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Break It All Down!

Problem found, what now?

OK, now that we know there is some unwanted noise, how do we get rid of it. This is where the microscope stuff comes in. Because what you have to do now is seriously watch yourself and your hands to see where the noise is originating from. When I i.e. play something like the PG-lick...

...and I notice that there's noise, I do the following:
- I slow down a whole lot.
- Then, I gradually increase speed again until the noise occurs. Usually, I can then see what causes that noise, and hopefully find a solution to get rid of it...

Let's take the lick as an example. Two things that usually happen and cause noise when you practice this:

1. You create a slight pull-off once you raise your pinky from the D-note (15th fret, B-string, right before you go to the E on the E-string).

Solution: RELAX YOUR LEFT HAND. This used to be one of my problems... I used to use way too much strength with the left hand while picking, as if I was doing hammer on's / pull off's... this was not only uneconomical, it also created noise, since (as mentioned above), when lifting off the pinkie, I was kind of pulling off... to the open B-String. Again: RELAX. You only wanna fret the notes, which only takes a very light touch.

2. When doing the upstroke on the E-string, or the downstroke once you get back to the D on the B-String, you accidentally hit the G-string (or any string you're not intending to hit).

Work on the economy of motion of the right hand. You wanna whack the string, but you don't wanna pick any other strings accidentally, so you gotta "calibrate" your hands to pick only the string you wanna hit. Slow it down, and gradually speed it up, trying to avoid this.

Let's take another example (and AGAIN: this does not apply only to shred-licks, but also to simple stuff such as fretting basic chords, slow single notes melody... whatever you play, you might find unwanted noises or problems like that, and it takes a closer look sometimes to find the source and eliminate that problem)...

OK, here is a pretty difficult string-skipping lick by Paul Gilbert, as played in the Mr. Big-song "Anything For You" (from their debut, "Mr Big", 1989, Atlantic 81990-2).

In this TAB, I just transcribed the string-skipping section. I left out the final phrase of that very well-constructed solo, and I slowed it down a bit... the original tempo is at about 72 bpm.

String-skipping is one of the rather difficult guitar-techniques, and this passage from the "Anything For You"-solo features some wild stretches and fast skips.

Now, if we would want to practice and learn this one, we should really slow it down, like playing 16th notes instead of 32nd notes.

String-skipping is a technique where, when you're not used to it, a lot of unwanted noises might pop up. So you really do have to slow it down and OBSERVE what's happening!

Are your hands moving economically, or are you taking them too far away from the fretboard when you release a note? (which could be fixed by relaxing the hand...) Are you really hitting the strings well, making all the picked notes stand out? (Exaggerate the movement to get used to it...)

Are you making unintentional pull off's when you're not supposed too? Or are you hammering on the picked notes too hard?

I know that all that sounds like nit-picking, but it will help you quite a bit. Remember that speed is a byproduct of accuracy and precision. If it doesn't sound good slow, it won't sound better if you play it fast. And fast licks that are sloppy are not really pleasing to the ear.

Also, always remember that you wanna avoid wasting potential... if you move your hands too far off the fretboard, you kinda lose time because you gotta move them back all the way.

So... constantly check back to see whether you have any of those unwanted noises or "swallowed" notes in your playing.

Also, you might find out what your strengths are, and what you have to pay attention too. One of my problems used to be that, having practiced A LOT of legato-stuff in the early years, I was using too much strength with my left hand when playing picking-licks... a waste of potential... So, for a while, when working on picking, I had to constantly check myself, and remind myself to relax the left hand and use a lighter touch. Other players might have different problems... find yours and try to remember them... in order to avoid them.

General stuff and conclusion >>