In the previous articles about building picking speed on guitar I discussed the nuances of holding the pick, pick angle, articulation and more. All of these things have a direct effect on your guitar speed. (If you missed these articles, you can catch up by watching this free video lesson on guitar picking speed. This video will help you to get the most from reading the rest of this article.)
As important as I believe these things are to building great speed on guitar, focusing 'only' on learning about the technical details of how to play effectively and efficiently is not enough. Even if you are holding the pick in exactly the right way, keeping your hands relaxed and are doing all the things to make your guitar technique more efficient, this is only one part of what you need to achieve great speed. The other necessary element needed is an effective practice approach that makes it possible for speed to develop.
In this article I will discuss 3 of the biggest practicing mistakes guitar players make when practicing to increase their speed. Becoming aware of these mistakes is the first step to correcting them, so if you still struggle with improving this aspect of your guitar playing, ask yourself if any of the following mistakes apply to you:
Mistake #1. Believing that speed is something that can be attained "directly" or in a tangible way.
Many guitar players approach speed as something that is a fixed skill (like learning how to play barre chords for instance) that can be attained by following some formula. The reality is that speed is actually a result, or byproduct of many skills working at once such as accuracy, articulation, synchronization, playing cleanly and more. So practicing to improve those skills, before even taking out the metronome is the first step to getting the final result that comes from perfecting these elements of technique (speed).
In addition, "speed" is obviously a vague term and it is something that is never the same for any 2 players. Some guitar players are perfectly happy to play at lower levels of speed that is "fast enough" for them (and there is nothing wrong with that), and others want to pursue more advanced levels that is "fast enough" for them (there is nothing wrong with that either). Because the concept of "speed" in general is so vague, it needs to be defined specifically for each person's goal and from there broken down into specific skills that need to be practiced to achieve it. The more speed you want to achieve, the more critical this becomes.
I discuss the details of how to break down the vague concept of picking speed into tangible skills in previous articles on this topic and also in this free video about guitar picking technique. What's most important here is the way you actually think about (and approach) the process of practicing for this goal. Changing your expectations about what speed is really about will help to channel your practicing in the right direction.
Mistake #2. Only using the traditional practice approach to working with the metronome ("starting at a slow tempo and gradually increasing speed").
Most guitar players know that practicing to a metronome is important for building speed, but the specific practice approaches used by many guitarists rarely go beyond the traditional method listed above. Unfortunately, given the number of guitar players who practice with such a method and the number of virtuoso guitarists in the world, it is clear that such an approach (when used in isolation) is lacking effectiveness.
The biggest problem of this method is that it makes it very difficult to observe mistakes in your playing and fix them in real time (while you are practicing). As you increase the speed and mistakes start to occur, you are already practicing much too fast to be able to fix them. One example of a more effective way of practicing is to begin playing at (or slightly beyond) your maximum speed FIRST. Observe what is happening in your technique and the rest of your body. Look for signs of poor technique, excess tension, sloppy synchronization and other problems and remember when/where/how they occur. After a few moments of doing that, slow down the metronome by half and "then" begin to practice slowly paying attention to your technique, making sure that the mistakes you observed at faster speeds aren't starting to reappear.
There are many more possible speed building practice methods that can be used to great effect (in addition to the one I described above), but you can get very good results from simply following this modified version of the traditional practice approach I just described. If you want to learn more about this specific topic, watch this free video lesson about how to build speed on guitar.
Mistake #3. Engaging in a never ending quest for "speed exercises".
As I explained above, there are no specific exercises or step by step solutions that can give you speed directly. The truth is that whatever it is you want to increase your speed with IS your "speed exercise". If you are still struggling with playing something at the speed you want, it only means that you haven't yet refined your technique to a high enough level or that you are not using practice approaches that are effective enough.
Although some of this information might seem to be "common sense" after you read it, most guitar players never consciously think of these concepts in such ways (and because of this, continue to struggle with their speed). The good news is that the main thing that is needed to overcome these mistakes is a change in thinking. If you realized that you were making the mistakes discussed in this article, consider the suggestions I proposed to make your practicing more effective and your results will greatly improve.
About the author:
Mike Philippov is a professional virtuoso guitarist, music composer and instructor. He is also a co-author of several instructional products, numerous articles and other free instructional resources available on http://mikephilippov.com.
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