What no-one ever told you about fast guitar playing...
Most students of shredguitar ask themselves:
- „What exercises do I have to practice in order to get faster?“
- „What sweep picking arpeggio is the best one to practice to get my speed to the next level?“
- „Which licks do I have to learn in order to develop fast guitar playing skills?"
They check out YouTube, buy books, join internet courses or observe other great guitar players trying to learn their solos. Often times they have to realise after a while of practicing these things that they did not manage to increase their speed to the level they desired it to be at. Very often this can be painful and hurts motivation a lot!
So whats the reason for reaching a speed plateau and why do we often fail to achieve our goal of ripping through the fretboard like Satriani, Vai, Petrucci or Malmsteen?
The root of the problem most of the times lies in the questions we ask ourselves concerning guitar playing and our goals!
While it is not wrong to ask ourselves which licks we need to practice (at least we DO have to know WHAT we are supposed to play and practice, thats fair enough!) it does not tackle the problem by its roots.
What is the root of not becoming really fast on guitar?
It is in fact very simple: Instead of asking ourselves WHAT to practice we should rather think about HOW we practice!
We find thousands of videos online which tell us to play this sequence of notes, this or that tapping lick, this arpeggio, where to put the fingers, how to hold the pick, in which direction we should pick and so on and so forth. But what almost no-one ever talks about is the question of HOW to really develop the speed once we know what we are supposed to play.
In fact it is pretty irrelevant what exercise we use in order to become faster. If we practice a certain exercise CORRECTLY and stick to it consistently we will inevitably have a huge carryover into all the other aspects of our shredding skills!
I will state this again because this is the ultimate key:
It really doesn’t matter what we practice unless we practice it correctly!
That’s the common experts recommendation you can find all over the place about getting faster:
„Take your metronome, start slow and then gradually build up speed until you are at the level where you want to be…“
Although this approach might not be completely wrong it misses to deal with some crucial aspects. I am quite sure that as you are reading this article you must have tried this approach numerous times to a certain point where you had to realise that you reached a plateau and there is no further development of speed.
What do you have to do now as you are by far not yet where you intended to be in the beginning?!
Whats the real deal to developing speed on guitar?
Now you might ask yourself „but what do I have to do other than increasing the metronome speed step by step?“ - Good question!
There are numerous other ways and practicing strategies to increase your speed on guitar and I want to share a few with you here:
- Practice playing in very short but super fast speed bursts. This gives you the possibility to really engrain the correct motions into your muscle memory!
- Analyse what are the weak spots of your playing - where do you loose control over your motions?
- Focus on different aspects of your playing such as…
- Picking hand articulation - Is every single note articulated loud and clear?
- Tension control in your left and right hand going up to the shoulders
- Efficiency of motion - do your hands move in the most efficient way possible?
- Two hand synchronisation - are your picking and fretting hands moving in perfect synchronisation?
- Practice your mental ability to process a fast stream of notes quickly enough in your head
- Play at different tempos during a practice session: switch from 100% to 50% or 25% of your max speed. When you play slow concentrate fully on all the different parameters of your playing that can have a significant influence when you become faster.
There are lots and lots of other things you could do and this list of ideas is just there to get you start thinking in different ways about how to approach developing speed. Mind that it is never only one single practice technique that will ultimately lead you to your goal. It is always a proper mix of different approaches that will bring the best results. Imagine it like building a house: Can you build a house with only one tool? I bet you’ll have a hard time doing so! So why do most guys try to build guitar speed with only one tool when there are numerous different approaches out there?
The foundation of speed on guitar
The foundation to real mastery is to know your technique perfectly and to understand what kind of different motions of the hands/arms/fingers are involved and how they work together. You must have a very clear image in mind of how these motions are supposed to look like!
If you are unsure about wether you do it correctly or not, the best recommendation I can give you is to work with an expert guitar teacher face to face. No-one on YouTube can spot immediately what it is that is holding you back from overcoming a speed plateau while an expert can usually identify your problems within minutes or even seconds of observation of your playing. He will also be able to show you the best approaches to overcome your obstacles and also make you use them effectively.
Don’t hesitate to get help and don’t let your pride stop you from becoming who you deserve to be because you think you already know everything - you don’t because no-one does! There will always be someone out there with the capability to help you out and teach you something that really makes a difference.
„We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit!“
- Aristotle -
This article was written for Guitar Tuition East London, one of the leading guitar schools in the UK.