I'm primarily a folk musician, been playing many years. Recently, aged 55 started classical guitar got to grade 5. Hence I think I can learn some stuff with some level of precision.

Now I'm trying to improve the folk side of things, trying to work some instructional DVDs - currently trying Al Pettaway's Celtic Guitar. I'm hitting a problem that I've hit before: when trying to learn a new rhythm pattern, even when it seems on the surface pretty simple, I seem to revert to some simpler pattern I already know. It stays in time but it's not the pattern being taught. I've tried using the learning techniques I used in the classical world, play a small section very slowly, until I can play it reliably, then speed up.

In this case I'm only trying to learn a single bar and I am really struggling, a couple of repetitions and suddenly I'm sliding back to something else.

Any tricks, or other approaches, or is it just keep on working?

  • 1
    try it very very slowly and deliberately, counting carefully as you go. Even if you have to do it one note at a time. Keep repeating the same bar adding another note only when youre sure youve mastered the placement of the last one. Oct 27, 2022 at 9:35

1 Answer 1


The good news is that there is nothing magic about this; basically keep working at it and it will come. However its easy to get "stuck" and feel that you cannot make progress. Here are some suggestions to get through this:

  • Break the bar in half. Play the last half first, then the first half. This will get you over the endless repetition of the first few notes which you can already play. If this doesn't work, break it into quarters and play them in reverse order!
  • Remember there are a world of different tempos between "very slowly" and full speed. Use a metronome while you can play "very slowly" reliably and then gradually increase the tempo. Don't be tempted to go direct from slow to fast - you'll fall out of the boat and end up playing "beef stew" (i.e. that old lick/rhythm that you really should never play again ;-)
  • Play just the rhythm. Damp out your strings and play just to get the rhythmic feel in your ear. Once you can feel it then it will be easier to play.
  • Don't give up. Its fine to give yourself a break - in a focussed way - but come back when you're ready and try again. Remember it's just muscle memory you are training here. It will come with practise.
  • Don't forget to enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun right? Keep smiling. And get it down.
  • Bounce it off a friend. Often all it takes is to explain and play it to someone else and then the penny drops.

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