How To Practice For Maximum Guitar Speed - Part 4: Avoiding Common Mistakes In Learning To Play Guitar Fast

by Tom Hess


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Are you frustrated with not being able to play guitar as fast as you want?  Do you feel that your lack of guitar speed is limiting your ability to express yourself musically?  Although playing guitar fast is not everyone's most important guitar playing goal, those who do desire greater guitar speed typically want it badly and are often frustrated with their inability to improve fast enough in this area of their guitar playing.  If this describes you, I want to share with you several important insights about building guitar speed that will greatly help you to develop this skill. 

Good news and bad news:

The good news is that the ability to play guitar fast can be developed by virtually anyone who desires it.  Even better, you can directly control the practicing process to make it more effective and achieve your guitar speed goals in a lot less time than it takes an average guitar player. 


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The bad news is that most guitarists (those who can't yet play guitar fast) are totally on the wrong track in their approach to mastering this skill.  I see this all the time when starting to work with new guitar students who come to me wanting to improve their guitar playing.  The typical path to increasing one’s guitar speed is usually limited to “starting to practice slowly with a metronome and gradually increasing speed in small increments”.  Such a tactic can be effective early on in the process of learning new guitar exercises, but if you rely on it exclusively to develop your maximum guitar speed it will lead to plateaus and frustration.  Here are a few reasons why:

  1. This approach shifts most of your attention on trying to “move your hands/fingers faster”.  However, like the tip of an iceberg, the skill of moving your fingers faster is a tiny, insignificant part of the big picture of what it takes to improve in order to build guitar speed.  The most important elements of guitar speed remain neglected and under practiced with this guitar practice method.  As a result, the practice sessions often turn into a series of impatient attempts to break through a current guitar speed plateau. 
  1. There are dozens of different elements that must be trained in order to learn to play guitar fast, including: 2 hand synchronization, picking articulation, tension control, mental processing speed, hand endurance at fast tempos, guitar speed with a single technique vs. guitar speed with integrating a variety of guitar techniques and many more.  Each of these 'guitar speed components' need unique practice strategies in order to be mastered effectively.  Relying exclusively on 'any single' guitar speed practicing strategy (such as the most common one described above) is not going to help you improve all of the guitar technique elements that are needed to build guitar speed. 

Great guitar players who can play guitar fast were able to successfully master all of the above mentioned elements of guitar speed whether they consciously realized it or not.  You need to do the same in order to increase your guitar speed to your maximum speed potential.  If you are unsure of how to begin the process of mastering these skills in the most effective ways, check out this free mini course about how to play guitar fast.

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To help you expand and improve upon the conventional approach for building guitar speed, here are several guidelines to follow:

Get specific about what problems you are having with trying to increase your guitar speed

Simply saying "I can't play guitar fast" is NOT specific enough.  Being unable to play guitar fast is only a symptom of a more complex problem that usually has several causes.  As you have seen above, the root of your guitar speed limitations can exist in any or all of the specific technical elements that make up the multidimensional skill we call "playing guitar fast".  Knowing exactly what is causing your problem is the first step to solving it.  When you learn exactly what is holding you back, you can focus your guitar practice routines on the specific problems that needs to be overcome.  Having your guitar playing analyzed by an expert guitar teacher is the fastest way to get this required level of clarity. 

Use a variety of practice strategies for increasing your guitar speed

As your guitar playing skill level evolves, so will your specific guitar technique challenges.  Therefore, the practice techniques you use at each stage of your guitar playing must evolve as well in order to be effective.  There is no such thing as 'one' ultimate guitar practice routine for increasing your guitar speed.  Of course there are approaches to practicing guitar that are far more effective than others, but the way you organize your guitar speed training routines should be unique to your specific guitar technique and guitar speed challenges at any given time.  You can see several examples of effective guitar speed building methods that I use with my students in this free mini course on how to play guitar fast.  

Practice integrating your guitar techniques together to avoid sounding like a ‘guitar speed robot’

Over the years of teaching hundreds of guitar players to improve their guitar technique (as well as other musical skills), I have found that most guitarists spend very little time applying and integrating their musical skills and guitar techniques in particular.  This results in lack of musical freedom to express yourself completely and fully in any musical context. 

When it comes to increasing your guitar speed, most guitarists typically focus on becoming faster with only one technique at a time.  For example, you may practice your sweep picking for 15 minutes, then move on to 15 minutes of legato, followed by 15 minutes of 2 hand tapping. Although this approach will help you to improve at these techniques in isolation, you also need to specifically practice using all of these techniques 'together' in the same way that you will find these techniques used in real guitar solos.  Neglecting to do this will make your guitar playing sound unnatural and rather 'robotic' as you will struggle to play consistently well with using a variety of guitar techniques at once. 

Although 'guitar speed' is clearly only one out of many musical areas that must be mastered in order to become a truly expressive and creative musician, it is a highly desired skill that most guitar players do not have.  Applying the suggestions above during your guitar practice time as well as studying the free mini course about how to play guitar fast will help you greatly to build as much guitar speed as you desire for your specific guitar playing goals.

To learn more about increasing your guitar speed, read the other parts in this article series:

  • How To Practice For Maximum Guitar Speed - Part 1: Learn an effective 10 stage guitar practice strategy for developing better guitar speed.
  • How To Practice For Maximum Guitar Speed - Part 2: Build your guitar speed using the guitar practice ladder system.
  • How To Practice For Maximum Guitar Speed - Part 3: Learn how to practice playing guitar fast so you can use your speed in 'real life' playing situations.
  • How To Practice For Maximum Guitar Speed - Part 5: Learn why conventional guitar speed building advice fails and what you must do instead to become a faster guitarist.

Learn how to accelerate your guitar playing progress.

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