Question: Hi Tom Hess. While I know that speed is only one of many tools in a guitarists arsenal, it's also a very important one if you play the styles of music I do (Metal/Heavy Rock). I’ve come to a point when practicing my picking where it feels physically impossible to break into a new speed (my top speed for alternate picking is 176 bpm 16th notes). I’ve spent the last year and a half slowly building up to that speed and can play very relaxed at fast tempos, but breaking through to a faster tempo has seemed impossible for the past 3 months. How can I overcome the feeling of physical limitation on my playing? I’m stuck in a rut. I’m not able to improve. Can you help me?

Tom Hess's Answer: First, remember that learning to play fast has very little to do with actually moving your hands faster.

The biggest area which I would recommend for you to work on is your two hand synchronization. This means you must be able to fret and pick the notes at the same time. Most often, when your playing breaks down at a certain speed (at least at any tempo below 200bpm 16th notes), the problem is not lack of speed in your hands, but rather inability of your hands to work together in perfect synchronization. So you will get a lot more results from working on this area of your playing, than you would from trying to physically move your hands faster. Two hand synchronization and speed development are popular issues among my online guitar lessons students.

While playing slowly make sure that your picking hand plays at the EXACT moment when the fretting hand frets a note. Consider this analogy: when you pull the trigger of a gun, it fires INSTANTLY (there is no ‘perceivable’ delay between you pulling the trigger and the bullet flying out). The same thing for coordinating your hands for playing guitar: when you fret a note, your pick should play it instantly, without even a millisecond of delay (any such delay will make it impossible to play fast and accurately).

For shredding it is also very important to use a thick pick (no thinner than 1mm).

Also, your practice habits are critical for developing your guitar technique. Read this article about developing an efficient guitar practice schedule. To get more direct help I have built another resource for guitar players to get a personalized / customized guitar practice schedule that I highly recommend to all my students. I’d like to also refer you several of my guitar articles on this and very similar topics.

In addition I recorded a very special video on the topic of speed development that will explain more about the topic of developing guitar speed. Check out this guitar speed training video.

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