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Skill Stagnation, and Slow fingers

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I got my guitar when I was, 16, and to be honest, I probably should've gotten one earlier. I played Saxophone in the High School band, and I was good at that. and now I'm going on nine years since that purchase. And when I think of it, I just get sad, and angry. At myself, and at others, but a lot at myself, specifically my stupid left hand. I still struggle to move some fingers independently of each other. I thought I needed a finger exerciser, turned out that was the opposite of what I needed, more muscle made them slower, what I needed to do was stretch them, and that's not exactly an exact science besides pull on them back, until they hurt a little bit because then you stretched the muscle. So when it heals, in theory it has more reach? So now I'm in an attrition fight against my fingers to get them to stretch. I've learned like 2 songs since buying rocksmith which was like, 2 years ago, Rebel Rouser, and Let's Go by the Ramones, and I find out the thing my uncle told me about learning C was crap because no songs are in C, and the only songs in 2 chords are AC/DC songs, and I don't want to play AC/DC I wanted to play the Who, and prog rock, and metal, then I learn Brandon Small apparently hates sloppy guitar players, and what am I EXCEPT that? I want to quit but at the same time, I don't. I want to shred it.

Any advice? Should I buy some materials, chord books? Go to some lessons, stretch my fingers more, maybe work out a little bit? Come back to it. I remember that when I get sick of Saxophone, I would play the guitar a bit, and then when I'd go back to Sax, I loved it, and vice versa. Maybe I just need to go back to that for a while. Or maybe, I should buy that grestch I was thinking of getting, or an acoustic. I'm at an impasse. I feel like I was better, back when I didn't even know how to play those two songs. Has anyone else gone through something like this?

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"Buy a faster guitar!"

Just kidding, but I wanted to kick off my response by this recurring joke among guitarists, because I believe that the most common wrong idea about learning an instrument is that you have to buy more material, more equipment, and spend more money in general to get good. It is bullshit, as long as you don't buy truly bad equipment (like the absolute cheapest option on the market), you are good with what you have. It is your own skills you need to develop, and to do that you need time and not money, but most importantly you need quality practice time.

So as a long-time guitar player and occasional teacher, my first suggestion is to honestly observe and assess your own way of practicing: are you practicing mindfully or are you going through the motions? To clarify, to practice mindfully means to try your best to "listen" to yourself, not only with your ears but also with your fingers and rest of the body, and to be critical of your playing, not in sense of self-blaming, but questioning if there's a better way to do something and being willing to change how you do it. By converse "going through the motions" means to mindlessly repeat the same thing thousands of times thinking that one day all of a sudden it will work: the problem with that, is that you might repeat the same mistake a thousands times and get better at doing the same mistake instead of the right thing. Needless to say, practicing mindfully is a lot more efficient than going through the motions.

Second, specifically on finger independence. If you think this is one of your major problems right now, one of the best exercises is the good-old chromatic one-finger-per-fret drill, the "1-2-3-4" which is typically one of the first (if not the absolute first) technical exercise every guitarist is taught to do. I think you know how this works: you start on low E string with your four fingers on the first four frets and play 1-2-3-4 frets (index,middle,ring,pinky) on each string up to high E, then shift your hand one fret up and play 5-4-3-2 (pinky,ring,middle,index) downward from high E to low E, then keep shifting up one fret at a time.

However, there are a lot of common misconceptions about this exercise, so here I am going to tell you what I personally teach to others about this exercise...

1) This is not a warm-up. Do this exercise when you're already warmed up an "in the zone" for practicing.

2) Do not use the metronome, because the purpose of this exercise is not related to timing, and the metronome will force you to tense. It is instead a key purpose of the exercise to learn to relax all the fingers that are not currently playing a note i.e. when you're playing a note with the middle finger, try your best to relax the index, ring and pinky. 

3) The 1-2-3-4 pattern (meaning I-M-R-P in terms of fingers) is actually the least important to practice, and yet most people only practice that one because it takes time (a few minutes) to go up all the frets and then maybe back down, so by the time the finished the exercise with I-M-R-P (and P-R-M-I when going from high E to low E strings) they are already bored and move to other exercises. But fingers independence develop when you practice other patterns! You have to try for example 1-3-2-4, 1-4-2-3, 1-4-3-2 and also starting with other fingers like 2-1-4-3, 3-1-2-4 (there should be 24 combinations if I remember). Don't worry, you don't have to practice all of them every time, it's good enough if on a given day you practice different ones from the previous day. I think it's best to set yourself the time you are willing to spend on this (even only 5 minutes is ok) rather than a fixed number of patterns.

Last, for finger stretching, this is something you need to be patient about, it might be frustrating to wait a long time but you should definitely avoid hurting yourself and maybe have the opposite results at the end. One fairly obvious way to develop this is to modify the previous chromatic exercise by adding a "fret gap" between two of your fingers. In terms of frets, it means to do the chromatic exercise by patterns such as 1-3-4-5 (gap between index and middle), 1-2-4-5 (gap between middle and ring -ouch!!) and 1-2-3-5 (gap between ring and pinky). However, don't try these immediately from fret 1, where the gap is largest... start somewhere on the fretboard where your fingers are still comfortable (could be for example 7-9-10-11) and then move downwards gradually.

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On 1/4/2023 at 5:24 PM, MidSneke said:

what am I EXCEPT that? I want to quit

I will not lie and fluff and say EVERYONE goes through this. Unless you have a god given talent for it, everyone goes through this though.

When I first saw your profile and saw your "No talent Fraud" tag a few weeks back, I laughed. I am telling you that should be my tag. I don't know every guitar player in the world. I just had a discussion with my friend at breakfast yesterday about how many of us guys pick up a guitar at 14-16 and struggle with it. As I had other things going on in life, he was home schooled and would woodshed for 8 hours a day and wore the frets off of his guitar. Guitarists are a dime a dozen. In fact, cheaper by the dozen. You couldn't throw a rock into a crowd of people and not hit someone who has picked up the guitar at some point in their life. I myself put the instrument down and walked away from it a couple times in my life. Different things got in the way, but it usually was the feeling of inadequacy and feeling like a pathetic fraud that made me walk away. And I am worse off for doing so instead of reaching out and finding a way over the plateau to work myself up the next hill. Those that get good at it don't give up.

The cliche goes, "A life time to master". Unless you have this remarkable talent, you are going to stall at some point, hit a plateau. It doesn't matter what instrument, it doesn't matter what subject. Weightlifters, athletes, students, educators, all at some point in their life hit a point where they realize or say that they can't make it to the next  level.

You are not alone in the struggle.

Shroud's advice is really really good stuff. I do not know what your current practice time is set up like, or how you approach it. In order to develop, in order to grow, you need to sometimes change how it is you are doing what you are doing. I agree with almost everything Shroud said above, however, I would add as you are already coming to understand, something, your routine, your exercises, need to change to cause the growth, whether it be trying a new exercise or a more difficult song. I have said this a couple times, this day and age, the amount of information at your finger tips is amazing, You can google your heart out and be buried under a wealth of info that was not available to us 25-30 years ago.

I have struggled with the dexterity for years.

In addition to the finger patterns he suggested, look up the "Spider Exercise". There are many variations on these exercise, but two that i am particularly talking about 1) when doing the 1-2-3-4 exercise, do not lift your other fingers from the fret board when moving to the next fret. Keep the other fingers planted. Particularly for me, on the way down the neck, my ring finger does not want to move independently from my pinky. What Shroud said, do not use a metronome at first. It will frustrate you. 2) another variation is complicated to type out. I'd watch this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0vE6WJQzDQ&t=502s and check it out. It may help, it may not.

There would be nothing wrong with seeking out and taking lessons from a GOOD teacher for a little while. Finding a good teacher is difficult. There is nothing wrong with taking lessons. Finding a GOOD one is difficult. I am not saying most or all or bad, but quite a few of us have had those guitar teachers that were teaching because they were failing at some other point in their life and decided they needed cash by giving lessons. A good teacher will be able to point out the things that Shroud said above, find exercises, see things that you might be able to do differently or better. There is nothing saying that you can't learn on your own, but there is something to be said for the interaction a teacher can give you.

As for the advice your uncle gave you about "C" and no songs being in "C", the world is full of "know it alls" who dispense their "advice" for free. You have to take advice and weigh the credibility of the source. You weighted his value at being a family member, but did you weigh his credibility as a musician?

Shredding is all good and fine, some of the best players are not shredders, they make less notes sound like more.

Final thought, Don't give up. Keep at it. Persevere. Strive for better as you are doing, and thrive and flourish at it.

Advice from a true fraud.


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Thanks, I think both of your advice has been, something I needed to hear. I haven't had that kind of pep talk since my High School Music teacher, haha.  I've gotten way more here then  I thought I would, and at first, I'll say it, I was nervous about opening up, but, I'm glad I did.  The two of you ROCK, all capital letters, and I think I'll take your advice to heart. Heck, I'll put it to paper whenever I get the chance to, so I'm sure I won't forget.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Rocksmith has helped me to get back into playing after a 12 year hiatus, but my skills are still from 20 years ago basically.  I haven't really progressed either.  I still flub up constantly and I absolutely cannot grasp any leads that get faster than like, low level kirk hammet stuff, and even then, it's a struggle.  And this is the same stuff i've been pounding into my head since 1997 lol.  Sorry,...I guess i'm venting a bit.  My bad.  But it does kind of feel like there's just this wall in your brain, and for some reason things aren't connecting. I can hear all the notes in my head, and I know exactly how to play them in my head,...but then the solo comes up and BLERP,...it's just a bunch of wanking on the fretboard with like 2 out of every 10 notes coming through.

Having said that however,  I am having a great time overall in Rocksmith.  I'm learning a lot of different songs that I would have never learned without it.  It's helping me to process things a tad bit faster having to sight-read things, and I am starting to see more patterns visually because of seeing it on screen.  I have no real profound advice, other than practice, practice, practice.  I don't have a lot of time to nowadays, but I know every little bit helps.  It's tough, but even if we all can't get to the next level, it's still a good skill to have, and it still should be fun.  I stepped away because it wasn't fun, especially in the music business.  Now, because there's not a lot of pressure other than self-imposed, and the anxiety of streaming, it's fun again. Rocksmith has made it fun. Keep trying!  I know I need to!

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  • 9 months later...

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