time for practicing per day. we always hear that the virtoso guitarists practice constantly between 8 to 10 hours everyday. well I want to learn how to practice as much as them. but my maximum practice time can be 4 hours per day or less.
I know that those ppl have a deep love for music and self-expression. me... I have it too but I cannot use it as a motivator, please help me a little about this topic. Thanks. KillerKid

A miracle? Wow that's pretty good! Thanks... Certainly how to practice effectively is tremendously important. But it's not something that anyone can tell you in a simple answer, "Do this for X minutes, then do that for Y minutes," because it depends so much on you... your focus, your skillset, your goals, etc. The real answer here is the correct application of the principles of practice. As I see it, they are:

1. Learn what you are inspired to learn. Forcing yourself to learn things you really don't want to, just because someone told you that you "must" learn this or that has the hidden drawback of gradually diminishing your motivation.

2. Make total mastery your goal. Look deeply at every nuance of your technique and listen. If it doesn't sound right, noisy or uneven or whatever, there is a flaw in your approach. Seek to understand it and eliminate it. The attitude, "it's good enough I'll just pretend it sounds good" will not get you there. My goal for technique isn't to get it right most of the time, or 3 times in a row, or anything like that... it is to get it right EVERY time. It is to make the entire physical operation for that technique or phrase so correctly engrained in my nervous/muscular system that it is automatic.

3. Isolate the difficulty. Don't repeatedly practice the entire song, piece, solo, lick or exercise, when you find you can play most of it but have trouble just in one spot. Look at that spot and figure out what it is that makes it hard. Often this may come down to one simply motion in one hand or the other. When you understand the trouble motion, practice it repeatedly. Build exercises that force you to do it over and over until it troubles you no more.

4. Practice slow and build. Obviously you want to do these things correctly and consistently. The only way to do that is to slow down and build up gradually. However, there is another contradictory approch to apply as well...

5. Practice overly fast and reduce. This usually relates to faster picking mostly. The picking technique that works for playing scales at 120bpm in sixteenths probably will not work at 180bpm. The size of motions has to be reduced and tension eliminated. Always starting slow and building will hit a wall at some point that you cannot seem to break through. The answer is to get a sense of what the high-speed technique will ultimate look and feel like (even though you don't yet have real control), then slow THAT technique down while maintaining the same motion. When you build this feel up with the right control and the "speed barriers" will disappear. Be careful with this approach, though... a little goes a long way. Most of your time needs to be spent in the slower/moderate ranges, or you won't gain the control and stability in your playing.

6. Be patient. Any time you get impatient that you aren't developing quickly enough, look for some music that inspires you and get lost in that for a while.

7. Strive for balance. You cannot maintain motivation long term without a good balance between the different aspects... performing, practicing, writing/recording, etc. If all you do is shred in your bedroom, how long is your motivation going to last? Eventually you have to put it "in gear." Form a band, write your songs, record and perform, etc. You don't have to perfect your technique before you start making music. Everything effects everything and you should progress in all areas simultaneously. That's a mistake I see a lot of people make. Performing and recording offers tremendous opportunities to learn and refine your technique.

8. Listen. A lot of aspiring shredders seem to look more at the fretboard than listen to what comes out of the speakers. What happens on the fretboard is not the relevant part. The only thing that matters is what comes out of the speakers. Put more of your attention there. That allows the kind of self-correcting feedback you need to progress faster.


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