How To Develop Faster Guitar Speed – Pt. 5: Why Conventional Speed Building Advice Fails

By Tom Hess

Most guitar players commit huge errors that keep them from becoming faster. These errors often include the following:

1.As they try to train for higher speeds, a lot of guitarist spend a big percentage of their practice time on ‘slow’ practice (usually after being advised to do so by a guitar teacher). They believe that by practicing slow all the time (and being able to do it perfectly) they will increase their max speed. It’s no wonder that guitar teachers who teach this approach to their students never end up with guitar students who play fast.

2.Some guitarists only want to play fast because they feel impatient while practicing slowly. This leads them to ‘try to play as fast as possible’ every chance they get. They believe that working on increasing their top speed every day will eventually help them play faster.

99% of the time, these two approaches will NOT build serious speed. This is because both methods suffer from significant problems that are never addressed (by almost all guitar teachers). Additionally, spending too much practice time playing exclusively fast/slow causes big problems in your technique (even if you are unaware of it). To effectively build speed on guitar, you have to fully know ‘when’ and ‘how’ to use BOTH practicing styles together to make up for the shortcomings of the opposite approach.

Now you will learn why you will not increase your guitar speed by always playing ‘fast’ or ‘slow’ and which approaches you should be taking instead:

Why You Won’t Become A Faster Guitarist By Always Practicing At Slow Speeds

Reason 1:You Take On Poor Playing Habits That Keep Your From Becoming A Faster Player

When you are only practicing guitar slowly, you are prone to forming bad habits by using extended, inefficient movements that are entirely different than the movements used while playing quickly. When you have more time between each note, it is hard to notice inefficiency in the movements of your hands (because you can still play the notes right since you are playing so slowly). Then whenever you play at faster speeds, you try to implement the same inefficient movements into your playing and everything falls apart.

Here are two very common examples of this that I see while helping my newer students become better players:

  • They try to pick each ‘individual’ string within a sweep picking arpeggio pattern instead of using a single sweeping motion to move across all strings simultaneously
  • They play 3 note per string scale patterns with continuous alternate picking technique. This involves excessive and unnecessary picking motion, leading to slower playing and general sloppiness. Watch this video about learning how toplay guitar fast and learn more about this issue so you can fix it.

Reason 2:You Don’t Understand What Is Keeping You From Playing Faster

In order for slow guitar practice to make you a faster player, you need to understand the problems (inefficient movements, lack of two hand coordination, etc.) that are currently getting in the way of you becoming faster. Until you pinpoint these things, your time spent practicing slowly will just be a waste of time. You’ll merely be guessing about what you should be working on – making extremely slow progress at best. In order for you to truly KNOW what to fix, you need to spend some time playing at higher speeds and observing when/why any mistakes happen. Only after you’ve done this should you begin practicing ‘slow’.

Trying to practice slowly without knowing exactly what you should be fixing is like running across a balance beam with your eyes closed and your hands tied behind your back while trying to maintain your balance. Open your eyes and untie your hands by learning what you need to work on to build speed BEFORE practicing slowly.

Learn more about this process by reading the fourth installment in this article series about developing guitar speed.

Reason 3:You Can’t Mentally Process Notes At Faster Speeds By Playing Slow All Of The Time

To play guitar at the highest possible speed, you have to posses the ability to comprehend notes at the same tempo (or faster) that you are playing on. If you never practice at fast speeds, you will never improve your ability to mentally comprehend the notes in a way that is necessary to play cleanly at higher tempos. This will result in sloppy playing at higher speeds and a lack of ability to follow the tempo in faster music.

To keep this problem from affecting your playing, you must train yourself mentally to process the notes at faster speeds. Train yourself to do this by studying the information in this free guitar speed training mini course.

Why ‘Always’ Playing At Your Highest Speed (With Less Than Perfect Precision) Will Damage Your Ability To Play Fast

Now you understand why practicing guitar slowly all the time will not help you become a faster player. However, it’s just as ineffective to exclusively play at fast speeds (when you haven’t fully mastered what you are playing yet). Here’s why:

Reason 1:You Increase The Chances Of Wrist/Arm Injury

A major drawback to playing fast with mistakes is the injuries that can occur from poor, under-developed playing technique. Poor playing technique comes from not learning how to play efficiently/correctly at slower speeds so that you don’t use excessive force or movement at higher speeds. This is serious: I’ve seen many guitarists hurt themselves from continuous playing at high speeds – resulting in many months of recovery time away from guitar.

To avoid this, stay alert of ‘where’ and ‘how much’ tension is being used in your body as you play faster (you can only notice this during fast guitar practice). Once you spot unnecessary tension being used in your body, start playing again at a slow speed while only using as much tension as you need to sound the notes. Once you’ve done this, increase the speed again while using optimal tension.

Notice: If you begin feeling pain while you are playing, STOP! Take a break for the day and come back to playing another day when you can play without any discomfort.

Reason 2:Your Guitar Playing Becomes Sloppy

By exclusively playing fast, you will not be able to mentally process notes just like exclusively playing slow will keep you from being able to process notes at faster speeds. This applies specifically when you are playing at faster speeds for a long time while making numerous errors. This causes you to ‘tune out’ the mistakes you are making and accept them as a normal part of your playing. In other words, you train yourself to become a sloppy player! I frequently see this happen when new guitar students approach me for help. The first step I take to help them build their playing speed is pointing out the errors in their playing that occur at fast speeds. Next I train them to become aware of these errors so they can fix them on their own. This is a big reason why a lot of my students quickly go on to become really good guitar players.

To make sure you don’t become a sloppy player, focus your practice time on creating a balance between playing slowly with perfect accuracy and playing fast to master the skills that only faster practicing can build. Learn many strategies for this by checking out part one of this guitar speed development article series and part 2 to learn an effective guitar speed training method.

Now you know the main issues that occur while practicing with conventional guitar speed building approaches, check out this video to see how you can implement the advice in this article to become a faster overall player while improving your sweep picking:

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Watch the second half of this video about how to play sweep picking arpeggios.


About The Author:

Tom Hess is an online electric guitar teacher, recording artist and virtuoso guitarist. He trains guitar players from around the world how to reach their musical goals in his correspondence guitar lessons online. Visit his website to receive many free guitar playing resources, mini courses, guitar practice eBooks, and to read more articles about guitar playing.

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