Posted December 15, 2013 by James in Blog

How to play guitar faster


laying fast is a goal for most of us at some point. Even those who prefer slower styles have at some point tried to learn a song with a fast solo or riff. If you’ve ever found yourself getting frustrated because you just can’t play quickly enough, read on.

My advice is pretty simple, to learn or write a fast solo or riff, you need to start slow. The following method has worked for me in learning solos, scales, legato, sweep picking…you name it. Its not very interesting or “fun” but the results are great.

What you’ll need

  1. Metronome. If you don’t have one, there are dozens of apps available with metronomes, and some multi effect units have basic drum machines which will do fine.  As long as you can select the tempo.
  2. Notepad.  Either on paper or tablet or phone, whatever is easiest

The method

First we need to identify a target speed. This is the BPM (beats per minute) of the final full speed version. If you’re writing your own material, you should know the tempo, if its someone else’s song, either Google the BPM or simply listen to the song, switch on the metronome and adjust it until it’s in time. Write the song title or a description of the piece (eg 2nd solo), along with the target speed at the top of your notepad page.  

We’re not going to start playing at full speed just yet, we need to start slow remember. A good rule of thumb I’ve found is to start practicing at half tempo. So if your target speed is 120bpm, then we’re going to start at 60bpm. So write your “half tempo” on the first line of the notepad, under the title you’ve just written. This is your start point.

playing fast

Next, add 10-15 bpm to that start point and write it on the next line. So if your start point was 60bpm, the next would be 70bpm. Repeat this process, using a new line for each speed until you get to your target speed. Your list should resemble the picture to the right. Note that in my example, I jumped 15 bpm at the start so that I could end on 130 BPM.  It’s very important to remember that if you’re going to make a larger jump, only do so at a slower tempo.  Don’t do a large jump at the end, you’re just making things harder. Another option would be to divide the difference between the target tempo and the start tempo into even segments, so you might go up 12 BPM each time.  It’s up to you, just jeep it gradual. 

Now its practice time

Begin with the start point, it may feel slow but be patient. Play every note and focus on clean and efficient playing. This is where you can build in good technique which will carry through to the faster speeds. You’re also building muscle memory which will stay with you for a long time.  Once you’ve nailed your first speed, draw a line through it, or tick it, and move to the next speed up. It will gradually get harder, but this is the best way to learn fast pieces in my opinion.

If you have trouble with a faster speed, drop back and play it slower until you’re comfortable, then try it faster again.  If you’re still having trouble playing the piece fast, you need to consider that your ability isn’t yet at the standard required.  If this is the case, consider working on the techniques that the piece utilises, such as legato, sweep picking or even just scales.  Try using the same metronome technique to work on drills in those areas, then come back to this exercise and try again.


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