Observe, Analyze, Optimize
Weekly Newsletter #72
December 23, 2022
Why can’t you play that one lick, or master that one chord change?
Other people can do it and they’re not superhuman…there’s an actual mechanical reason why you’re not getting it.
But how can you figure out what you’re doing wrong? Don’t you need a teacher for that?
No, you don’t.
Face it, the majority of your playing is done with nobody there to guide you…so wouldn’t it be better if you could learn to teach yourself by finding your mistakes and fixing them?
I’m going to show you a three-step process to improving your playing, no matter what you’re working on.
It may seem obvious but if you’re really trying to get better at guitar the number one thing you have to do is observe.
I mean observe your own hands, how they move across the fretboard, or pick the strings.
But I also mean observe the hands of better players than you…players that influence you and whose style you admire.
Observation is so important and so overlooked because people think they “just know” what great playing is and what it looks like.
But I bet you’ve never sat there and observed your left hand changing chords at a super slow tempo and paid attention to all the micro movements your fingers are making.
Watching your hand executing a task at a snail’s pace can be a huge eye-opener in terms of bringing your technical faults into view.
After all, if you can’t find the error in your playing you definitely can’t fix it!
Take the seemingly simple idea of changing between an A7 chord and a D7 chord.
Watch your hand really closely as you play that first chord.
Where are your pinky and ring fingers?
Are they curled up in your palm, sticking straight out, or are they totally relaxed?
That’s something that you want to pay attention to.
What about when you go to make the D7 shape?
Are you landing one finger at a time, or are you making the shape in the air as you travel down the neck so you can land it all at once?
Learning to pay attention to the details that go into playing and not just the outcome is a major factor in getting better.
Sure, if you mess up a lick or chord change then you’ll hear the mistake and you’ll know something went wrong.
But you could be getting all sorts of mechanics wrong and still getting the right basic sound out of the guitar.
This is why observing the way your fingers move is so important.
Here are some things to look out for when observing your playing:
- Tense fingers when not in use.
If you notice that your hands/fingers look tense, then they are!
Playing well means playing relaxed, so pay attention to the fingers that aren’t fretting or picking, just as much as the ones that are.
- Movement in the opposite direction.
If you’re reaching with your pinky to play a note, is your thumb pointing back towards the headstock?
This is an example of moving in the opposite direction.
You need to observe your hands to make sure you aren’t accidentally pulling your fingers in a direction they don’t want to go.
Moving toward the string means there shouldn’t be any fingers pulling away from the strings.
- Extra motion
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
That means if you’re trying to make a chord shape you can’t have fingers flying in every direction as you try to land that chord.
They’ve got to move only once…from the old position to the new position. Any extra movement is a waste of time and energy.
There are a ton of things to observe, but these are very common and will get you started.
Now on to the next step…
If you’re able to observe a mechanical or technical problem in your playing, the next step is to analyze exactly what’s going wrong.
The analysis part should be somewhat obvious once you’ve observed properly.
If you notice that you have fingers flying in the wrong direction or your right hand is bouncing up and down as you try to pick, then you can be sure that there is a mechanical problem going on.
Analyzing that problem down to the tiniest detail is crucial.
If your hand is bouncing as you alternate pick, when exactly does it bounce and why?
Is it on the down stroke or up stroke, or both?
Where is the motion originating? In your wrist, forearm, shoulder etc?
Once you observe these then analyzing how they need to be fixed should become clear.
If your wrist is causing your picking hand to bounce, then it’s clear that you need to stop letting your wrist bend up and down.
What should the motion look like and what does it look like when a pro does it?
Take notice of the problem and analyze what better players are doing when they play the same type of thing.
If you know which motion is wrong and what it should look like then you can begin to figure out how you need to move in order to make that happen.
Do you need to flatten your wrist to stop it from bouncing? Or maybe you have to rotate from the forearm instead of pivoting at the wrist while picking.
Deciding on what the correct motion is that will eliminate your problem is the key to this step.
This is the really creative part.
Now you know what’s going wrong and you’ve analyzed a motion that will solve that problem.
This next step is putting that into practice.
Designing exercises that will help solve that one particular problem is the trick to it all, and can be really fun!
If your right hand is bouncing, can you simply alternate pick an open string without it doing so?
At what tempo does it start to bounce?
If you can do it fine at 100 BPM but at 150 BPM it’s bouncing, then you might try using speed bursts.
Play an open string at 75 BPM for 8 beats and then double time the picking up to 150 BPM for one measure only.
You have to get creative and think of ways to isolate the problem motion and turn that isolation into an exercise.
From there you can slowly introduce more variables to make it harder.
Go from an open string to switching between multiple open strings.
From there, maybe try fretting a series of chords while working on the picking pattern, and eventually work up to scales or larger patterns.
The entire process of optimization should be solely focused on improving that one mechanical flaw.
Don’t try multitasking.
Attempting to fix your picking and also improve your left hand will lead you nowhere.
As always, I’m more than happy to help with any problems you might have with your playing.
Feel free to email me and I can help walk you through these steps to get you going.
Thanks for reading, and remember: Observe, Analyze & Optimize.