December 12, 2023

How to practice for speed

Playing guitar fast!

Is that what you all want? I know it’s really cool playing really fast licks and shredding your way up and down the fretboard. I personally prefer slow, long and sustained licks; I guess I am more on the Blues and Classic Rock side than the fast tempo solos. However, speed is cool! Everyone loves it and yeah, it is very impressive seeing a guitarist shredding all over the fretboard.

As you all know, we do read all the emails we receive in response to our JamEdge Newsletters and the SPEED subject is always a popular one.
So, all the questions we received related to this topic can be described as:

“What can I practice on the guitar to build my speed?”

This topic is very extensive, intense as well as being largely for advanced players, or at least for those wanting to become more advanced players. Every guitar player is at a different stage, and the “how to build speed” question can be answered in so many different ways depending on who the question is coming from. However, there is one strategy that works for anyone who is wanting to build playing speed, if you are a bass player reading this or a drummer, this also works for you:

Step #1. What is the fastest you can play well? Learn a new guitar technique, scale or warm up exercise; what’s the fastest you can play it? In what position does it still sounds clean and your fingers, wrists and arms are not stressed? Write this speed down on a piece of paper. Of course, the use of a Metronome is necessary to do the exercise well and to find out the BPM.

Step #2. Practice it at a 20% or 30% of your maximum speed. Lets say your maximum speed was 180 BPM, practice it slow, at around 50 or 60 BPM, this is going to be really hard but is going to be very useful and you will see it later down the track. As Bill Bruford (Genesis, Yes, King Crimson) says: “Sometimes playing slow is harder than playing fast”. You have to make sure that everything you are practicing still sounds clean and clear and please resist the temptation to play faster during this stage. This second step is very boring for most people but is the KEY TO SUCCESS on building speed – Patience and hard practice are two things you need if you want to play faster.

Step #3. Building up speed. Play exactly the same exercise at 50% of your maximum speed, this means turn your metronome up to 90 BPM (following the example on step #2). Do this step for 4 or 5 consecutive practice sessions, always making sure that everything is sounding clean and the exercise is well made.

Step #4. Play faster. Practice at 70% of your maximum guitar speed. As well, repeating this for 3 or 5 consecutive practice sessions. Be patient, you are almost at 100%!

Step #5. Faster. Play the same thing at 80% or 85% of your maximum speed and repeat this for 5 consecutive practice sessions.

Step #6. Almost at a 100%. Play the same exercise, this time for 10 or 15 consecutive practice sessions at 90% of your maximum speed.

Step #7. You are at the top. Play the exercise at 100% of your maximum speed for 5 days or a week.

Step #8. After a week of practicing Step #7, evaluate where your maximum speed is now. I guarantee your new maximum speed will be higher than it was on Step #1.

RESULTS: New record. Where to do next? Rest for a few days and then start all over again with your new maximum speed, this time, by step #8 you will find you have a new record. It works!

Important: Be patient and self disciplined.

Most important: in every step there must be NO excessive tension anywhere in your arms, hands, wrists, shoulders, neck, head or anywhere else. Watch to make sure you’re not making unnecessary movements in either hand.

Let us know how you get on with this routine and most importantly if it helps to build up your speed.

Good luck!

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