How to play guitar fast – 10 secrets of the art of speed guitar

Speed guitarist

Guitar speed secret #1 – You’ve got to want it REALLY badly

Learning to play the guitar at top speeds requires extraordinary technical control and hand synchronisation.

This obviously means that you will need to spend a tremendous amount of time practising and honing your skills in order to be able to achieve your goal of playing the guitar fast.

In order to keep going when it gets tough, you will need to be motivated and inspired.

You need more than a simple “wish”.

You need a BURNING desire.

You really got to want it bad!

You have to be passionate about playing the guitar and passionate about developing your technique and speed in the style that you love!

Unlike the piano, where you can simply move your fingers up and down over the keys with some ease, with the guitar you have the issue of synchronising two hands (picking and fretting) and then playing across strings. (Moving from string 1 to 3 for example…)

That is really, really tricky…

There are also quite a lot of different types of techniques when it comes to play the guitar fast with a plectrum including alternate, economy and sweep picking.

Each one of these picking styles has their own merits and demerits.

Each one of these styles will produce a different type of sound.

There is definitely no holy grail and no “absolute” correct way.

There are however certain techniques and principles that will stand the test of time.

You also do not necessarily need to use a plectrum to play guitar fast.

You can also play the guitar very fast by utilising left-hand legato techniques.

Joe Satriani is a master in that.

Or even through the use of tapping – think of Stanley Jordan!

Inside of you there is a giant.

The secret is to awaken the giant within.

Often times this will require tremendous amount of effort, as well as time on your part, but if you are passionate about it and you want to achieve the ultimate level, then you will get it.

Without extreme passion and the ability to follow through, it will be very difficult for you to play in a virtuoso style without sounding sloppy.

It is also important to study the history of virtuoso performance when it comes to the art of playing fast.

Speed playing started hundreds of years ago when the world’s most famous violinist, Paganini was one of the first modern rock stars.

His guitar was a violin –  the electric guitar of the 1750s.

During Paganini’s time, we also had the master pianist Franz Liszt who drove his audience into a wild frenzy whenever he performed.

He was the second rock star.

Liszt was inspired by Paganini after seeing him perform live virtuoso violin! (This encounter actually made Liszt practise DAY AND NIGHT!)

It is important for you to read about these men and find out EXACTLY how they practised, and what inspired them.

The both had the same attributes.

There was super passionate and they wanted badly.

They wanted it so badly that they got it.

Is exactly the same with your playing – you’ve got to wanted really badly then the door will open for you to play the style that you love to play.

Spending hours and hours with your instrument is a must if you want to develop great technique!

Your motivation and passion will determine how much you can practise… and that’s why you need to want it really bad!

Guitar speed secret #2 – You need discipline and endurance ability like a top athlete

Athlete on a horse

World-class athletes have a strict regime of both diet and exercise.

In order for them to be the best, they have to push their bodies and minds to the limit.

They need to rest and sleep for a certain number of hours per day.

They need to follow their workout according to their daily schedule.

The question they ask themselves is: “What must I do today in order to be the world’s best.”

They do not ask themselves if they want to exercise.

They simply tell themselves.

They do not take “NO” for an answer.

Along with their coaches, they prepare daily to become the best that they can be.

That is exactly what you need to do if you want to learn how to play the guitar fast.

You need a strict regime of practice workouts for both your left and right hand.

You need enough hours per day in order to achieve a satisfactory result.

You need to follow your daily practice schedule each and every day.

You need great mentorship and help to reach your goal of playing the guitar fast with accuracy and proficiency.

In short, you need to become a master student of discipline.

You also need a ton of patience and the ability to see things through.

You need to be willing to work with a guitar journal, and be disciplined in using your pen to jot down speed on a weekly basis. (Along with your metronome)

If you are sloppy in your practice schedule and sloppy in your habits, you will really struggle to develop your guitar playing. (Including the ability to play fast)

The good news is that you can replace sloppy habits with great habits.

That is exactly why you need to have a mentor.

A coach to guide and help you get there so much faster!

You need someone to help you change your bad habits and replace them with good habits.

If you’re willing to endure and work hard with a long-term vision, you can learn how to play the guitar fast and accurately and set the world on fire with your music.

The choice is really in your hands! (Literally!)

Guitar speed secret #3 – You must avoid overdoing it and take frequent breaks

Luxury apartment overlooking the City

Passionate musicians often develop repetitive strain injury.

Unfortunately, we have not developed technology to the point where we can rapidly repair repetitive strain injury. (Think nano technology…)

The best solution here is to focus on prevention rather than cure.

I would highly recommend doing physical exercise along with Alexander technique.

In addition to that, you need to make sure that you take frequent breaks and never overdo it.

Of course it is very difficult especially if you are passionate musician full of zest and zeal to set the world ablaze with your guitar playing.

However, the last thing you want to do is to cut your career short by overdoing it.

The answer here would be to get professional help from someone who specialises in Alexander technique or a similar art form. You can also get help from various places.

Here’s a few resources that you should read:

So be sensible when working through fast exercises and developing your speed.

Take frequent breaks and make sure you are always properly warmed up when playing music.

Prevent rather than cure and you will be very glad that you’ve invest the time to looking after your most important instrument – your body.

If you ever feel you have overdone it – STOP IMMEDIATELY and take a break… Even if you need to stop playing for a few weeks.

Be sensible – you can always develop your speed another time.

I would also advise you read the story of Double bassist Peter Buckoke here.

(Your guitar is here to stay!)

Guitar speed secret #4 – You must work on your right and left hand separately

Right hand guitar picking

A lot of guitarists spend most of the time looking at their left hand.

You need to focus on both hands.

In my private guitar studio in central London, I always make my students work out their right and left hands separately.

Specifically the right hand.

A lot of problems can be traced to the right hand.

If you take a look at the average guitar player, you will notice that they look mostly at their left hand and rarely at their right hand.

They have not even considered what the right hand should do.

That is a big mistake.

You need to work on exercises to develop your right hand all by itself.

Whether that is exercises for sweep, economy or alternate picking – you can and SHOULD practise your right hand separately.

The amount of time that you should dedicate to the right hand alone will largely depend on how fast you want to play.

If you would like to play in the style of B.B King you do not need to spend the same amount of time as if you were approaching the style of Yngwie Malmsteen or Paul Giblert.

(I am specifically talking about right-hand guitar speed development here. If you want to play blues like the King…. be prepared to spend thousands upon thousands of hours honing your craft!)

The key to set the bar at the speed you want to play at.

If you want to play at lightning speeds, you will need to put in more time.

It’s similar to someone who owns a grocery store.

If the owner wants to make a reasonable income, they can probably get by with one decent store.

However, if they plan on making $1 million profit per year, they might need 30 to 40 stores.

It’s the same with your guitar playing.

You need to know where you want to go.

Once you can see the end, you can work towards the goal.

The owner of the single store will need to put in effort, but the owner of 30 to 40 stores will need to put in a lot more effort at least mentally to make that work.

An entirely different modus operandi!

The same techniques that will work for a single store is not going to work for 30 to 40 stores.

And it is exactly the same with your guitar playing.

You need to work on techniques and exercises that will work for the level of playing that you want to achieve.

This means you have to have a practice schedule that is on par with your goals.

If you want to become a virtuoso guitarist like Steve Vai or Yngwie Malmsteen, you simply cannot practice one hour per day and hope to achieve their guitar speed!

You will need to practice a lot of hours per day and be willing to spend several years laying a good foundation before you can you and hope to get to anything like their technique.

So begin with the end in mind – it is always the place to begin at and then work your way forward.

That is exactly why you also need a guitar journal and you need to work hard on achieving your goals in order for you to play at the speed that you want to play at.
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Guitar speed secret #5 – There are many ways to pick – alternate, economy and sweep – none of them are the holy grail

Knight in the middle ages

I’m going to tell you a secret.

There is no perfect way to play the guitar.

If you analyse 10 guitarists, you will find 10 different styles.

Take a look at – Steve Morse.

Steve Morse is an absolute master of alternate picking across the guitar strings.

His work on string skipping is simply astonishing.

He’s got the wow factor!

Now, take a look at – John McLaughlin.

John McLaughlin is one of the fiercest right hand guitar pickers ever.

Even Shawn Lane in one of his masterclasses mentioned McLaughlin as the master of the pick.

Take a look then at Frank Gambale.

Frank Gambale is a monster guitarist specialises in economy picking.

In fact, he obsesses about economy picking.

That is his thing.

Now let’s take a look at – Stanley Jordan.

Stanley Jordan does not EVEN use a plectrum, he uses tapping guitar.

He’s an outstanding jazz fusion guitarist and his work is absolutely wonderful!

Yet, he does not use a plectrum.

Let’s take at its take a look at West Montgomery

West Montgomery uses his right-hand thumb to play (FAST) bebop lines on the guitar.

He does not use any plectrum.

Now someone may tell you that there is only one way to pick, but we can clearly see FROM ALL the above examples that this is not true.

It all depends on how you want to play and what you want to play.

Django Reinhardt picks the guitar like nobody’s business…

If you analyse his left hand, you will find that he only has two (usable) fingers.

Through an unfortunate accident, he burnt his fourth and third finger in the left-hand.

That did not stop him – Django plays like an eagle!

In fact by using only fingers 1 and 2 in the left hand, Django’s swinging lines are far more “pure” in terms of sound than anyone using left-hand fingers 1234!

Let’s go to Yngwie Malmsteen.

Yngwie Malmsteen has largely been inspired by virtuoso violin and he has developed his unique guitar style (largely) upon that idea.

We can think of Yngwie Malmsteen as a modern version of Paganini.

After this let’s go to Shawn Lane.

Shawn Lane plays the most advanced musical sequences and patterns across the neck in a way that no one else can do!

He is an absolute master of virtuoso guitar.

He is the king of all the virtuoso guitarist into terms of pure technique.

Of course he has a wonderful tone and beautiful melodies too!

Guess what – he does not use economy picking, but his own style of picking and a combination of a few things that he developed himself.

The reason I’m going on and on about this is to set you free from the notion that there is only one way to play.

There is NOT a most logical method.

There could be a perfect method for you – if you search for it and MAKE IT YOURS!

Otherwise, there are many MANY METHODS to playing shred guitar.

I firmly believe that my right-hand picking exercises are absolutely wonderful and I have proven in my lessons that they really REALLY work.

But it is just one way of approaching it.

Should you not learn one method?

I would say initially YES – you should specialise and master one method with a mentor and coach.

However, when you get really advanced you need to experiment and try different things to broaden your horizon.

I always say stick to one mentor and develop as much as you can, but when the time is right – and it can often take up to 7 to 8 years then spread your wings and try to deal with a variety of different things.

At the end of the day, you need to find your own style and method.

The reason I’m going on about this is to let you know that the holy grail of picking just does not exist!

There are many ways to pick just as there are many ways to Rome!

Having said this, you do need to stick to one method and master one method.

The last thing you want to do is to play a thousand different ways and master none.

So yes, in terms of education stick with ONE mentor and work with him or her until you really excel

But in terms of picking, there are many ways and different styles that you can use to pick and play fast.

If you listen to Joe Satriani we discover the beauty of fast legato playing utilising the left hand!

If you listen to Paco De Lucia we realise that playing with right hand fingers “I” and “M” can produce lightning speed on the guitar as long as you put in the work.

So make sure that you do not fall into the trap of thinking that there is only one way…

The MAJOR principles will always remain – but many different styles and methods are always available.

So take your pick and find a way to play the guitar using the styles and methods that you love!

Guitar speed secret #6 – Play faster than you can manage in short bursts of speed

Old racing cars

This is a really big secret.

If you ever hope to achieve truly fast guitar speed, you need to push yourself beyond your limit from time to time.

In the beginning days you will probably sound really sloppy.

You may think it’s a waste of time.

Yet, if you persist you will eventually get it right.

The secret is to play faster than you can manage in short bursts of speed.

There is a wonderful video on YouTube by Shawn Lane.

If you type into YouTube: “guitar speed Shawn Lane” you should probably be able to find it.

The truth is as Shawn Lane will explain in the video, in order to achieve super-speed you need to go beyond the traditional method of working up speed by the metronome.

Of course, the metronome has its place and generally I would recommend using the metronome and working up your speed.

However, if you want to really play at lightning speed you need to at times in your practice push beyond any “metronomic limitation” and just try to play at lightning speed whether it is clean or not.

You see, the metronome can at times be a mental block.

Blocking your tempo and mind…

So work with it, but AT times work without it.  (When you do your speed bursts)

What will happen is that eventually you will get to a point when your speed bursts become clear.

When that happens you are near the light at the end of the tunnel.

At that moment only a little bit more work is required for you to reach the basics of virtuoso guitar.

Of course, once you have reached this point, you need to improve your cleanliness and ability to play fast for longer.

You see there is a secret in speed guitar – to play fast you need to think slow.

A virtuoso guitarist will play six notes as if they are one.

It means they will feel the six notes as a rhythmic grouping of one.

And what will happen then is that the guitarist or instrumentalist will easily be able to execute the six notes as he or she is not dealing with six individual notes but with one grouping of six.

So building your speed is a lot to do with short fast bursts as well as rhythmic groupings.

In the video I’ve mentioned earlier, Shawn Lane explains this in some detail.

Rhythmic groupings is a BIG SECRET to developing your guitar speed.

In India, musicians have to play very complex rhythmic groupings.

A lot of Indian musicians can play very very fast.

I seriously believe that is due to the fact that they intensely study rhythmic groupings.

They would often study groupings of 5, 7, 9 and even 13!

By studying these different rhythmic groupings, they are able to execute these groupings flawlessly on their instrument at lightning speeds!

So at times when you are playing play faster than you can, play a bit sloppy.

Of course I mean this as an additional exercise and most of your time should be worked on playing building your speed up cleanly!

But this specific exercise is specifically designed to help you jump ahead!

Yes, to help you jump over the “building” of being a slow guitarist!

It is an exercise to help you stretch your faith in the idea of playing fast.

With enough faith and hope you will eventually play fast for certain!

It will only be a matter of time…

You will see!

Guitar speed secret #7 – The power is not in the force, but in constant repetition

Water falling constantly

Whenever you listen to a virtuoso guitarist play fast, you will be surprised at his or her speed.

However, for that virtuoso guitarist, it is not really that difficult.

Of course there is always a tremendous amount of mental effort made in a sense when a musician plays very fast.

To play fast you have to use a lot of nervous effects within your system. (You really need to go for it…)

So I do not want you to think that playing fast does not require any effort.

It certainly does, but it become effortless effort…

The beauty of all of this is that the power in learning to play fast is not in doing it in one go, but in constant repetition and practice.

One sprint of practise will not achieve the desired effect!

It is by practising daily and practising consistently that you will get it right.

You need to think of this as water that wears out a rock

Imagine a large rock – now imagine water dripping on that rock.

It may take decades for the water to start breaking through the rock.

However eventually the water wears out the rock.

It is very similar when you learn to play fast. (Don’t worry… it takes less than decades here… we are talking years or months depending upon your level)

In the beginning it will feel like a mystery.

It will feel like you cannot do it.

If feel like this, you’re on exactly the right road.

The reason for this is the fact that it is a mystery.

You need to break through.

It is a test.

Can you continue and continue UNTIL YOU BREAKTHROUGH?

Most people will simply give up.

But I’m certain that you’re not like most people – you’re one of those who continue and breakthrough.

Remember combine all the above advice with taking frequent breaks.

It is important to take breaks and not overdo it.

So I will repeat this again.

Your success is gonna lie in the consistent application of practice along with great mentorship and the right exercises.

If you study on a daily basis you will eventually breakthrough.

It has to breakthrough.

Just like the water that breaks the rock.

But you do need to have the patience in the interim.

So go for the constant repetition and it will come!

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Guitar speed secret #8 – It’s all in your mind!

Man thinking

This is a little bit like the above.

Your biggest success lies in your mind.

Your hands are merely playing what your mind is commanding it to do.

So it is not the muscles, but the mind.

Unfortunately, there is currently no quick method of getting things right.

We cannot plug ourselves into the “matrix system” and just download a program or some software to play fast.

At the moment, we need to do things in the old-fashioned way step-by-step.

We need to pay the price in full.

During the time that you pay the price in full, your mind will play tricks on you.

Your mind will tell you that you cannot do it.

Your mind will tell you that you’re not good enough.

Your mind will tell you that you cannot play fast and that you’re not made to play fast.

This is when you need to tell your mind to shut up!

You need to speak to yourself and tell yourself that you can do it

You need to shut out negative thoughts and let in positive thoughts.

You need to control your mind and tell yourself that you can do it.

If you can do that, you will reach your highest goals and reach your dream of playing the guitar super fast!

Remember with great power comes great responsibility.

So when you can play fast – the biggest question is what are you going to do with it from a MUSICAL point of view!

Guitar speed secret #9 – You will struggle to get there by yourself – get some great guitar education!

Getting Help from someone

It’s a fact that guitarists who take weekly guitar lessons with excellent guitar instructors make far more progress than those trying to do it all by themselves.

If you think of martial arts, you often find students studying decades under a master!

In the guitar world, however we have this notion that being self-taught is a wonderful thing.

It’s almost as if someone who is self-taught gets a “special” medal…

Yet, you can tell the difference between someone was studied with a master or someone who is self-taught.

Of course there will always be exceptions to the rule.

They are wonderful musicians master musicians who have taught themselves.

But on aggregate, we can clearly see the difference between someone studying with someone great or someone learning by him or herself.

I also think that if you want to learn how to become a guitar virtuoso, guitar education is the quickest route to your success.

Playing the guitar at lightning speeds and being able to play difficult pieces of music in the guitar such as Paganini’s “Fifth Caprice” accurately at speed is not an easy endeavour.

You will make your life a lot easier if you study with a master and if you get excellent education.

So you truly want to learn how to pick fast and want to do it in the fastest way possible, then you should learn with a mentor rather than doing everything yourself.

At the moment I have limited space available in my own private online school.

I teach in central London as well as via Skype.

If you are very serious about learning – please do get in touch with me and I will let you know with I have space available.

NOTE: I only work with very serious candidates as I have almost no time left in my schedule.

I’m always excited to work with serious students.

Even if you do not necessarily want to work with me… fine – but make sure you get excellent quality tuition to become an excellent guitarist!

Every bit of great input that you can get will pay off dividends into the future!

 

Guitar speed secret #10 – A simple guitar journal is the key to mastering guitar speed

Journal

There is absolutely nothing that beats a journal.

Your journal should be very simple consisting out of two columns.

In the first column you need to put your smooth speed.

This is the speed at which you can play a “speed” exercise smoothly.

In the next column need to put your rough speed.

This is the speed at which you play a “speed” exercise with a rough sound.

Measure your speed on a weekly basis and try to beat your previous speed.

It is essential that you do this with only one or two exercises as you will probably give up if you do too many exercises.

Remember less is more here…

Less notes are not necessarily more – just ask Yngwie Malmsteen!

That idea actually infuriated Malmsteen in one of his interviews.

So measure your speed and you will be pleasantly surprised if you do this for an entire year and discover what your ending speed is in relation to your starting speed.

RULE to remember: Everything that you measure WILL grow!

Especially if you do this on a consistent and regular basis.

Just remember something, after all is said and done, your habits will determine how well you play the guitar.

Not only that, but your habits will determine so much more…

Your income, your lifestyle, your ability to mean something in this world all comes down to your habits, discipline and your ability to be a leader in this world!

Playing the guitar is much more than just playing the guitar.

You learn so much.

Did you know that some of the world’s most successful individuals in all fields of life studied music when they were children?

Music educates the brain and simply puts you head and shoulders above the rest.

So be thankful for this gift of music and be thankful for your interest in guitar.

Playing an instrument will raise your IQ, increase your income, and make you a happier person.

Playing an instrument is a gift.

Being able to share your music with the rest of the world is something that not everyone has the privilege of doing!

So keep your journal and keep hammering at your technique, and it WILL eventually breakthrough.

Remember the story of the rock and the water – many drops EVENTUALLY destroys the rock!

The journal will just help you get there MUCH faster!

Make sure you keep your journal and you keep your guitar playing tip-top!

In a couple of years, you play at the speed that you’ve always dreamed off!

So have patience and persistence it will pay off in the end.

You will be able to play at speeds you’ve only dreamed about!

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