a while ago I posted this question about my ideas for guitar practise: Guitar practice - general techniques

Since then I've been using the little app I put together, ranked up about 40 hours or so in total and it's been mostly great. I can record how much I've been practising, it slows me down when I make mistakes, gradually speeds up, etc.

I found some interesting things which made me tweak how it works along the way.

But mostly - I seem to get 'stuck' around a particular BPM, about 75% of the target BPM I wrote the riff/part for, for the past couple of weeks. That's across 3 or 4 different sections, which I practise on average between 10 and 20 minutes each every day (i.e. total 1 to 2 hours each evening, ish)

Usually I pick up each riff for the day, make some mistakes and so drop down 5 or 10 bpm or so until I play it consistently. Then, the BPM rises to about the same place (or slightly higher, slightly lower) and the time for that exercise/riff/part is finished, so I move on.

I sometimes make better progress on the days I can do 20 minutes on each part, but there's rarely a good solid leap.

The good part is my app can throw out a graph of date vs BPM, and it's recorded everything I've done. The frustrating part is the line goes up from my starting tempo (30 or 40%) to about 170 bpm in each case - despite some being 16ths, some 16th triplets, some sweeping etc - and has stayed there for a couple of weeks.

I have no doubt it's doing some benefit - I can relax more, play for longer, and when I 'mess around' and try the thing at a high tempo (or full tempo), it sounds a lot better than before - albeit it lots of mistakes.

I want to see what everyone makes of this: am I reaching some talent-based limit, technique-based limit etc? I feel as is everything is relaxed and when watching myself in the reflection of my old monitor, there's no stray finger flailing around, no massive inefficient movements etc...

(Oh, as per my original question's best answer: I do warm up with some chromatic runs.. despite it sounding like a terrible affliction.. for about 3 min, which seems to get my fingers / muscles in the mood)

Can anyone comment or provide any tips, thoughts?

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    I don't know guitar. But in my piano world, I've heard that you won't improve muscle memory on the same day. You -program- your muscle memory by stressing it correctly that day. Then you -sleep- which rewires your brain=>fingers so your brain is effectively soldered directly for that action. More practice+sleep reps is what does the trick. Well, that and an overall long range improvement in "general skills". Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 22:32
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    Interesting thanks Stephen, I hadn't appreciated that. So time/days elapsed is an important metric too. Can you tell I'm a programmer? :) Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 22:51
  • As a programmer, yes, I can tell you're a programmer. A surprising percentage of "us" make music. Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 2:27
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    Just keep at it. No one has said this yet but 40 hours isn't really that much practicing. I had planned on going to school for performance a while back and I would practice 4-8 hours a day. Keep at it but give it sometime you will plateau again and again but if you practice through it you will see results.
    – Tony
    Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 17:46
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    @enthdegree - it's a long-term plan, I just have a lot on at the moment, busy work, busy preparing an album et :) Commented May 1, 2013 at 21:17

3 Answers 3


Keep in mind that even with a very thorough workout, some things just take time. And you need to rest, too. I regularly find myself making more progress speed-wise when I stop practising something for a day or two than when doing it like hell. As mentioned in another answer, reaching high speeds requires relaxation as much as it relies on repetition. Either work on this, of give yourself some slack : the more you stress yourself, the less you'll reach your goal. If you really want to practice, practise something else. If you really want to practice this part, try breaking it up in multiples parts, or playing it another way : another octave, another fingering, another right or/and left hand technique : it will prevent your from boredom, it will expand what's available to you in term of playing...and you might even find a better way to play it than what you originaly wrote.

Also, playing a hard, fast part, can be really challenging at a very, very slow pace (tai chi style). Try playing it at 40, or 30 bpm. I used to start from an average tempo and then work my way, either up or down in tempo. Both are hard.


You seem to be focused on the physical aspects and drilling. I'd recommend a complementary pursuit of something with more musical content. Even Steve Vai's 10-hour workout (which, btw, is one of the best things ever published in Guitar World), recommends a heavy dose of transcription and improvisation.

Funk guitar has a lot to offer in the way of complicated riffs that repeat throughout the song. Grab some George Duke or Parliament and play along. You can jam through three 3-minute songs in 10 minutes.

  • Thanks for this. I love the idea but I really am goal-driven: I'm recording an album and made up some great sounding parts I want to be able to play at the correct speed to get the right feel. I would have thought that 'quality' hours spent building muscle memory for those things would have the best direct improvement.. after these are up to scratch I would want to diversify, but before then.. do you think it would help nail these parts specifically to play something else? Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 22:49
  • Hmm, perhaps not. If the parts are already written, then drilling probably is the best way to work them up. But make sure you're integrating the riffs back into the complete song. To feel comfortable, you need to be able to play through the whole song without the metronome and still feel the pulse. Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 22:59
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    Top advice thanks. I think I'm on the right track in that regard, I manage to get the vibrato, dynamics and some interest into it, despite it being a fairly consistent stream of notes. I'm just frustrated I'm not improving as quickly as I would like :) Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 23:02

It sounds like you have hit a wall, but it has nothing to do with talent or technique. It has to do with hearing. One of the most helpful things I ever learned had to do with playing really fast intricate lines. My technique is really good and I can play fast, but when I did, my lines got boring and sometimes I couldn't keep up with a tempo. The problem was that I wasn't 'hearing' fast. My brain couldn't keep up with the speed of the notes, even though my fingers could. Turns out it's damn near impossible to think about each note flying by at a fast tempo. The trick is to not do that. Only think about the line as a whole and practice hearing it that fast in your head a few times before playing it. Do it without the metronome at first so as not to get caught up in trying for perfection.

  • Ah I can certainly believe that. I have hints of it at least, sometimes I hear or 'feel' just some key parts of a phrase or lick. Often I use legato and I only 'lock in' to the times I pick or change strings. Ill see if I can focus on that :) Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 17:02

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