Play Guitar Fast Without Tension & Build More Guitar Speed
by Tom Hess
Want to know the fastest way to build guitar speed and play guitar as fast as your favorite players?
It is this:
Learn to reduce muscle tension while playing guitar.
Inability to relax your hands when playing guitar is the #1 reason you may struggle to build guitar speed and improve your guitar technique.
Worst part is:
Even if you take guitar lessons, most guitar teachers don’t know how to help you reduce muscle tension when playing guitar.
The reason is: most guitar teachers never seriously struggled to improve their guitar technique and build guitar speed.
So, it’s hard for them to relate to your challenges with improving your guitar technique and learning to play guitar fast.
I know exactly how this feels.
I used to really struggle to relax muscle tension while playing guitar.
(Mostly because I didn’t even know that relaxing my hands while playing guitar was important for building guitar speed).
That’s why I couldn’t play guitar fast for a very long time.
Today, I want to show you a simple process for reducing muscle tension when playing guitar, so you can build your guitar speed much faster than I did.
To begin, watch this video on how to play guitar fast without tension:
Now that you know the general process for relaxing your hands when you play guitar, let’s go deeper.
To master the skill of playing guitar fast without tension...
... you need to know how to apply the ideas you just learned into your guitar practice.
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Below are 5 advanced ways to play guitar without tension, build your guitar speed and improve your guitar technique:
How To Play Guitar Fast Without Tension Idea #1. Build More Usable Guitar Speed Using The “Threshold Method”.
As you get better at relaxing your hands while playing guitar, you’ll likely build more guitar speed than you ever imagined possible.
And the next step for improving your guitar technique is making the guitar speed you’ve built usable.
It’s like this:
You can build 2 types of guitar speed: potential guitar speed and usable guitar speed.
Potential guitar speed is how fast your hands can theoretically move, in isolation. This is the speed that increases almost instantly when you get better at relaxing your hands when you play guitar.
But usable guitar speed is the speed at which you can keep your hands perfectly in sync as you play guitar fast without tension.
Your usable speed is the only speed that really counts (and is the only speed you want anyone to actually hear).
And here is a secret to improving your guitar technique few guitar players know:
The faster you close the gap between your potential guitar speed and your usable guitar speed…
…the better you will feel about the guitar speed you’ve built and the easier it becomes to play guitar fast without tension.
How do you close the gap between your potential and usable guitar speed? The secret is in using the threshold method you just saw in the video above about relaxing your hands while playing guitar.
Watch this video to see how to apply this threshold idea to build your 2-hand synchronization and improve your guitar technique:
Question: “Tom Hess, does this threshold idea only apply to reducing muscle tension when playing guitar and 2-hand synchronization? Or does it also help to improve other areas of my guitar technique?”
Answer: You can find the control threshold for every area of your guitar playing and improve your guitar technique when you do. This includes everything from articulation, playing in time, playing consistently, controlling excess string noise and more.
And it works incredibly well for helping you play guitar fast without tension.
That said, there are many other ways to improve your 2-hand synchronization that work just as well. Here are a few of my favorites that I use to help my guitar students improve their guitar technique:
How To Play Guitar Fast Without Tension Idea #2. Reduce Muscle Tension When Playing Guitar With Speed Bursts
Speed bursts are a fantastic tool to not just build guitar speed and improve your guitar technique, but also train you to relax your hands while playing guitar.
Here is what you do:
Step 1: Choose a guitar lick you want to improve your guitar technique with.
Step 2: Set your metronome slightly faster than your top speed. (In this case – it’s ok to set the tempo faster than your threshold of keeping your hand relaxed when playing guitar). My general guideline is to set the metronome 10-15 bpm faster than the maximum tempo where you can play guitar fast.
Step 3: Break up your guitar lick into short fragments (bursts) of 4-8 notes long.
Step 4: Now it’s time to play guitar fast and build guitar speed with your isolated fragment. Play the fragment at your speed from step 2… ONCE.
After playing your fragment once - STOP for 3-4 full seconds.
Step 5: During your 3-4 seconds of rest, analyze what you played. This is the step that actually improves your guitar technique and trains you to play guitar fast without tension.
Ask yourself questions like:
“Was I able to relax my hands while playing this fragment on guitar?”
“Were all the notes clean?”
“Were the notes in time?”
“What element of guitar technique do I need to improve?”
Step 6: Repeat your fragment again and repeat your analysis. After you are certain you can relax muscle tension when playing guitar at that faster tempo – make your speed burst longer. Then repeat the process to continue building your guitar speed and improving your guitar technique with the longer speed burst.
Want to see this process in action? Check out this video on how to improve your guitar technique and train yourself play guitar fast without tension using speed bursts:
How To Play Guitar Fast Without Tension Idea #3. Use Different Levels Of Tension For Different Guitar Techniques.
Here is a common mistake guitar players make when trying to improve their guitar technique, build guitar speed and reduce muscle tension when playing guitar:
They try to relax their hands while playing guitar to the maximum extent possible.
This is a mistake. Here is why:
Different guitar techniques require you to reduce muscle tension when paying guitar to different levels.
Take rhythm guitar playing for example:
Many rhythm guitar players use too little power in their picking hand. They think that playing rhythm guitar fast without tension is about picking lightly.
But if you pick too lightly, your guitar technique becomes wimpy. This not only sounds bad – it also makes it hard to build guitar speed and keep your hands in sync.
To play rhythm guitar fast (and play guitar fast without tension in general) you need 2 things:
- Hit the strings with power and conviction.
- Relax your picking hand (and arm) after playing each note or chord.
This is the most important part of improving your guitar technique and building your guitar speed. When you relax between notes, you can pick the strings as hard as you want and still be able to relax your hands while playing guitar.
Want to see how to relax your hands when playing rhythm guitar? Watch this video:
Ok, so you improved your guitar technique with your picking hand, but what about your fretting hand?
Just like your picking hand, your fretting hand also reduces muscle tension when playing guitar in different ways.
For example: to build guitar speed with scales, scale sequences and arpeggios, your fretting hand needs to play guitar fast using as little tension as possible.
But when playing barre chords, legato, string bends and vibrato?
Your fretting hand needs to use comparatively more tension to improve at those guitar techniques.
When you practice to build guitar speed with your fretting hand, be mindful of what techniques you are playing and relax your hands when playing guitar to appropriate levels.
Just like with your picking hand, the most important element of reducing muscle tension with your fretting hand is about relaxing in between notes.
And speaking of building guitar speed with your fretting hand, check out the next point:
How To Play Guitar Fast Without Tension Idea #4. Bulletproof Way To Reduce Muscle Tension With Your Fretting Hand.
I once had a student named Chris who really wanted to play fast and fluid legato licks.
But he struggled. Badly.
His biggest problem?
He couldn’t reduce muscle tension in this fretting hand when trying to build guitar speed.
He went through all the usual ways to improve his guitar technique and play guitar fast without tension:
- playing reaaaaally slow
- stopping to relax his hands while playing guitar at random moments
- making his fingers stronger (the idea was: it’s easier to reduce muscle tension when playing guitar if your fingers are really strong).
Alas, nothing worked.
As soon as he tried to play guitar fast, tension came back.
And I don’t think he had much hope I could help him either.
But here is what I told Chris:
“Start playing at full speed and relax gradually as you continue to play.
The idea is to slowly reduce the muscle tension you use to play guitar without slowing down. Keep using less and less power until the notes become inaudible.
After you’ve reduced muscle tension to its utmost when playing guitar, then add just a bit more tension to make the notes clear again. THAT’s how much tension you should play with when building speed and trying to play guitar fast. No more.
In plainer English: “Play with less tension until the notes suck – then add a bit more tension.”
That advice blew Chris’s mind on 3 levels:
1. How simple & obvious it was (after I said it).
2. How quickly it made a difference in his playing.
3. He was angry none of his other teachers ever told him to do anything like this.
You can use this method to improve your guitar technique not just with legato, but also with playing scales, sweep picking, 2-hand tapping and just about anything else.
Simply start to play guitar fast and use less and less power in both picking and fretting hand (without slowing down).
Stop when the notes become inaudible and add just a bit more power.
How To Play Guitar Fast Without Tension Idea #5. Train Hand Independence
You now know that relaxing your hands when playing guitar is NOT about using as little as possible.
But that’s not all.
Each hand needs to reduce muscle tension when playing guitar independently of each other.
As your picking hand hits the strings harder – your fretting hand needs to continue to relax while playing guitar. Don't start squeezing the strings harder.
And as your fretting hand plays legato or aggressive and wide string bends – your picking hand needs to continue to relax while playing guitar.
Alternate levels of tension in each hand as you play guitar fast with different techniques.
Question: “Tom Hess, what’s the best way to practice for hand independence as I learn to reduce muscle tension when playing guitar?”
Answer: Start with doing tremolo picking on one note. Use idea #4 (above) to establish a baseline of how to relax your hands when playing guitar.
Then, begin to tremolo pick the note and gradually get louder (not faster – louder).
As you do this, focus on reducing muscle tension when playing guitar with your fretting hand.
After about 10-15 seconds, begin picking the note lighter. But do NOT change anything about your fretting hand. (Do not reduce pressure with your fretting hand.) The pressure in your fretting hand should stay the same.
Go back and forth between the 2 feels to train hand independence between both hands.
And remember: choose one tempo and stick with it for the entire hand independence drill.
Also, here is a trick for getting more volume out of the notes, while simultaneously training to reduce muscle tension for playing guitar:
Simply use less of your pick to hit the string when you want a softer note. And use more of your pick to hit the note when you want a louder note.
This way, you can reduce muscle tension while still playing guitar very aggressively.
Now you know more about playing guitar fast without tension than most guitar players and even most guitar teachers.
Want even more help with reducing muscle tension when playing guitar?
I have a free, online training master class called: “Total Guitar Playing Tension Control – Say Goodbye To Tension Today And Experience A Lifetime Of Bigger, Faster & Easier Guitar Gains.” It helps you identify all 9 types of excess muscle tension and shows you exactly how to overcome them all, so you can finally get on the fast track to playing guitar the way you want to play it.
Watch this master class today and discover guitar technique mastery secrets few guitar players know.
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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.Want to finally transform your entire guitar playing into something you can feel proud of? Learn how with the best electric guitar online lessons.
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