As you advance in learning guitar, you will discover new techniques and new milestones to reach. When thinking about this, you will often find two kinds of guitar players: those who will feel happy with their grasp of the guitar and look for challenges to their skills, and those who think they are still in development, so to speak. There’s something that will make both groups react the same way, though:
Wow. Man, I wish I could play guitar faster.
Even though speed is only one among many aspects of guitar playing, it is part of the skills that every musician, amateur or professional, must master. In this article, you will find 10 tips that will help you increase your speed in the guitar should you follow them. Let’s get started!
1. Watch your posture
To be able to play fast, it is necessary to have the best posture possible.
To talk about the ideal position to play the guitar when sitting, let’s assume you’re right-handed. Find a chair or a stool that isn’t too tall, in which your right foot may touch the floor, and your left foot is above ground level, either by resting it in a rest in the chair or by using a box.
That way, we can support the guitar over the right and left legs by its side, in such a way that the guitar neck is naturally pointing upwards diagonally.
Watching your posture also means listening to your body and relieving any unnecessary tension that might arise.
2. Think about efficiency when picking
As piano players tend to make notes of what fingers to use for their phrases, and Violinists take note of the direction in which they move their bow, guitar players need to plan ahead their movements to play as fast and comfortable as possible. A good way to increase your picking efficiency is by learning and combining two techniques: sweep picking and alternate picking. Both of these techniques involve both hands.
- Sweep picking consists of playing notes on consecutive strings with a ‘sweeping’ motion of the pick.
- Alternate picking consists of alternating downward and upward strokes in a continuous fashion.
Combine both techniques by using each at the right time. Sweep pick when changing strings up or down, alternate pick when playing the same string.
3. Get into the habit of practicing daily
Speed in your fingers is all about muscle memory, which is attained by repetition. There are no shortcuts or magic methods for this; muscle memory can only be reached by daily practice.
You can use the 21-day method to start getting used to daily practice. To develop the habit of practicing guitar daily, start with 15 minutes every day for 3 weeks. Then add 5 minutes for 20 minutes daily for another three weeks.
4. Use a metronome
Having a metronome around should be one of your goals if you’re seriously considering to work on your speed. A metronome is a tool that will help you set at which time (how many beats per minute) you will be practicing at, it takes the guesswork out of this, and it helps keep things uniformly.
If you’re new to a song, it is very recommended to start with a slower tempo. As you manage to play it, slowly increase the speed until you reach its original tempo or even slightly faster, depending on what and how you want to play.
5. Play the songs you want to play
Even if you practice 40 hours a day, the only way you will be able to play the songs you want to play is by tackling them without fear. This might seem self-evident for some, but even with lots of practice and experience, it can be easy to develop an “I’m not ready for this song yet” mentality. Practicing scales alone will not give you the skill to play the different note combinations you will find in any song. This means you have to practice songs a couple of times before pulling them off.
6. Forget about faking!
Faking (loosely landing notes in a quick yet irregular succession to pretend you’re playing quickly) can make you feel like you sound cool and might save you if you miss a note or two in difficult passages when playing live. However, it can be easy to use faking as a crutch, hindering your growth as a guitar player. It’s best to slow down and learn each passage the way it is, no matter how difficult or how long it might take, then faking and never learning truly how to play.
7. Make sure mind and body are one
More often than not, the thing hindering your speed might be overthinking and overanalyzing. The importance of muscle memory and repetition is being able to play without thinking too much about it. If this is your issue, perhaps you need to invest more time into practice.
Another problem might be the lack of synchrony between fretting and picking hands. Focus on exercises that involve both, first at similar levels of effort, then by changing the effort in either hand. For example, shredding focuses effort in the picking hand, while arpeggios focus effort on your fretting hand.
Sometimes, the issue might be that your mental processing is not up to your mechanical speed. When this happens, other problems such as getting stuck on a passage or missing an entrance might appear. This is why sight-reading sheet music and practicing our aural skills is also a very important element in your training.
8. Play separately, then combine everything
A healthy approach you can apply in your practice is breaking the songs into phrases or riffs, and these riffs into their left hand and right hand work. This is useful, especially when you’re figuring out how to play a song by ear because you need to think about your fretting hand work and the way you’ll pick or strum. After that process, combine these elements in each riff. And only after you feel comfortable with these riffs, combine them into larger parts until you feel comfortable playing the whole song.
9. Check and adjust your guitar’s action
One of the most common complaints of guitar players, after they have put all of the above into practice, goes along the lines of “I’ve been checking my posture, I practice during hours with no end, but I still can’t play fast, it’s like fretting is too hard for me”. This feeling of having to use all the strength in your hand to perform a barre chord or to get a clear tone might come from a guitar with excessively high action.
Action is the term used for the distance between the bottom of your strings and the top of your frets. This distance might seem fixed, but it’s entirely customizable. How high or low you want to go depends entirely on your preference. If they’re too high off the board, though, you need to hold the strings down with more pressure, making bar chords more difficult. If you think your strings may be too high, take your guitar to your local music shop to have them adjust your action. Most of the time, they can lower it for you.
10. Rate yourself honestly
Think about how fast you can play. Even when you’re being completely honest about your skills and shortcomings, it can be a tough question to answer if you’re trying to answer it on an overall scale. It’s best to think about it in terms of each song you’re learning or that you already know. For example, think of the last song you’ve played. Which of these sentences feels the closest to you?
- This song is barely playable for me right now, but I’m doing my best to learn it.
- I can play bits here and there, slowly, and I’m working on getting them together.
- I can play the song in its entirety at about 50 to 75% of its original speed.
- I can play the song almost at its original speed, but it’s very tiresome on my hands.
- I can play the song at full speed, although I can’t go faster for now.
- If I wanted, I could play the song faster, I have no problem with the phrasings nor integrating each part.
- This song is a piece of cake, I could play it in my sleep!
After following this advice, you will be flying through your fretboard in its due time. Happy practicing!