Every guitar player has dreams of being able to play fast. I don’t blame them. There is nothing more impressive than watching an expert guitar player effortlessly shred over the entire neck of the guitar.
Good news is it’s possible to learn
Bad news is it takes time, commitment, and lots of practice.
Being able to play in a smooth, precise manner requires mastering a few fundamental techniques. Luckily, these techniques transfer directly to almost every other aspect of your guitar playing.
Increasing your speed will allow you to loosen up and play with far more accuracy. Your playing will become cleaner and more interesting.
If you’ve been playing for a while and haven’t seen the results you’ve hoped for this article will give you 5 actionable tips you can use that are proven to increase your speed.
Let’s get started!
- Use the Correct Technique
While the amount of time you put in is crucial to your success, the way in which you practice is just as important.
First, you must have an understanding of the main techniques used in fast picking.
There are 3 styles you need to be familiar with:
Alternate Picking: Alternate picking is the most common style of picking when it comes to speed.
Rather than only picking the string using downward motion, alternative picking uses an alternating pattern of downward and upward strokes.
By using alternate picking you are able to double the amount of notes you would typically play. This can also be referred to as tremolo picking if used on a single string.
Sweep Picking: Sweep picking is when you play notes of a chord in rapid succession (also known as arpeggios) by sweeping your pick over the strings. It requires prefect synchronization between both hands and can be used going up or down.
Instead of playing the notes of the chord all at once, you let your pick glide over the strings in a continuous fashion. Your fretting fingers make contact at the exact moment your picking hand plays a string.
Each note is articulated individually and can result in very fast playing.
Economical Picking: Economical picking is the concept of being as efficient as possible with your movements. This means keeping the pick close to the string and playing with as little motion as possible.
Economy picking also involves picking the string in the same direction as travel. In other words, use alternative picking until you decide to change strings. If you plan on playing a string below the current string your last pick should be a down stroke. The opposite would apply if you were moving upwards.
This prevents you from having to jump over a string during a string change. The video below has a great explanation of economical picking.
Playing fast uses a combination of the above techniques. This is why it’s important to practice each one in turn.
- Practice Slow First
While this is common knowledge in the guitar community, it has never been more applicable. You need to be able to play clean and slow before you can begin to shred.
Play everything slowly enough that each note is clean, correct, and comfortable.
Pick a simple lick and slowly play each note until you are comfortable starting to increase your speed. Make sure you are able to play each note consistently before you move on. This is where a metronome will come in handy, but more on that below!
Patience is key here.
With enough repetitions you will slowly see your speed increase.
If you lose patience and skip to playing fast, you’ll be stuck with muted and missed notes. Your playing will be messy and only leave you frustrated.
- Use a Metronome
Using a metronome is essential to increasing your speed. It’s also essential for ensuring you are playing in time.
There is no better way to track your progress than with a metronome.
As mentioned above, pick a lick and slowly start to practice. Use the metronome to set a pace that you are comfortable with. Once you are able to play each note cleanly increase the speed on the metronome by a few BPM.
By gradually increasing the BPM you can objectively track your progress.
Metronomes will also help you develop the skill of playing accurately in time. You will gradually develop the feeling of playing each note on the strong beat of the music – an essential skill to have if you are ever playing with experienced musicians.
There are also tons of speed exercises you can do with a metronome. See the below video for one example.
- Use The Correct Pick
The width of your pick generally comes down to personal preference. However, if you want to play fast, you need to be using a thick pick.
Ideally, your pick should be 1mm or greater in thickness.
Thick picks will not bend while you play – giving you an extra millisecond to play your next note. While this may seem like a trivial length of time, milliseconds can add up once you start pushing your limits on speed.
Gently hold the pick while playing. There should be no tension in your hand. Each time you finish a note the pick should rest as close as possible to the string.
In the same way that a pick that bends slows you down, a pick that has to travel greater distances will only hold you back.
- Practice Often
This is where most people fall short. The honest truth is playing fast takes time.
There is a reason you know so few guitar players who can play fast while still being clean and accurate.
It takes months, or even years, of dedicated practice to see much improvement.
The good news is, if you are consistently practicing, you will see every other area of your guitar playing improve.
I would generally commit an hour a day to increasing my speed. It was an hour completely regulated by the metronome. With this time commitment alone I was able to double my playing speed within a few months.
Remember to be patient. Your development as a musician will never end. It’s best to remember that it doesn’t matter how fast you play, but how well you play when you’re playing fast.
As always, if you’ve found this article helpful we’d appreciate a share on social media. Until next time!
About the author: Glen Parry has been playing guitar for over 15 years. He’s done everything the hard way so you don’t have to. You can find more advice and buying guides, such as the best digital pianos, over at AudioMastered.com.