How to Play Fast: Putting it All Together

I hope that my “How to Play Fast” series has been helpful to you.

Part 1 was about relaxation. Part 2 was efficiency. Part 3 was about playing accurately.

Now we will talk about the practical applications of the three principles.

The first application is to play as quietly as possible. Electric guitar players should turn up their amps to compensate. This accomplishes relaxation and efficiency because people will lighten up on their touch when trying to play quietly. Once you gain enough control over this new way of playing, you will find it easier to control the volume and tone you get from the strings. You will be able to make it “yell” or “whisper” for example.

The second application involves using a metronome. This will improve your accuracy. Start slowly, around 60bpm if you are playing eighth notes. After no less than three perfect repetitions of a piece of music, increase the tempo by 2bpm.  Within a half-hour, you will be reaching tempos you were unable to before. At a certain point you will no longer be able to keep up with the metronome. Take note of this tempo and aim to break the record next time, even by 1bpm. With daily practice, after a month you will be playing 30bpm faster! I also encourage the use of various metronome exercises that involve placing the clicks on different beats (2&4, only 4, etc.)

It can be hard to remind ourselves of all of the principles as a practice session progresses. A full length mirror is a useful tool to observe these principles being applied to ourselves. If you don’t look relaxed, you likely aren’t relaxed. Make sure no matter which angle you observe yourself, that you always look and feel no tension. Be patient with yourself as your body learns these new approaches and practice them until they become a habit.

That’s it! I hope you found this useful and good luck on your journey.

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How to Play Fast, Part 3: Accuracy before Speed

Hi, and welcome to the third and final installment of a three-part series called “How to Play Guitar, Fast”.

In part one, we talked about relaxation.  In part two, we talked about efficient movement.

Part three is about playing accurately before trying to increase the speed of your playing.

Sometimes people tackle the speed issue by trying to muscle through it.  In other words, they keep slamming into the same mistakes over and over in the hopes that they’ll make a breakthrough one day. As a result of making the same mistake over and over, this eventually becomes “muscle-memory” and you’ll be stuck having to break these habits before you can progress. Why not avoid this situation and wasting time? Get it right, at the start.

Start slowly. Impatience is the biggest enemy here but it actually doesn’t add much to your practice time.  In some situations, you can see a dramatic increase in your ability to play fast even after 30 minutes of focused practice.  Make sure to articulate each note, avoiding fret-buzz and incomplete notes.  If you’re using alternate picking, then make sure your pick stroke directions are correct.

When people play fast but inaccurately, it is the musical equivalent of talking in a fast and slurred speech. It can be distracting and take someone out of the moment of an amazing musical experience. However, there are some musicians who are not technically accurate but still manage to convey strong emotion.  Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) comes to mind. While he may have figured out a way around his technical limitations, it’s important we don’t use it as an excuse to be lazy about our own playing. He is an exception to the rule.

Thanks for reading part 3! Next time, I will follow up with a few practical exercises that apply the three principles we’ve talked about.

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.