When you watch your favorite guitar players play fast, what is the one
thing they all have in common? Answer: all of them (without exception) make their playing look extremely easy. Truth is, fast guitar playing not only looks easy - it IS easy…or, more accurately, it BECOMES easy after you go through the process of training this skill correctly.
Unfortunately, most guitar players cannot make their fast playing feel effortless, and any attempt to play guitar fast looks, feels (and sounds) like a struggle. There are many reasons why this happens, but one of the most common ones comes from following the conventional practice wisdom of starting to practice slowly and gradually building up speed. Even though this approach does have some benefits, it also has several severe limitations (when applied incorrectly or at the wrong time…as happens most of the time).
Here are the reasons why the traditional guitar speed building approach (of starting to practice slowly and increasing speed incrementally) makes fast playing feel difficult:
It makes it easy to become lazy and use completely different motions at slow speeds compared to the motions you use when you play fast. As a result, once your speed increases past a certain point, your playing will feel awkward and difficult, because you will now be using motions that you never practiced before. I’ve talked about this in greater depth in this article about why slow practice can sometimes hurt your guitar playing.
The conventional approach doesn't allow you to specifically practice releasing excessive tension that often accumulates during faster playing. Because of this, as your speed increases, your guitar playing starts to feel like more and more of a struggle and you become tired more quickly.
You never practice for “real life” fast guitar playing (where you need to begin playing from a dead stop without playing any notes before). It’s one thing to play something many times in a row, gradually arriving at your top speed and have the playing of that one item be good. However, it’s a different thing entirely when you must play that same item at your top speed IMMEDIATELY and have everything feel easy and sound clean (more on this below). This is something that the conventional guitar speed building approach doesn't prepare you for.
The traditional guitar speed building method focuses on speeding up the entire phrase all at once. This very often leads to mindless guitar practice (playing something over and over and simply “hoping” to get faster) instead of focusing like a laser on finding the specific problems that hold back your speed (and fixing them). I explain this concept in more detail in my other article on how to play anything you want on guitar.
Note: the conventional approach of starting to practice slowly and gradually building speed IS useful when you are first learning to play something (and it’s generally very valuable to practice in this way for guitarists at an intermediate - early advanced levels). That said, this approach can only take your guitar speed so far before it loses its effectiveness (for the reasons stated above). The more advanced you become as a guitar player (and the higher you want to push your speed with a particular practice item), the more you will require other, more specialized practice strategies for overcoming your guitar speed plateaus.
Now that you understand the limitations of the conventional method of building speed on guitar, here is just one (of many) ways you can overcome guitar speed plateaus and make your fast playing feel easy. It’s also one of the methods I use to teach my guitar students to reach virtuoso levels of guitar speed.
Practicing Guitar Using Speed Bursts
In order to use the method below, you must select a practice item that you can ALREADY play smoothly all the way through without stopping (at least at a slow tempo). This guitar speed building method works like this:
Instead of starting to play an entire phrase at a very slow tempo and gradually getting faster, practice breaking up that phrase into very short bursts (of 4-8 notes long) and practice each burst at your TOP speed.
To easily understand and see a demonstration of this practicing concept in action, watch the video below:
Get the tab for this sweep picking speed bursts lesson.
Here is why practicing guitar in speed bursts will help you to build your speed faster and easier:
Your guitar speed will actually become “usable” in real life playing situations (where you don’t have the luxury of playing something over and over and instead need to jump in and play a phrase at your top speed immediately).
You can use the rests/space in between the speed bursts to relax your hands and make sure you keep excessive tension to a minimum. This is one of the most effective ways to make your guitar playing feel SUPER easy and relaxed…just like your favorite guitar players :)
You will train your ears/mind to process notes at high speeds and easily hear and fix mistakes in your guitar playing. This is HUGELY important, because if you try to play guitar fast without this skill, it will sound like a chaotic and sloppy mess.
You don’t leave your hands the option of using slow/lazy motions - instead you are training them to move exactly as they should move when you are playing fast. This has the maximum carryover possible to real life guitar playing.
You can easily isolate problem areas from a longer phrase and focus on very specific mistakes that hold you back from playing the ENTIRE phrase at the speed you want.
Now that you’ve learned a highly effective way of making fast guitar playing feel super easy, the next step for you is to learn all the other secrets that will get you to DOUBLE your guitar speed while cutting your practice time literally in HALF (I’ll show you how to do it all for free). To learn how, read this page about doubling your guitar speed.