How to Play Fast, Part 2: Efficiency

Welcome to the second part of a three part series on how to play the guitar, fast!

In the first part, we talked about relaxation of the hands and body.  The idea was to not try and muscle through difficult musical passages but to only use the minimum effort required.

Now we’ll talk about efficiency. In other words, we’ll be getting rid of any excess movement that doesn’t help us do our job of playing music.

We will start by focusing on the hands again.  The left hand tends to be guilty of moving the fingers too far from the fingerboard after playing a note, especially the third and fourth fingers. This creates more distance for the finger to travel to the next note, and a split second can make a difference in a fast flurry of notes. Also try and keep the fretting hand in a consistent position (ideally, the “classical position”) so that it doesn’t need to make sudden, large movements to get to the next note. This is most pronounced when there’s a stretch involved.

Sometimes a player’s picking hand can travel too far from the strings, especially if the player develops a habit of picking outward from the guitar.  The pick has to travel a longer distance to get back to the strings and can accidentally land on a different string. Try and pick directly downwards, or even a little bit towards the guitar to remedy this issue.

The next point might ruffle some people’s feathers: avoid excessive foot tapping, swaying, dancing, etc. Some people are really emotionally attached to the movements they make when playing, as a form of physical expression of the music.  I’m okay with that, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of your playing. Quite often, it will be painfully obvious that this is a huge detriment to a musician. Don’t let your physical movements dictate what you can and can’t play; learn to execute the music properly then let your body move naturally.

That’s it for now! Keep an eye out for part 3, and a practical exercise to tie all three concepts together.

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