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I Need Help w/Very Serious Problem Picking 32nd Notes

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New Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 1
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I have been playing the guitar for about 18 years. After taking a long break of several years I started playing again about 7 or 8 months ago, but have run into a problem that has been present all 18 years. I can't pick 32nd notes for more than a few seconds without my forearm on my picking arm completely cramping up and leaving me unable to continue playing. I try to put in 2-3 hours of practice a day and do so seriously, using a metronome, etc.... I can tremolo pick with no problem for minutes on end without my arm stiffening or cramping, all of the Slayer stuff and the really tight Fear Factory style riffs. I can tap, sweep arpeggios over all 6 strings, play fast and tight with all down strokes, 16th notes, etc..... but when I try to pick 32nd notes, whether playing a scale or a rythem on an open string, my forearm almost instantly cramps up and becomes completely stiff, so stiff that I can't even move it up and down just a little bit to pick 1 note. If I can't find a way to overcome this problem my playing will never be able to progress any further. Another guitar forum told me that I should go see a doctor. I will gladly welcome any and all advice that anyone who reads this can offer. Thanks in advance.

Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 4921

The problem isn't 32nd notes, it's tension at tempo. (Trust me, I had the same problem once)

Note values are relative. 32nd notes at a largo tempo (say 40bpm) equal 320 notes per minute... which is the same as eighth notes at a presto tempo of 160 bpm. So the start of the problem is just psychological - you're thinking 32nd notes are "too fast" and that makes you choke.

The key to playing fast is to stay relaxed. Start out with a speed where you can play 16th notes comfortably, then cut the tempo in half. You should be able to play 32nd notes at that speed. Given the psychological element, you might want to slow it down even more, and start out at about 40% of your 16th note pace.

Once you've passed the first hurdle - realizing that you CAN play 32nd notes at some pace - then you need to increase the tempo. There are two good exercises for this, and you'll want to do them both.

First is stepping with a metronome. Play at your starting speed - say 40bpm - until you're comfortable, then step it up to 44, and so on. At these very slow speeds you can focus on technique and iron out any little problems you might have. Do this with full concentration - little problems with technique at slow speeds become huge obstacles at higher speed if they're not fixed.

Second, you'll want to push it. If you can play at 50bpm, but not 52, do them at 50... then do them at 100. You won't be able to, but that isn't the point - as soon as you've tried and failed, try it again at 52. You might be able to do it. If you can, try 100 again, then 54, and so on.

Working up to a decent tempo will take time, but it CAN be done!

Now get pickin :)

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