Guitar – my left arm is tired, I’ll try string skipping

I’m in the early stages of another attempt to learn to actually play the guitar, which started little more than a week ago. I own two guitars that have been around for years, sadly reminding me that they’d rather be played than gather dust.

I’m presented with the same difficulties as the last time – my muscles don’t want to co-operate and my left arm doesn’t want to stay up, and this is in addition to my left hand aching and my index finger burning from contact with metal wires.

I want to carry on but my body is saying “No!”. At least my right arm is ok so what can I do with that?

I’ve been working on the main riff from Black Dog on Led Zeppelin IV. I’m late to the appreciation of Led, and I really like this riff, so it’s an incentive to work on it. The difficulty is that you have to skip over strings to play the minor 6th – string 5 to 3 and 6 to 4.

With this in mind I started practicing string skipping on open strings to give my arm a break: 6-4, 5-3, 4-2, 3-1. This pattern on even beats at around 140bpm using a metronome. It’s easier to think about hitting metronome clicks on every pluck for me. The same pattern could be reversed and mixed up.

What I’ve found with string skipping lessons is that the emphasis is on what the exercise is rather than what you do to skip a string. The obvious problem with skipping is that you hit the in-between string, and what your picking hand needs to do is gracefully hop over that string reliably.

So I watched my right hand to see what happens when I ask it to skip strings. You can make two separate pick movements, which is fine when you play slowly, but I see this won’t work very well speeding up. I think I need my pick to glide over in one motion without a slight “reset” before picking the next string. It looks like my pick is floating at a constant speed, “dipping in” to hit the strings on the way.

I thought it was worth noting this for later, as I have a belief that when good guitar players give lessons, they can’t describe or have lost awareness of what they did to master a technique. In many cases it must be sub-concious learning because some players can’t recall specifically working on technique.