Am I Just Too Uncoordinated to Do This?

Ila

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Hi. I've been playing for about 7 months. I just started trying to do some Travis fingerpicking on what should be a relatively easy song, "Daniel" by Elton John. I've been practicing for about a couple of hours a day, for nearly a week, and I simply can't coordinate the chord changes with the picking pattern. I fear I'm too much of a klutz to do this.

Am I simply being impatient? How long did it take you to master your first Travis style piece? How long should I keep trying before I give up and go back to simple strumming instead? Am I doomed? Do you have any tips or pointers that might help me?

Thanks in advance for whatever advice you can provide.
 

VegasGeorge

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Yeah, that's a hard thing to get going. I call it tongue twisters for the fingers. The best luck I had was to start with some exceedingly simple song. I was using Michael Row the Boat Ashore, but any really easy tune will do. I still need more work on it, but it really is exhausting. Just keep at it, and sooner or later it will start to 'click."
 

KohanMike

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Agreed, it's going to take the time it's going to take. Sometimes stepping away from it for a couple of days also helps.

Michael Kohan in Los Angeles, Beverly Grove near the Beverly Center
8 tenor cutaway ukes, 4 acoustic bass ukes, 12 solid body bass ukes, 16 mini electric bass guitars (Total: 40)
•Donate to The Ukulele Kids Club, they provide ukuleles to children in hospital music therapy programs. www.theukc.org
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pmorey

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A couple things with a picking pattern like that:
  • Use a metronome.
  • I have become a convert to perfect practice, so slow down until you can consistently do it perfectly - and that may mean s...l...o...w... Then very gradually increase the BPM on the metronome.
  • Work on the right hand only until you have it down. Be able to watch TV or hold a conversation while keeping the pattern going.
  • Once you have that, then work on adding the chord changes.
 

captain-janeway

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A couple things with a picking pattern like that:
  • Use a metronome.
  • I have become a convert to perfect practice, so slow down until you can consistently do it perfectly - and that may mean s...l...o...w... Then very gradually increase the BPM on the metronome.
  • Work on the right hand only until you have it down. Be able to watch TV or hold a conversation while keeping the pattern going.
  • Once you have that, then work on adding the chord changes.
OP: This, and don't try to sing with it yet.
 

Wiggy

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I can't seem to get it, either. I wonder if fellow UU'r Wooville might do a tutorial on country picking. He can really make it drive.

Example: He Ain't Right by N. Hopwood (YouTube link, note: contains political commentary)
 
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Ila

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Yeah, that's a hard thing to get going. I call it tongue twisters for the fingers. The best luck I had was to start with some exceedingly simple song. I was using Michael Row the Boat Ashore, but any really easy tune will do. I still need more work on it, but it really is exhausting. Just keep at it, and sooner or later it will start to 'click."
Tongue twisters for the fingers is a perfect analogy. I know that I need to keep at it, but I'm getting real sick of that song right now. I just want it to be right, and it isn't coming easily.
 

Ila

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Agreed, it's going to take the time it's going to take. Sometimes stepping away from it for a couple of days also helps.

Michael Kohan in Los Angeles, Beverly Grove near the Beverly Center
8 tenor cutaway ukes, 4 acoustic bass ukes, 12 solid body bass ukes, 16 mini electric bass guitars (Total: 40)
•Donate to The Ukulele Kids Club, they provide ukuleles to children in hospital music therapy programs. www.theukc.org
•Member The CC Strummers: www.youtube.com/user/CCStrummers/video, www.facebook.com/TheCCStrummers
Good advice. I remember that stepping away from my college studies for a couple of days used to help me with test taking, so I guess this would be no different. I suppose it gives the brain a chance to catch up with the muscle memory, or vice versa.
 

Ila

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A couple things with a picking pattern like that:
  • Use a metronome.
  • I have become a convert to perfect practice, so slow down until you can consistently do it perfectly - and that may mean s...l...o...w... Then very gradually increase the BPM on the metronome.
  • Work on the right hand only until you have it down. Be able to watch TV or hold a conversation while keeping the pattern going.
  • Once you have that, then work on adding the chord changes.
Thank you for the excellent advice. I find I speed up way too fast before I get it right, and that could certainly be my downfall. You're absolutely right that I need to slow down drastically and gradually increase bpm. I'm getting my metronome out.
 

chris667

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If you can't play it at 1/4 speed, you can't play it.

Also, remember if you practice getting something wrong you are actually doing negative practice.

You will graduate from queen of the downstrum soon enough.
 

Ila

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If you can't play it at 1/4 speed, you can't play it.

Also, remember if you practice getting something wrong you are actually doing negative practice.

You will graduate from queen of the downstrum soon enough.
Thanks, Chris. I certainly hope so. It makes me feel very amateurish not to play things prettier.
 

Ila

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The real Merle Travis is said to have had long fingers to reach the low strings of his guitar with his thumb. He also had what is called an independent thumb, so he could move his thumb independently of the other fingers.

So in the past 7 months have you done anything to develop and train your thumb to be independent? Its not something that most adults have naturally. Its a skill you have to focus on until your thumb works, which could be a while. It is pretty hard to do real Travis picking, or the style of Chet Atkins and Tommy Emanuel, unless you have an independent thumb. When I see "Travis Style" in relation to ukuleles, I am often skeptical about whether or not it is just some arpeggio, or if it is actually "Travis Style". So maybe find some arpeggio exercises as well?

Sometimes you have to work up to a skill. I counted six chords in the TAB of Daniel which I found. Maybe you need to find a boring childish tune with 2 or 3 chords to learn and then build up to tunes that have six chords? Apply the arpeggio exercises to the boring childish tune to train your fingers. Once you get the bars working, move on to the changes.

Another thing to try is to find a teacher. You may be able to start the James Hill on-line course, which has some fingerstyle and may be accessible to a person with 7 months experience. Or find a local physical teacher or on-line physical teacher?
Thanks for the insight and the suggestions. I *think* I might have some of that independent ability from my years of playing piano, but I'm not sure. I guess I don't care so much about being a purist when it comes to "Travis style" as much as I do just getting some basic pattern fingering down pat with chord changes going seamlessly. I think once I bridge this gap, other picking patterns will come more readily. At least that's what I'm hoping for.
 

rainbow21

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You have received a lot of advice to experiment with.

I will respond to your comment by saying you may be impatient. I remember when I was trying to learn the island strum via youtube. It took me a few weeks to be able to do it without singing while accompanying the video on a common chord sequence. And increasing the time each day was likely not going to improve my learning. It helped to come back to it for just a few minutes (maybe one video song) and move to something else.

Seven months is not a lot of time, assuming you started as a beginner and do not spend 40 hours a week doing it under someone's guidance. I would venture to say that some of it is that you are having to give some attention to your fretting hand too. That complicates it enormously. So separate the two (and maybe away from the actual song to just develop the skill and muscle memory). Perhaps one measure of C, then A, then G7 and keep looping this for a few minutes. I do stuff like this in one minute intervals while watching TV. Then I come back to it later or another day. What happened for me is that slowly all the skills improved, whether strumming or fingerpicking or forming chords.

You will get there, but not right away. And when you get there, a few weeks or months later, you will realize how much more you have improved from "there". Enjoy the journey!
 

Ila

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You have received a lot of advice to experiment with.

I will respond to your comment by saying you may be impatient. I remember when I was trying to learn the island strum via youtube. It took me a few weeks to be able to do it without singing while accompanying the video on a common chord sequence. And increasing the time each day was likely not going to improve my learning. It helped to come back to it for just a few minutes (maybe one video song) and move to something else.

Seven months is not a lot of time, assuming you started as a beginner and do not spend 40 hours a week doing it under someone's guidance. I would venture to say that some of it is that you are having to give some attention to your fretting hand too. That complicates it enormously. So separate the two (and maybe away from the actual song to just develop the skill and muscle memory). Perhaps one measure of C, then A, then G7 and keep looping this for a few minutes. I do stuff like this in one minute intervals while watching TV. Then I come back to it later or another day. What happened for me is that slowly all the skills improved, whether strumming or fingerpicking or forming chords.

You will get there, but not right away. And when you get there, a few weeks or months later, you will realize how much more you have improved from "there". Enjoy the journey!
Thank you so much for your candor. I think you are right and that this is going to take more time than I expected. I just wish I could hurry things along, but I know I cannot.
 

Jan D

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Thank you so much for your candor. I think you are right and that this is going to take more time than I expected. I just wish I could hurry things along, but I know I cannot.
Becoming proficient at a new instrument can take years, even with previous musical experience. Your previous experience will help with your learning curve, but think about how long it took you to learn to play the piano. I very much doubt you were able to play a complete Debussy or Tchaikovsky piece after only seven months of beginner lessons. :) So unless you have a gig at Carnegie Hall coming up, there’s no reason to rush the process. Think less about accomplishing your goal, and more about enjoying the process. Best of luck on your ukulele journey, Ila. You will get to where you want to be ... eventually. Just try not to postpone the joy along the way. :)
 

Ila

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Becoming proficient at a new instrument can take years, even with previous musical experience. Your previous experience will help with your learning curve, but think about how long it took you to learn to play the piano. I very much doubt you were able to play a complete Debussy or Tchaikovsky piece after only seven months of beginner lessons. :) So unless you have a gig at Carnegie Hall coming up, there’s no reason to rush the process. Think less about accomplishing your goal, and more about enjoying the process. Best of luck on your ukulele journey, Ila. You will get to where you want to be ... eventually. Just try not to postpone the joy along the way. :)

Thanks. I needed to hear that.
 

ripock

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Yes, you can keep plugging away at the inside/outside "travis" picking and that will work. However there is another way: get good at other things. There is some crossover between skills. Play other songs, learn scales, practice chord progressions...then come back to fingerpicking.

Back in the day, I couldn't play Bb maj. I practiced and couldn't get all the strings to ring out. So I gave up and did other things. Eventually when I revisited Bb maj, I could do it because success builds on success, so that once I had several other successes and I could apply that to my Bb maj and succeed.
 

Ila

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Yes, you can keep plugging away at the inside/outside "travis" picking and that will work. However there is another way: get good at other things. There is some crossover between skills. Play other songs, learn scales, practice chord progressions...then come back to fingerpicking.

Back in the day, I couldn't play Bb maj. I practiced and couldn't get all the strings to ring out. So I gave up and did other things. Eventually when I revisited Bb maj, I could do it because success builds on success, so that once I had several other successes and I could apply that to my Bb maj and succeed.
Thanks. I can totally relate; Bb maj. is also causing me significant frustration. Maybe one of these days, as I practice other skills, it'll all click. In the meantime, I'll just keep plugging on.