Want to learn how to play guitar fast? Improve your playing speed with some handy practice tips
Learning how to play guitar fast is one of those things that is equally revered and derided. On the one hand, improving your technical ability will broaden your musical palette, and extend the range of music you are capable of playing.
On the other hand, there is a certain demographic of guitarist that equates note-per-minute with musical worth, and, well, that’s really not a good thing…
However, we’re not really here to get embroiled in that debate. If you do learn how to play more quickly, you will be able to employ these techniques when you need to. To all those who hope to wield shred-speed playing- remember that with great power comes great responsibility… 😉
Plus, think of it like running with weights strapped to your body- when you take the weights off, running is suddenly a whole lot easier. Learning to play at high speed cleanly will mean that playing at lower speeds cleanly will feel a lot easier.
So, where do we start? Here are some tips that should help you on your way to playing faster.
1. Before we can run, we must first learn to walk…
The first thing you’ll need to recognise if you want to learn how to play guitar fast is that you need to practice, and you need to practice well. Be disciplined, and you’ll get there…
2. Slow it down
The first thing you’ll need to do when learning how play at speed is slow the pace down. Assuming that you’re learning a particular piece or scale, get to the point that you can comfortably play it without mistakes at low speed, then turn up the tempo gradually.
Each time ensure that you can play it comfortably and cleanly before upping the speed.
‘But, how do you keep the tempo steady, and accurate whilst you practice?’ you may ask…
3. Use a metronome
You need a means to measure your progress, and the metronome is it. Having an accurate, measured beat to practice against gives an indication of how accurate your playing is, and also how fast your current playing is.
How to practise with a metronome
Here’s a basic guide on how to practise with a metronome:
- Find an exercise to work on such as a chord change, lick, phrase or scale
- Start at a tempo (bpm) that is comfortable for YOU. The key here is not to start off too quickly, go with a pace that you can comfortably play for several minutes at a time without tiring
- Once you can play the exercise forwards, backwards, with your eyes closed, in your sleep, up the tempo. Don’t go mad, just nudge it up by about 10bpm or where it is just beyond your reach
- Then drop it back down to the speed you’re comfortable with
By alternating the speed of the metronome, it allows your brain to not only prepare itself for what is coming with the faster speed, but also allows muscle memory to lock in at lower speed. With particularly difficult passages slow things riiiiiiiiiight down.
Subdividing the beat
A good tip is to set the metronome at around 60bpm and pick out each note on the scale on each beat. Then speed up your picking whilst sticking to the tempo so that you pick each note twice on each beat. This is more commonly known as subdivision and is a great way for developing pick hand control.
4. Pick alternately
It may seem obvious to some, but good, clean alternate picking is the key to playing fast. Yes, you could use sweep picking in some situations, but we’re not in the advanced class yet…
Alternate picking simply means using the pick with alternate up and down strokes. This is far more efficient that using all down or upstrokes.
A good way of practicing this technique is to…
5. Practice playing scales!!
Scales are not the most fun to practice, but they will improve your technique. There are several benefits when learning how to play the guitar fast.
Firstly, it will tone all the correct muscles in your fretting hand. Secondly, it will improve the technique of moving from note to note cleanly. Finally, knowing the scales well means that when playing in a particular scale, you’ll have a very good idea of which notes you’ll be playing, and where your fingers need to be. Plus, you get to practice alternate picking, too.
6. Relax, man…
It might seem at odds with playing fast, but relaxing is key. If you are tense, then your hands will be tense, and tense hands don’t play fast. So, try to stay relaxed.
A good tip to make staying loose and relaxed when playing is to try some controlled breathing: for example, try breathing in and exhaling slowly whilst playing a tricky, fast section. This should help relax your muscles.
If you get frustrated whilst practicing, take a break. The more tense you become, the more difficult it will be.
7. Record yourself, and be critical when you listen back
One of the best ways to practice is to record yourself and analyse your performance. Nowadays, there are lots of excellent portable digital recorders available at affordable prices, which are ideal for the purpose. Alternatively, you could always use a phone – not the best quality, but might well do the job.
8. Practice, lots!
Do I need to say any more?
I can’t guarantee that these tips will turn you into a shredder overnight, but if you use them to create good, regular, disciplined practice, then you should reap the benefits… 😉
One day you’ll be up to the level of our guitar hero Tom Quayle <3
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If the pace with this was a bit much, then check out our series of YouTube lesson by Tom Quayle here.
Jon has a passion for inspiring others to get involved in making music. After spending many years playing here, there and – pretty much – everywhere, he joined the Dawsons Music Web Team before progressing into his current role as Content Manager. Favourite things: My LTD MH-400NT, a decent brew, and Ron Swanson.