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Help, I can't play fast!

By February 9, 2021 February 15th, 2021 Lessons

Are you stuck with a very low maximum picking speed, below 150 beats per minute sixteenth notes? If so, this case study from our latest Pickslanting Primer update is for you!

Not Built For Speed?

The inability to play fast is one of the most common complaints we field at Cracking the Code. Players worry that they simply don’t possess the requisite athletic fast-twitch abilities they see in the techniques of others. That’s the fear, anyway. The good news is that it is largely unfounded.

When you take away the guitar and simply test a player’s raw hand speed, most of the potential tortoises turn out to secretly be hares. We saw this in our last update from the Pickslanting Primer’s new “Testing Your Motion” section, where we performed various simple table-top tests of common picking motions. Here’s one of these tests we posted on YouTube, letting you can give Eddie Van Halen’s famous wrist-driven picking technique a try:

Most players, even those with low maximum picking speeds, can do this simple test well north of 150 beats per minute sixteenth notes. Hell, even non-guitarists can very often do this pretty fast. So why can’t some players pick fast on an actual guitar?

The Speed Trap

When someone comes to us and complains of a very low maximum speed limit, the first thing we do is take a look at actual video of their technique. And nine times out of ten, when we do this, it turns out that they’re not physically limited in how fast they can go — they’re just stringhopping:

This type of wrist motion has an immediately recognizable “bouncy” appearance, and quickly causes arm tension thanks to the way same the wrist muscles are re-used for both downstrokes and upstrokes. As hard as this may be to believe, we’ve learned from our teaching that players who use stringhopping very often don’t know they’re doing this. As a result, they can spend years stuck in this slow tension zone. Unfortunately, for a lot of players, stringhopping is the only picking motion they know how to do.

Traditional practice advice is generally ineffective at solving stringhopping problems. Spending a lot of time playing very slowly, while trying to get all the notes right, and inching gradually up the metronome, won’t fix this issue because note accuracy isn’t the problem. The problem is that the wrist joint itself is making an inefficient motion. As you click the tempo higher, there will simply come a point where the wrist can’t stringhop any faster. That will be the end of the road for that technique no matter how much effort or time you put into it.

Worse, repeating a stringhopping motion for even a short amount of time will only cement this ability. This dovetails with another common misperception of instrument technique learning: that massive repetition is necessary to make technique permanent. But even a cursory glance at the mistakes you make shows the flaw in this thinking. Mistakes begin to stick rapidly, sometimes within a few consistent repetitions, even in a single sitting. So not only are years of slow repetitions not solving the stringhopping problem — they’re actually not doing anything at all. A few weeks or months of this and your stringhopping motion is perfectly consistent. Everything after that is just a waste of time.

Stop The Hop

Instead, the solution is to actively attempt to find a new motion entirely — one that goes fast right away. In this real-world case study from our most recent Pickslanting Primer update on testing your motions, an awesome Cracking the Code player was gracious enough to share before and after footage as we worked together on this super common problem:

The difference between the stringhopping motion and the faster, efficient motion we come up with is stark. Gone is the inefficiency and arm tension, as the picking motion transitions to the smooth back and forth motion of true alternate picking.

How Do I Watch The Full Update?

This aweseome case study is part of the Pickslanting Primer’s new “Testing Your Motions” update, which is available now on the Cracking the Code platform:

Testing Your Motions

Test drive common picking motions with these diagnostic speed tests


If you’re already a Masters in Mechanics Member, or you already own a copy of the Primer, you’re good to go just by clicking that link. If you’re not yet signed up, give it a shot for a month and see how you make out. Head on over to our store for more details.