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Old 09-05-2012, 05:02 AM   #1
llBlackenedll
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Speed building - Friend or foe?

First, I'd like to start by saying I've always been in the "play slowly, accurately and as relaxed as you can" camp, like most respectable UGers are. It makes sense of course - learn to do something perfectly and eventually it will become so natural that you can play it at any speed.

However, there is this concept of "speed building", which I've seen crop up a few times. It generally involves playing repeatedly to a metronome at a certain speed, again - slowly, accurately, and relaxed. Then, after a given time, you're supposed to bump up the metronome by X BPM and play at the new speed and so on. That's all very well, I guess it works for some people but it's never worked for me (not as a method to specifically build speed) and to be honest I never really wanted to get bogged down in "speed building", just technique building.

The other day, I came across this video of Shawn Lane where he said (unlike what you'd expect) that he started off very fast and just cleaned it up; in fact he recommended other people do that. At first, I thought it was pretty bad advice - he said play really fast and just don't worry about how well you're playing. Thinking about it more carefully, however (rather than simply dismissing it like I would if virtually anyone else had said it!) I came to realise that there may be some value in it. I've heard people say it before, but I think it's generally misunderstood as a concept.

You see - people say speed is a by product of accuracy. Well it is, kind of - there's more to it than that. You can play something very accurately at 50bpm and still be tense as hell with your shoulders in your ears. Speed, really, is a by product of good technique - accuracy, minimal tension, and efficient movements. Of course, playing very slowly trains all of these aspects, very well - however, one thing it does not do is help with any mental blocks you may have. I've had certain things I can play which, logically, mean I should be able to play something else that's virtually the same, yet I couldn't because I've had a mental block. When it comes to trying to play faster than you know you're normally capable of, I think some people go about it the wrong way (like I did when I first tried this). When I first tried this, what I'd do is try to play very fast but also try to be very accurate, and I'd get frustrated with it and also be quite tense. What I've come to realise is that what you're supposed to do is not really think about accuracy at all. Rather, you should be as relaxed as you possibly can and just play - focusing on relaxation, and not getting frustrated with all the mistakes you're making.

You may be wondering what this really does, if it doesn't train accuracy then what's the point? Well what it does is it gets you used to how it should feel to play at speed, yet relaxed and (as a by product of the relaxation) makes it easier to recover from mistakes.

I realise that this is quite a controversial way of doing this (specifically on these forums), and I'm sure many will jump down my throat for this. However, I believe there may be some value in this.

Important note though - this should never be used as a replacement for playing slowly and accurately, but I believe that a small (and I mean small) amount of this every so often can be beneficial. Don't do it all the time as all you'll do is train your brain to make mistakes. You don't want to do that. But try it every so often if either a) you have a speed mental block or b) you start to tense up when you reach a certain speed.

If this works for you, or if you think it's a completely stupid concept, post it here, but please read the whole thing before you completely dismiss it.
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Old 09-05-2012, 06:11 AM   #2
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I often bump up the metronome a few beats per minute faster than I can cope. That way when I reduce the metronome slightly it feels a lot slower.
A mind trick I learned from John Petrucci.
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Old 09-05-2012, 06:12 AM   #3
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Building up speed definitely has its place in music. It's just not the magical key element that will instantly transform you into the best musician ever, which is what some people think it is.
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Old 09-05-2012, 06:17 AM   #4
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I watched that video of Shawn Lane on Youtube on several occasions and thought about it, but I would always come back to slowly building up speed with playing along to metronome.
I started with trying to play accurate and relaxed to quarter notes at 40 bpm and I'm still not capable of playing a scale or a lick perfectly at that tempo (I started trying to play relaxed only a few months ago though, while I have been playing along to a metronome for about four years).
Because I wasn't consistent with playing to a metronome as a cause of frustration with getting nowhere, I would just noodle on my guitar as fast and as clean as I could while I was stuck in the rut.
I was noodling for the last few days and was feeling that I could play faster than before and that there is an improvement in my playing as far as speed goes. However, I also realized that I also do some mistakes as a byproduct of such playing and developed a bad habit for internalizing such mistakes.
To conclude, over the years I was going through phases when I would practice to a metronome to develop speed and technique and those phases when I was simply noodling away on my guitar as fast as I could and then was trying to clean it up.
In my opinion, both approaches have their pros and cons.
I also tried this one, but I didn't keep up with it. I think it's kind of a middle ground between the metronome and Lane approach.
http://tomhess.net/HowToIncreaseGuitarSpeed1.aspx
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Old 09-05-2012, 06:34 AM   #5
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This is useful for removing mental blocks, the only problem is when people take it too literally and stop practicing properly at all in favour of this.
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Old 09-05-2012, 06:37 AM   #6
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The video's here:

It's an interesting point of view, especially his idea that in order to play the guitar better he would play the piano more - a kind of musical equivalent of cross-training. Personally I've found the two to be very different activities but I can see how they might be related (ability to separate left and right hand movement is imperitive when learning piano and guitar, for instance). My piano playing's dreadful. Perhaps I should play more!

Anyway on the speed issue I think I can see his general point - that playing at speed can be as much about mental / psychological blocks as it can be about the physical movement. I've had exactly the same problem when trying to get classical pieces up to speed - learn it slow, gradually speed it up, never seem to get it past a certain point, and Shane's way out is pretty much the same one my guitar teacher used on me. I'd spend some time learning the piece - a moderately hard piece maybe a month just getting through it nailing the fingerings in both hands. I'd bring it back to him over the course of that month, he'd check I wasn't going wildly off-course and then one practice session he'd say - "OK, so play it at speed now" and I'd make all kinds of mistakes but I'd generally get through it.

So after a few years the method I eventually came up with is something like:

Start off with playing slowly, accurately and efficiently with as little tension as possible in shoulders, neck, wrist, fingers, &c. with a metronome at a "slow pace", e.g. crotchets @ 44 bpm.

I keep playing at this speed until I'm happy I can play mostly without making mistakes or tension, mostly with accuracy and efficiency. There's no time limit on this. The limit is whether or not I honestly think I can do this at the set speed.

When I'm happy I play crotchet triplets to the same MM. This usually throws me a bit. I note the specific problems I'm getting (a particular fingering on a couple of strings, the last/first note of a sweep, &c.) then return to the slow speed, look at what I'm doing and iron that problem out.

When I'm happy I can switch between the two speeds without problems I progress to playing to quavers to the same beat. As before - note problems, return to slowest speed, progress to triplets, progress to quavers.

When I'm happy I can play crotchets, crotchet triplets and quavers all to the same MM I increase the metronome by one mark and begin the process again. If doing this makes me to **** things up I return to the original MM for a couple of practice sessions then try again.

Occasionally though - once I reckon I've got the basic idea nailed (never before I can definitely play it properly without making mistakes) - I'll set myself a challenge of, say, "Let's try playing this in semiquavers against this beat", or "OK, I'll turn the metronome off and see how fast I can go", that kind of thing. There's no definite plan other than 'play it fast' and I don't do it every practice session but some sessions I'll do it every few minutes. I think of it as what mixing engineers do when they switch speakers - it stops me from switching off from hearing the same thing too many times and gets me re-engaged with what I'm playing.
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Old 09-05-2012, 06:53 AM   #7
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You've got it exactly right Blackened - speed bursts are a useful tool for breaking mental barriers, but they should only be a tiny part of your practice.
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Old 09-05-2012, 06:59 AM   #8
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When I practice a lick, let's say 30 mn, the last 5 mn I bump up the metronome about 10 bpm.

I don't know if it's exactly a speed burst, but I find it's very helpful.
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Old 09-05-2012, 08:12 AM   #9
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Recently I've found that practicing the lick very slowly (20-30bpm if playing 16ths for example) and making sure everything is perfect (as usual), and not increasing the speed that much but increasing the amount you're relaxed (releasing as much tension as physically possible) is a great way to practice - However, the trick is to mix this with regular "slow and bump up the metronome by a small amount" practice and also mix it with occasional speed bursts to get rid of mental barriers.

Doing this, I haven't hit any barriers in a fair bit of time so I'm leaning towards this at the moment. Great informative posts here by the way, love these type of discussion topics in GT.
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Old 09-05-2012, 09:47 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Freepower
You've got it exactly right Blackened - speed bursts are a useful tool for breaking mental barriers, but they should only be a tiny part of your practice.

I hate my username But yeah - well it's good to see that it can generally be seen as a good thing (in moderation). Often if this sort of thing is brought up it's met with quite a few people (myself included) saying to keep it slow and practise accurately etc. I still stand by that for the most part but feel this sort of thing can occasionally be beneficial. Though the sound of a ridiculous number of mistakes hurts my ears - not sure I'd want to do it for more than 5 mins a day


Quote:
Originally Posted by Anon17
Great informative posts here by the way, love these type of discussion topics in GT.

Yeah I like having this kind of discussion too, some really interesting replies. I tried to start one last week with muting techniques but it seems speed is more of a hot topic :P
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Old 09-05-2012, 11:07 AM   #11
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ill make an example of how i practice.
my aim is having a perfect, superfast alternate picking.

i set the metronome at, say, 200 and play all the seven 3nps positions ot the major scale (triplets).
i pay attention on how it sounds, rather than on my hands, because that way i can pinpoint every single mistake i do. i try to fix the mistakes, still playing at those speeds. after 5 minutes of this auto-criticism i set the metronome at 160, and i keep going up and up, making sure everything sounds perfect all the time, especially the parts i usually screw up when i play fast.
well this might sound like black magic, but i always end up playing almost perfectly, at exactly the speed i started with.
usually, i do that exercise one more time towards the end of my playing session, and i always end up playing even cleaner and faster.
i'm improving very much using this method, i can reach 210-215 in triplets at the moment, and i would suggest it to anyone. the only downside is that i need a pretty strong warmup first.
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Old 09-05-2012, 12:04 PM   #12
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I've been doing this more and more recently - just watching good player's instructional videos on youtube and playing along (Paul Gilbert, Petrucci, Guthrie Govan and more recently some Shawn Lane stuff). Does anyone else find that after even just watching a fantastic player, you can suddenly play a little better?
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Old 09-05-2012, 12:46 PM   #13
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Does anyone else find that after even just watching a fantastic player, they can suddenly play a little better?

i remember watching john mclaughlin play "cherokee" .. and suddenly..i burnt my guitar..

for all those who think they play fast..check out the vid of john on the tonight show..
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Old 09-05-2012, 01:58 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wolflen
Does anyone else find that after even just watching a fantastic player, they can suddenly play a little better?

i remember watching john mclaughlin play "cherokee" .. and suddenly..i burnt my guitar..

for all those who think they play fast..check out the vid of john on the tonight show..

Thanks for sharing. Killer stuff!
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Old 09-05-2012, 02:50 PM   #15
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Excellent discussion, and the Shawn Lane video is a real insight to his genius.

Does anyone else forget to breath....? when trying to play fast.
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Old 09-05-2012, 07:16 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wiggedy
Excellent discussion, and the Shawn Lane video is a real insight to his genius.

Does anyone else forget to breath....? when trying to play fast.

I used to. I grew out of it once I started focusing on playing slowly with good technique, and ensuring I was always relaxed when I played. Or at least I think I grew out of it - my girlfriend often points out to me that I'm holding my breath (just at random points, not when playing guitar) and I don't even realise it. I reckon I'm probably just a really stealthy breather.
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Old 09-06-2012, 03:08 PM   #17
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How bad would it be if after 9 months (almost) of trying all kinds of speed exercises, (21 day thing, Wizard of Shred, Tom Hess, Kenny Werner, Jaimie Andreas) you have to come to the realisation that you simply are not wired right to play fast.

What did Shawn Lane say? he "was born with a kind of a freakish nervous system"

Maybe some people just can't do it.... what do you think?
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Old 09-06-2012, 03:26 PM   #18
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My experience is that people vastly underestimate the amount of work needed to get fast and clean.

9 months is nothing. Do an hour a day for 9 years and then come back to me.
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Old 09-06-2012, 06:07 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wiggedy
How bad would it be if after 9 months (almost) of trying all kinds of speed exercises, (21 day thing, Wizard of Shred, Tom Hess, Kenny Werner, Jaimie Andreas) you have to come to the realisation that you simply are not wired right to play fast.

What did Shawn Lane say? he "was born with a kind of a freakish nervous system"

Maybe some people just can't do it.... what do you think?


Oh you can get there, keep practicing - I thought the same at 9 months.
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Old 09-06-2012, 06:35 PM   #20
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I actually have modified this idea to work with my own practice routines.

What I do is practice passages from songs rather than exercises. That way, I'm learning something to stick into my repertoire, there are going to be plenty of recordings of it to compare myself to, and I get to hear myself progress to playing along with my favorite musicians. I'll start out slowly (I like to use 40% of the stated tempo, personally), then build myself up to 60% of the tempo. Then I'll drop back to 50% of the tempo, then build to 70%, and so on until I can play it cleanly at 110 - 120% of the given tempo.

What's important when doing that is to focus really carefully on clean, economical technique. At low tempos, there's a tendency to use exaggerated motions in your picking and fretting hands. That's a sign that you're focusing improperly. The metronome will keep time for you. Just focus on making clean, economical motions when you're at the lowest point of that set. That focus will wane as you progress through the set, but that's the idea. You'll acquire a sense of what is challenging about the passage at a given tempo, then be able to adjust for that in your next set as you begin building towards an even greater tempo.

When you back off from the highest tempo of one set to the lowest in the next, you'll notice that the passage is much easier to play and you can continue to focus on cleaning up whatever mistakes you were having at the end of the previous set.

I've gotten some pretty dramatic results in my playing (switching between chords is much cleaner for me now than it was a few months back, my alternate picking is cleaner and more economical even at extremely low and extremely high tempos, my sweeping has gone through the roof, and so on). It's definitely a routine to try out and work into your current practice schedule.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Freepower
My experience is that people vastly underestimate the amount of work needed to get fast and clean.

9 months is nothing. Do an hour a day for 9 years and then come back to me.

Actually, nine months of focused practice, even at an hour a day, will probably get you pretty close to some given goal, assuming you practice smart. When I first started thinking about how I practiced and made a point of focusing my attention on forming good habits, I took off. In about 18 months, I've gone from playing cleanly at 7.5 notes per second to cleanly clocking 13-14 notes per second.

Remember that you're only as good as your worst technique on your worst days. If you can focus yourself even for just an hour a day three times a week, if your practice focuses on pinpointing what you're bad at and improving upon that, you can hit just about any goal you set for yourself.
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