We’re always told, practice slowly if you want to learn how to play the guitar fast. The fact that very few take notice of this advice tells us it’s obvious people generally don’t believe it, if they did then they would surely do it if their desire to play fast guitar was that great. This is one of those pieces of advice that gets thrown around constantly and is indeed very important advice yet along with it never comes much explanation to try and convince you why it’s so important.
Learning to play fast without training yourself first to make all the necessary hand and finger movements slowly and perfectly is the equivalent of a child learning how to write from day one at full writing speed only. Trying to learn something like this at too fast a pace is a guaranteed way to either make your progress even slower, or at worse, totally unachievable. Progress relies on muscle memory which in turn relies on perfection. If you want a more in depth explanation then read this Wikipedia article on Muscle memory
Only once you have muscle movement and hand synchronisation perfected will you have the headroom to move onto a greater speed, in other words if you can play something with perfection at your top speed of 80 bpm then pushing yourself to a perfected 85bpm shouldn’t be very difficult.
There is however a crossover point, as the speed increases it becomes harder to play perfect because things that have no real world effect on efficiency at slower speeds start to become a problem as the speed increases. The biggest reason you find that some people can achieve high speeds in a seemingly short amount of time while others seem to plateau at a much lower speed is because somewhere along the line something is restricting efficiency.
To reach high speeds you need a good technique that can only be obtained either by pure luck that you naturally do everything in an efficient way or by figuring out where the problem areas are. Problem areas cannot be pinpointed at high speeds for obvious reasons.
Two main problem areas that restrict high speeds are tension and excessive or unnecessary movements in the hands and fingers. Other problems such as holding the pick too loose, a pick that’s too thin, incorrect hand/arm/wrist positioning, holding the guitar wrong and poor synchronisation between the left and right hands are all common problems that will all prevent you from reaching high speeds.
You may be suffering from any of the above problems (among others that you might not be aware of) and these need to be tracked down and worked on. Narrowing down these problems can only be done by analysing your technique and working on them at slow speeds. If you continuously practice at speeds higher than you can play with perfection, not only will you never find the problems that need correcting but you will also be embedding this bad technique into your muscle memory.
The speed building exercises in the guitar lessons area will show you how to look out for, and correct these problems. If you really want to play the guitar fast and accurate then you will need to work through many exercises and not expect big results overnight. Like everything else in music, this takes time.
Practice doesn’t always make perfect, only proper practice does. It is entirely possible to play something everyday for ten years and still not get any better at it. Correct practice involves finding problems and ironing them out, this is the only time you can improve on something. Repetition alone will never make you any better at something unless you attempt to repeat it perfectly. I am the perfect proof of this because I spent many years not improving yet I practised for hours every day.
I must admit I’m not a speed freak, even though I quite like a lot of the shred scene it’s not a style I have any big intentions of playing, I am more into rock and groove oriented music and can play at speeds that I am happy with for my style, however I do like a challenge and I do try to fit in some speed training when I have the time. I used to think that playing fast guitar was something I will never achieve because I am just not made for it and don’t have the natural talent. A long while ago I was really into flat picking bluegrass and I spent hours everyday for about two years practising loads of flat picking songs, exercises and scale sequences. In those two years I increased my speed by around 10bpm and could not get any faster.
I still don’t practice very often for speed but years later after I was taught the correct way to practice, I probably spent about half an hour to an hour a day for a few months doing the correct exercises paying very focused attention to my problem areas and working with them. In less than six months I had increased my speed by about 60bpm. Don’t get too excited with that result though, the exercises were different from what I was doing with bluegrass. Had I been doing those same focused exercises back then, it would have equated to about a 20bpm increase. That is still an impressive difference though, 10bpm increase in two years compared to 20bpm in less than six months. I still don’t do speed exercises very often but one thing is for certain, I have gone from thinking I could never do it to now knowing I absolutely can if I want to put the effort in.