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Don't Buy The Magnet! Just Kidding... Sort Of.

By February 19, 2024 February 28th, 2024 News

The Magnet is Cracking the Code’s purpose-designed mount for filming your technique with your phone. It’s finally here in limited quantities in our store, but you probably shouldn’t buy one. Well, ok — at least not until you know if it’s going to help!

If I sound a little cautious, it’s because we’ve received a huge number of inquiries about the Magnet. And I suspect that a number of these inquiries — perhaps a significant number — are under the impression that the Magnet is the missing link that’s going to transform their playing. But this isn’t necessarily true for everyone.

The Magnet is an incredibly powerful tool for understanding your picking. But like any tool, it was designed for a specific purpose. And depending upon the challenges you’re experiencing, filming yourself in slow motion may not be all that helpful in figuring out what to do next. And we don’t want you to waste valuable energy, time, and money “analyzing” stuff that may not actually need to be analyzed. That’s just pushing your goals even further away.

So will a Magnet improve your playing? Let’s find out.

Seeing The Escape

Cracking the Code is famous for our breakthrough teaching of picking technique. In particular, we pioneered the understanding of escape motion: the idea that picking motions are adapted to certain types of string changes, so you need to pair motions with the right kinds of phrases or they won’t really work the way they’re supposed to.

The incredible Joscho Stephan, filmed with the Magnet

Not only did we create most of the lexicon for describing these motions — like the term “escape motion” itself — but we also created a tool for observing them in the wild: the Magnet.

The Magnet excels at filming escape motion, showing you the path of the pick as it travels, in slow motion, in a way that is difficult to do without precise positioning close to the plane of the strings. The signature Cracking the Code “down the strings” view is actually tricky to replicate without a Magnet. We’ve used the Magnet for years in our interviews and lessons, and the amazing footage we’ve captured has been pivotal in informing our understanding of the motions that great players really make when they use a pick.

For many Cracking the Code viewers, these observations led to nearly instant improvement, by capitalizing on skills they already possessed, but hadn’t fully utilized. I can understand the fascination, since it’s what happened to me too:

What I’m concerned about are the players for whom the lure of skill improvement has become intertwined with the Magnet itself. Based on the literally thousands of emails we’ve received asking when the Magnet will be available, I’m worried that the Magnet has come to embody the promise of a Cracking the Code-sized leap in playing ability. If I can just get one of those red things, to see what I’m really doing, then I’ll be set!

Starting With Speed

But the most common problems we see among players who come to us for help all relate to motion efficiency: the ability to move a pick back and forth in a way that is fast and feels easy. And somewhat ironically, this particular problem is actually not the one we designed the Magnet to investigate.

That being said, I like to think that one indication of a good design is when it fits applications beyond what you originally imagined. And this is indeed true of the Magnet: filming a “slow” player with the Magnet can reveal all sorts common problems related to motion efficiency, including:

…and more.

But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter. If you can’t play faster than 130 or 150 beats per minute sixteenth notes, then filming yourself isn’t necessary. A number that low is already telling you everything you need to know about what to do next: it’s time for a new technique.

Don’t Buy A Magnet If…

I get it! I want all the tools too. But I also understand that the tools can be a way of deflecting uncomfortable realities, like the fact that your current technique may be due for an overhaul, regardless of how much time you’ve spent working on it. That’s a hard pill for anyone to swallow. But the sooner you do, the sooner you will improve.

So, if your current most pressing challenge is a very low maximum picking speed and/or a feeling of fatigue and tension, don’t buy a Magnet just yet. Instead, what you should do next is test your joint motion to confirm that, in fact, your maximum picking speed is probably much higher than what you are currently experiencing on your instrument. If you’re not yet a subscriber, here’s a slightly longer presentation of one of our tests which you can watch on our YouTube channel:

These tests aren’t just academic — they are designed to accurately mimic real picking motions, while being easier to execute by leveraging everyday activities you probably already know how to do. If you can reach your desired picking speeds on the test, then you can also do it on the instrument with only minor translation.

Going Magnet-Free

Make no mistake, getting these motions to work on the string is a non-trivial problem. But it’s not one that necessarily requires close-up slow motion video. Instead, it relies more on understanding the overall form required by specific picking motions, and experimenting with small changes in that form until the motions feel fast and easy.

As you perform this experimentation, you can film yourself occasionally so see if the joints that are moving match the technique you are trying to learn. This is a general assessment just to sanity check your approach so you don’t waste time doing things that you don’t intend. You can get great footage with a typical phone holder-style tripod mount by following these simple steps:

Filming Your Playing

Tips for getting a good look at your technique

 

Even if you already have a Magnet, these same critical guidelines still apply. The Magnet only handles the positioning part! You still need to supply good light, select the right high-speed filming mode in your camera, and lock focus and exposure on your pick while your hand is stationary. Otherwise you’ll be filming a dark video of whatever is on the wall behind you. Ask me how I know!

Do Buy A Magnet If…

If you’re already playing fast on a simple tremolo, with a feeling of ease, and already able to cleanly synchronize simple repeating patterns on a single string, then you’re a good candidate for a Magnet.

That’s because the next step involves carrying your picking motion across the strings, and that’s where escape motion really matters. The good news is that almost every picking motion you can do has some type of escape. The hard part is knowing which one you’re using, and where the errors are coming from.

Andy Wood’s DSX wrist motion filmed with the Magnet

Believe it or not, you can get just about every note in a phrase wrong, and still be playing better than someone who gets all the notes right. This is especially true at slower speeds, where techniques like stringhopping can sound “note correct” while generating huge discomfort and refusing to speed up. Getting all the notes right with a stringhopping motion is really getting every note wrong from a mechanics perspective, since no part of the phrase was actually played correctly. This is why listening for mistakes in the traditional sense doesn’t always tell you anything useful.

Instead, the only way to know for sure if you’re doing the technique you intend is to actually look at it. This is why you’ll learn much more by filming yourself playing a faster phrase that feels easy, even if there are mistakes. Reviewing the footage in slow motion will tell you right away if the escape motion is correct for the phrase you’re trying to play. If it’s not, you can change the phrase, or change the motion. It’s that simple. No more wasting time repeating exercises at a snail-like pace and hoping for the best.

I know this is a bit of an information overload on learning picking technique, but I don’t want you to waste your time. Watching slow-motion video of your picking hand might not be right for you depending on where you’re at currently. Worse, waiting for the Magnet to be in stock before getting started is sidelining your gains. You could be making serious strides right now by firing up your metronome and performing some critical diagnostics of your joint motion capabilities. By the time you get your tremolo happening, you’ll be ready for the red mount.

“Add To Cart…”

We’re proud to say that a Magnet makes filming yourself simpler no matter what stage of the process you’re at. So we’re not going to stop you from hitting that “Add To Cart” button in our store. But if you make a Technique Critique with motion test numbers in the mid 100s, the first thing we’re going to ask you to film won’t involve an ingenious phone clamp — it’s going to be your pick or a pen tapping on a desktop at breakneck speed, filmed with your phone leaning up against the nearest stable object!

Check out the Magnet in the Cracking The Code store. Proceed at your own risk!

Top Comments

  1. Avatar for Troy Troy says:

    We have limited Magnet quantities of Magnets prepped and available in the store. To keep load on the server and the warehouse manageable, we’re sending out emails to our mailing list in small batches. If you haven’t seen an email about this, you will eventually, so don’t worry.

    I say “prepped” because there are a number of physical checks we do on every Magnet to make sure mechanicals are tightened and operation is smooth. And we make one upgrade to the rubber grips in-house which Kickstarter backers can perform on their own if they want. You can learn about that in the Magnet help section:

    These checks take significant time per Magnet, so it’s not as simple as just opening up a crate of them and shipping them out. But not to worry — if we run out of this batch we can prep more and it won’t take months. Just stay tuned to the mailing list.

    The Kickstarter campaign had a sizable number of international backers, so this time we’re incorporating an international shipping service called Passport Shipping. Passport lets you pay everything up front, including your local taxes in whatever country you live in, with no extra fees on delivery. The complexity of this means that up until recently, this is not something most small online stores could offer.

    No matter how you pay it, international shipping isn’t cheap. And local taxes like the standard 20% VAT in the UK are often levied on top of the shipping cost. So getting a Magnet across the ocean comes at a premium. We’ve just tried to make that process as easy as possible.

    The bigger question: Do you actually need a Magnet?

    The most common issues we diagnose in Technique Critique have to do with learning to perform picking motions in a way that is fast and feels easy. For problems like this, the Magnet mainly confirms things that are already obvious: the motion is stringhopping, the motion is fatiguing, the attack doesn’t feel smooth, etc. So you don’t need to wait for a Magnet to know that these things are happening, or to know what to do about them. Instead, get those joint motion tests happening, get the numbers up, get your basic form from the tutorials, etc. If you run into trouble make a Critique on the platform, we’re happy to take a look.

  2. Avatar for Troy Troy says:

    Any purchases to the UK incur the standard 20% VAT. It’s the same VAT you would pay in the store so there’s nothing extra there. The only difference is when you pay it. The way we have it set up, you pay it all during checkout and that’s it — it just shows up at your door. This is thanks to Passport Shipping who functions as the intermediary and submits the VAT on your/our behalf.

    I don’t know how the EVH site or Jason Becker site do it, but if you had to pay VAT when the item showed up, then it wasn’t really “extra”. It was just the VAT you would normally pay, but you didn’t pay it when you did the checkout in their online stores.

    This is understandable. It’s impossible for a US business to collect and pay local taxes for every country around the world. Even just doing this for one large region like the EU is prohibitive with the different and ever-changing rules you would need to track. Then you throw in non-EU like the UK, Norway, Turkey, etc. Forget it.

    There’s one other gotcha will you also not have to worry about in our store, and that’s “brokerage fees” charged by carriers. FedEx and UPS both charge a fee — in addition to VAT — for filing the customs paperwork in your country. They don’t like to mention this up front and there’s no way to avoid it. If you use these carriers, you will have to pay this fee when the item arrives and it’s not cheap. DHL doesn’t charge this — one of the many reasons they’re great. However, they’re also not cheap.

    Anyway you don’t have to worry about any of this shopping in our store. Pay once, done. It took us a bunch of work to set this up but so far it seems to be working.

    Edit: If you want to see the price to get it to you, all in, just put one your cart and type your address. You don’t even have to complete the check out. The price displayed is the price you will pay!

  3. Really trying to supress my contrarian urges, am I the only person here more likely to buy it because Troy said “don’t buy it”?

  4. Avatar for Troy Troy says:

    No picking intimidation needed! I emailed Passport support on this and they replied just now and said the order was still in transit to Passport facilities. They also said that there is typically a delay of up to a week during that stage.

    I’ve noticed in our test orders that there is a delay from when our warehouse prints out the label — which generates the tracking email — to when Passport says they received it at their hub. I’m not sure why this is.

    Is it because the warehouse is only sending out Passport batches every certain number of days? Or is it because Passport is only processing them every certain number of days? And so on. I’ll try to get more color as to what’s happening at this stage.

    @jptk Did you get a tracking update on this as well?

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