What It Takes To Master Fast & Clean Lead Guitar Playing
By Tom Hess
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You can learn to play lead guitar fast even if you don't have much time to practice. All it takes is doing the right things in the right way.
The 2 most important elements of your lead guitar technique are 2-hand synchronization and picking hand articulation.
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When your hands are in sync and your picking articulation is powerful, your lead guitar playing sounds great at any speed. This means you can build speed much faster, play the music you love and impress all your friends with your guitar technique.
Here are other elements that improve your lead guitar technique and build your guitar speed:
Lead Guitar Playing Element #1: Fretting Hand Efficiency - Train your fingers to fret notes on the fingertips, while staying as close to the frets as possible. This helps your fretting hand to play with the least amount of effort and keep the fingers closer to the strings.
Tip: Keep the knuckles of your fingers perpendicular to the frets and press the strings down as close to the frets as possible. To make your fingers perpendicular to the frets, put your fretting hand thumb behind the neck of the guitar (so it points up towards the ceiling and is positioned behind your middle finger).
The photo below shows how your fingers should look on the strings during your guitar playing:
Lead Guitar Playing Element #2: Fretting Hand Finger Independence - minimize excessive motion from the fingers that aren’t used to play notes. Example: when you fret a note with the middle finger, your 4th finger must not flinch up away from the strings. This is key to fast guitar playing without mistakes.
Lead Guitar Playing Element #3: Picking Hand Efficiency - Your pick must stop between strings after each note, without making unnecessary motions to leave the string trench. (The string trench is the space between strings.) This keeps your motions efficient and helps you play faster with less effort.
This guitar playing video helps you develop economy of motion in your guitar technique:
Tip: Look at your picking hand when you practice to improve your picking hand guitar technique. Looking only at your fretting hand (or not looking at either hand) makes it impossible to correct inefficiencies in your picking.
Lead Guitar Playing Element #4: Picking Hand Articulation - Your pick attack must allow you to play guitar with total conviction. This means your upstrokes must have the same power and articulation as your downstrokes.
Important: Pay attention to muscle tension when you work on your picking hand articulation (more on this below).
Lead Guitar Playing Element #5: 2-hand Synchronization - Train both hands to move in perfect sync for every note.
Your hands must always move quickly to fret and pick each note, no matter if you are playing slowly or fast. The duration of notes you play will vary, but the speed at which your hands move must remain constant. This is key to mastering 2-hand synchronization in your guitar technique.
Question: “Tom Hess, how can my hands move fast when I am playing guitar slowly?”
Answer: The speed of your guitar playing is not related to how fast you move your hands. At slower tempos, the duration of notes is longer. Your hands move fast to produce the sounds and each note rings out its proper length. At faster tempos, the duration of the notes is shorter, but your hands move just as quickly to play them.
This consistency trains your guitar technique to be flawless at slow, medium and fast speeds.
Watch this guitar technique video to learn how to develop flawless 2-hand synchronization in your playing:
This guitar speed guide helps you master 2-hand synchronization and double your guitar speed.
Lead Guitar Playing Element #6: Cleanliness - Eliminate excess string noise from your guitar playing and keep notes from bleeding together. String noise consists of:
- Noise from the lower (in pitch) strings. This noise is best muted with your picking hand’s thumb.
- Noise from the higher (in pitch) strings. This noise is best muted by the ring and pinkie fingers of your picking hand.
- Bleeding (ringing) of notes together. This noise is caused by sloppy release of the string after a note is played. It is best muted by practicing with distortion and paying attention to how the finger releases each note.
Tip: Using higher string action on your guitar helps to avoid the notes bleeding together.
Lead Guitar Playing Element #7: Consistency - Learn to play at (or very near) your best every single time you pick up your guitar. Developing guitar playing consistency makes it easy to play guitar in front of others without mistakes. This article explains how to practice guitar to play at your best consistently.
Lead Guitar Playing Element #8: Effective Metronome Guitar Practice Strategies - The metronome helps integrate your guitar technique fundamentals into every aspect of guitar playing. It tests how well you have mastered your guitar technique and points out weaknesses that hold back your progress.
Tip: there is a lot more to practicing guitar technique with a metronome than “starting slowly and gradually building speed”. Sometimes you need to push yourself outside your comfort zone and play faster than you can handle.
This guitar playing improvement video explains why:
Lead Guitar Playing Element #9: Excessive Tension Control - To control excessive tension in your guitar playing, do 2 things:
- Eliminate excess tension in the parts of your body that aren’t used to play guitar. This includes your jaw, your shoulders, your upper arms, your feet and your stomach.
- Relax all tension in your hands between notes to avoid buildup of fatigue.
These 2 areas make your guitar playing feel very easy (even when you play fast).
Lead Guitar Playing Element #10: Mental Processing At Fast Speeds - Your brain must hear notes as fast as your hands can play them. This helps you to:
- Identify which notes in your guitar playing are not clean.
- Evaluate the results of your guitar practice, so you can hear when your guitar playing becomes cleaner. This tells you if you are on the right track to mastering guitar technique or if your guitar practice needs to become more effective.
Question: “Tom Hess, what does it mean to practice the right things “at the right time” in my guitar playing? Do I need to master each element in isolation before moving on to the next one?”
Answer: “Right time” does NOT mean to follow a specific linear order. The order in which guitar playing elements need to be learned depends on:
- Your current strengths and weaknesses as a guitarist
- Your musical goals
- Your personality and learning style
“Right time” also does not mean to wait until all the previous elements are mastered before practicing other elements. You can prioritize different elements at different times (long before any single element is mastered). This geometric approach enables you to master guitar technique quickly.
An expert guitar teacher can analyze your lead guitar technique and tell you exactly what to practice next to improve your guitar playing.
You now know the most important elements that improve your guitar technique and speed. The next step is to learn how to practice & master each one, so you can literally double your guitar speed, while cutting your guitar practice time in half. Download this free guitar speed guide to learn how to play lead guitar as fast as you've always wanted.
About Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher, music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He teaches rock guitar lessons online to students from all over the world and conducts instructional live guitar training events attended by musicians from over 50 countries.
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