Breaking The Speed Barrier On The Guitar

by David Barton - Date: 2009-05-27 - Word Count: 876 Share This!

In this article we will be tackling the all important subject of speed as it pertains to the guitar. We have all seen incredible guitar players that seemed to defy the laws of physics and play and the speed of light. While it may seem a bit hard to attain, with a little work and understanding we can improve our technique and increase our speed on the guitar. After all, let's be honest for a second and admit that playing fast on the guitar can sometimes be as fun as putting the pedal to the metal in a race car. The problems arise when our fingers just don't seem to be moving or coordinating fast enough, or we may play fast but it sounds more like unintelligible mumbles rather than a coherent musical phrase.

Let's start by defining what we are after, what we are trying to accomplish. When you are admiring your favorite guitarist playing fast you will probably notice that there is a clarity of execution and a rhythmic stability that makes whatever they are playing very easy to comprehend. So it's not just about playing fast, but playing fast and having a clean execution of your musical idea on the instrument.

The myth of speed

In musical lingo speed is expressed as tempo. Let me give you a little tip that'll get you on your way to playing fast: slower crystal clear playing is perceived as faster and better than up-tempo unclean mumbling on the guitar. You will always give your audience the impression of playing faster by being clean in your execution.

So how do you do it? Where do you start? I am going to give you the secret to playing fast on the guitar, and I am going to do it with a one-word: SLOW! Yes, I said SLOW. If you're sitting there dumbfounded, you are not alone. How can slow be the secret to fast? Any guitar teacher worth anything will understand the value of what I just said. Very few however can explain clearly why this is the case so let's take some time and understand this principle:

Slow is the key to fast!

When you are playing fast it's the reflexes that are taking over and doing the job. It's more like being on autopilot. You can think of it like this: a computer program can do millions of computations and get you the result in a split second. However, you first have to write the program which is always a slow process. Putting in all the information of what makes up the program and, if you've written a program well it will do what it was designed to do in a second.

In much the same way you must slowly put in the information needed so that your brain can create the right reflexes. The slower you do it, the clearer and stronger you will build your reflexes. This in turn leads to greater speed on the guitar while at the same time retaining clarity.

Start by playing slow and with great care for clarity. Keep in mind that you are learning material that will ultimately be played at much higher speeds. As such it is very important to think ahead. For example, use alternate strokes instead of down strokes only if you're picking or alternate the fingers if you are fingerpicking. Now we come to our next point:

The Gameplan

The reason why most beginners seem to get stuck in their quest for speed is their lack of understanding of the gameplan. In most cases you will be using alternate strokes when playing fast material. The up-down-up-down pattern must be constant. Any little stutter or hiccup in this pattern is akin to a runner tripping and falling face down during a race. Playing slow will allow you to see where you unconsciously put in two down strokes for example and correct it.

When you play the material at very slow speeds make sure your movements are smooth, even and don't present any jerkiness or stuttering in them. As you play the material you'll start to feel where tension points exist. In most cases this is because the alternate stroke principle was not respected. Correct this at slow speeds and make sure things becomes smooth before moving on to higher speeds. Make sure your freatboard hand is playing and making the position changes as smooth as possible.Increase the speed gradually and don't move on to the next tempo until playing at that tempo you are at feels natural.

Raise the roof

In most cases the guitar players you admire perform on stage below their speed limit. This means that they work of the material past the speed you see them play onstage. By not playing at their terminal velocity on stage they allow themselves a little headroom. This is why they seem so relaxed when performing. You can also use this little trick to your advantage. Rehearse the material at higher speeds than you will be performing on stage. Once you "raised the roof" you will feel much more comfortable playing at the normal tempo.

If you put all that was discussed into practice it won't be long before you'll see that speed barrier crumble as you push through on your way to becoming a monster guitarist.

Related Tags: learn, sheet music, guitar, classical guitar, tabs

David Barton has been teaching guitar for over 20 years and has extensive experience both as a teacher and performer. Outside of teaching, David runs an online guitar sheet music and classical guitar tabs store.

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