How To Build Fretting Hand Guitar Speed & Play Guitar Fast
by Tom Hess
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The first thing to know about building fretting hand guitar speed is…
… you don’t need a lot of fretting hand strength to increase speed on guitar.
This applies even to legato guitar technique (where you play guitar fast with hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides).
To build fretting hand guitar speed, you need:
1. The right guitar technique motions.
2. A light touch in your fretting hand (so you can increase speed on the guitar without much effort).
3. A simple practice method that helps you refine your lead guitar technique quickly.
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Here are more tips on how to both: maximize your fretting hand guitar speed and increase speed on guitar with ALL guitar techniques in general:
Believe it or not: to increase speed on guitar (whether it’s your fretting hand guitar speed or speed with any other guitar technique), you need to stop thinking about “how to play guitar fast.”
Instead, focus on the elements that go into your guitar technique. These elements make it possible to play guitar fast. The more you refine your guitar technique – the easier it becomes to increase speed on the guitar and play guitar fast. (More on this below.)
And on top of that…
There are different levels to your ability to play guitar fast.
For example: there is maximum lead guitar speed, there is your top speed of 2-hand synchronization, your ability to play guitar fast in real life (in front of other people), and more.
The more you understand these elements, the easier it becomes to develop a high level of lead guitar technique, boost your fretting hand guitar speed, and increase speed on guitar.
This video explains these elements in detail (all of them can help you increase your fretting hand guitar speed and play guitar fast in general):
If there is one thing that kills your ability to play guitar fast and build fretting hand guitar speed, it is excess muscle tension.
Fortunately, relaxing excess muscle tension is not very hard. And once you do – your guitar technique improves almost immediately, and you have a much easier time building fretting hand guitar speed and learning to play guitar fast.
Here are my favorite ways to relax excess muscle tension and boost your fretting hand guitar speed:
- do a tension audit throughout your entire body.
What is a “tension audit”?
It’s where you play the shred guitar lick you are trying to build guitar speed with and check (audit) your body for tension in your jaw, shoulders, arms, stomach, thighs, calves, and feet.Here is what tension audit looks like (and how it can help you reach the advanced guitar playing level fast):
- find the top shred guitar speed where you can play without excess tension.
Keep track of this speed (especially as you continue to do the excess muscle tension audit). As that element of your shred guitar speed increases, your ability to play guitar fast (and your guitar technique feel effortless) increases.
Question: “Tom Hess, how can I know the right amount of tension to use in my lead guitar technique if I want to play guitar fast?”
Answer: Here is an awesome tip for optimizing muscle tension and increasing your fretting hand guitar speed:
Keep playing your guitar lick repeatedly, but gradually use less and less pressure while maintaining the same fretting hand guitar speed. Keep backing off on the amount of pressure in your guitar technique until you no longer hear the notes.
At this point, you are not using enough pressure anymore (this means you aren’t able to play guitar fast… or at all). So, add just a bit more pressure back, and voilà! You are playing with optimal fretting hand pressure.
Now, remember what that feels like and build your fretting hand guitar speed using that amount of tension (no more and no less).
- discover the most efficient way to move your hands for doing various shred guitar techniques.
One of the causes of excess muscle tension (that gets in the way of your efforts to build guitar speed) is inefficient motions.
As you learn more about guitar technique in general, optimize your motions and reach the advanced guitar playing skill level overall, it becomes easier to play guitar fast.Watch this video to see what I mean:
Question: “Tom Hess, I'm doing my best to relax my hands and optimize my guitar technique, but I still feel excess muscle tension! What should I do?”
Answer: You are likely practicing too fast. Remember that muscle tension (in your guitar technique) never “just happens.” You have tension in your guitar technique because your brain tells your body ‘to’ tense.
And if you are trying to relax excess muscle tension while pushing yourself to build guitar speed, you are making the process of improving your guitar technique much harder than it needs to be.
So, slow down even more and take your time as you refine this element of guitar technique. The improvement in your shred guitar technique will make it worth it.Watch this video to see how slowly you need to practice to undo bad guitar technique habits and reach the advanced guitar playing level:
Here is a bonus tip for how to find the most efficient way to play guitar fast as you are trying to build fretting hand guitar speed with legato:
Forget trying to make pull-offs with force and power (that only creates tension in your hand and limits your fretting hand guitar speed).
Instead: make the pull-offs FAST. Compare your guitar technique to the action of snapping your fingers. You can only make the snap loud if you quickly move the fingers through the motion.
The same principle applies to your guitar technique and fretting hand guitar speed.
But warning: change NOTHING about the duration of the notes. If you are playing 8th notes at 100 bpm, you can play them with slow, lazy, and soft legato motions… or with fast, precise, and ARTICULATE legato motions. Choose the latter, but change nothing about the length of the notes themselves.
One of the best ways to improve your lead guitar technique is to use appropriate amounts of tension in each hand.
Since this article is about fretting hand guitar speed, let’s use legato as an example:
When you are doing fast hammer-ons and pull-offs – your fretting hand guitar technique is working much harder than playing regular notes.
But your picking hand guitar technique? It’s working a lot less during lead guitar legato runs. So, it should be much more relaxed. That is an example of hand independence you need to train as you try to increase speed on guitar and learn to play guitar fast.
Another example: thrash metal rhythm guitar:
Your picking hand must strum the strings aggressively when you play guitar riffs. But when it comes to your fretting hand? It needs to be way more relaxed than when you were trying to build your fretting hand guitar speed with legato. And it needs to use way less power compared to your picking hand.
The better you train for hand independence, the easier it is to improve your lead guitar technique and play guitar fast.
Question: “But Tom Hess, shouldn’t your pick hit the strings as light as possible when trying to increase speed on guitar?”
Answer: No. A big part of rhythm guitar technique is hitting the strings with plenty of power… and then relaxing between the strums. That is how you not only can increase speed on guitar but actually sound GOOD while you play guitar fast.Watch this video to see an example:
Question: “But Tom Hess, what’s the best way to practice to build hand independence in my lead guitar technique?”
Answer: Start on one note. Fret one note on guitar and do tremolo picking on it. Gradually increase the volume in your picking hand (the guitar technique tip for this is to simply dip the pick further into the strings). But focus on keeping tension in your fretting hand guitar technique at the same level. Go back and forth between soft picking and loud picking (but don’t try to play guitar fast or increase speed on guitar here – focus on control).
When it becomes easy to keep your hands independent on one note – add more notes.
Your ability to play guitar fast means nothing if your guitar technique is sloppy.
And there are 3 causes of sloppy string noise to avoid in your guitar technique:
1. Sloppy string noise for the higher in pitch strings (the thinner strings).
2. Sloppy string noise from the lower in pitch strings (the wound strings).
3. Sloppy string noise caused by the strings bleeding (ringing) together.
Here is how to fix each cause of sloppy string noise in your guitar technique and make your shred guitar playing clean:
Use thumb muting to mute string noise from the lower strings. Literally rest the picking hand’s thumb on the lower strings and slide it up and down the strings as you play guitar fast and rip through your shred guitar licks.As far as muting the higher (in-pitch) strings? Use the index finger of your fretting hand to mute those strings in your shred guitar licks. It should look like this:
And as far as the notes bleeding together when you play guitar fast?
For this, you need a special guitar technique called finger rolling. This guitar technique is not very difficult, but you’ve definitely reached the advanced guitar playing level when you can do finger rolling.Here is how to do finger rolling and use it to play guitar fast:
When you get good at combining all 3 guitar techniques for muting string noise – you will have a much easier time learning to play guitar fast.
Question: “Tom Hess, is it better to play guitar fast with distortion or clean tone when I'm looking to control sloppy string noise in my guitar technique?”
Answer: Use distortion (most of the time) when you practice to play guitar fast. Why? Because distortion compresses your guitar sound and makes any little guitar technique mistake very loud. This makes it easier to tell when you have sloppy noise in your guitar technique and when you don’t.
A big part of guitar practice is about solving problems in your playing. And learning to build guitar speed, play guitar fast and improve your guitar technique is no exception.
Fortunately, troubleshooting your guitar technique (and shred guitar playing) problems is pretty simple.
1. Isolate the problem. Find the exact notes in your guitar shred lick that are giving you trouble. This helps you avoid wasting time practicing things you can already play well.
2. Magnify the problem. For example: Repeat the problem part several times. Play the hard part on the lower frets. Play the hard part unplugged. Or play it with only upstrokes or downstrokes.
3. Fix the problem by repeating the notes at a slow-enough speed that your brain can follow. (This sets the foundation for reaching the advanced guitar playing skill level and helps you play guitar fast.)
4. Drill the problem in isolation until it’s mastered.
5. Put the isolated part of your shred guitar lick back into the full musical context.This video illustrates the process in action:
Now that you know how to develop fretting hand guitar speed, let me help you master another element of fretting hand technique: fretting hand finger independence. I can show you how in my free eGuide called: mastering fretting hand finger independence for guitar players. It’s free and it shows you more ways to build a lot of guitar speed in your fretting hand without a lot of practice. Download your copy today and discover guitar speed secrets few guitarists will know.
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 master your guitar playing? Learn how by taking the best rock and metal guitar lessons online.