How to Clean Up Sloppy Guitar Playing Mistakes at Fast Speeds Without (Always) Practicing Slowly

These guitar practice methods help you do this.

Ultimate Guitar
How to Clean Up Sloppy Guitar Playing Mistakes at Fast Speeds Without (Always) Practicing Slowly

Your mind and ears are your most vital guitar practice tools. Your ears pinpoint the causes of your guitar playing mistakes and your mind controls your hands and trains you to improve your guitar technique.

Most guitarists have a hard time hearing mistakes that happen during fast playing. It's easy to notice that something sounds sloppy, but it's hard to know what exactly is the problem and what is causing it. Slow practice is not always the solution, because certain mistakes disappear when you slow down. You need a way to fix sloppy mistakes that occur during fast playing without having to play slower.

These guitar practice methods help you do this:

Practice Strategy #1: Emphasize the Problem

This video shows how to emphasize the problem when you practice guitar (using sweep picking as an example):

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This guitar practice method applies to all techniques (not only arpeggios) where you struggle to identify the causes of sloppy playing at faster speeds.

Emphasizing the problem is done to:

  • Give you more time to hear sloppy notes without slowing down. Putting more emphasis on the problem helps you hear the problem more clearly.
  • Eliminate sloppy errors while practicing in context (more on this below).

Practice Strategy #2: Isolate the Problem

Isolation practice is about focusing like a laser on a specific group of notes from the exercise you are practicing (that contains the mistake you want to fix) and:

  • Repeating it over and over (in isolation) until mastery is reached.
  • Integrating the isolated section back into the exercise to practice it in context.

Important: there is a big difference between isolating a problem and emphasizing it. Emphasizing a problem is done to keep practicing in context the entire time and refine sloppy playing in the process. It is most appropriate for guitar techniques you are already comfortable with and/or for exercises you can play well.

Isolating a problem is done on passages where you need to focus only on the sloppy notes first (outside of context). This practice strategy is most useful on challenging techniques you are only starting to learn (and when training yourself to undo bad guitar playing habits).

Practice Strategy #3: Exaggerate the Problem

Exaggerating your guitar playing mistakes helps you notice symptoms of your problems more easily and solve them faster.

Examples of exaggerating your guitar playing problems include:

1. Playing faster than your maximum speed - if your playing starts to fall apart (due to sloppy mistakes) at 120 beats per minute, speed it up to 132 beats per minute (as an example) and practice at that higher tempo.

This enables you to:

  • Feel & hear the consequences of the problem more clearly (so you can identify their causes and solve them).
  • Make the original tempo feel much easier by comparison.

Tip: a similar thing can be done with difficult fretting hand stretches (make the stretch harder by moving your hand to the lower frets that are further apart). This makes the original stretch feel much easier when you go back to it.

2. Play guitar without your amplifier (unplugged) at/near your top speed. This challenges your articulation (and 2-hand synchronization) and helps you determine which notes aren’t articulated clearly. After determining which notes are sloppy, use either the emphasis or the isolation guitar practice strategies described above to master what you are practicing.

Note: playing unplugged also helps your other techniques such as 2-hand tapping and legato.

Use these guitar practice approaches to accelerate your progress and make your guitar playing feel easier.

About the Author:
Mike Philippov is a guitarist in progressive rock and neo-classical metal genres. He specializes in training guitar players how to practice guitar.

10 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Someone please send that link to Kirk Hammett.
    I'd shit myself if I could play as well as mr Hammet
    This post highlights Kirk's biggest issue: It's not a lack of talent, it's a lack of discipline and proper application of that talent.
    Good advice! I'd add recording yourself playing & then listening back to it even a day later as you might not notice certain problems when actually playing the same thing over and over again due to ear fatigue & also if your using distortion to not rely on effects and using the neck pickup until you can play cleanly on the bridge
    Not sure where I first saw the one about going over the intended speed but ever since I first saw it I've always used it, a great way to see your problems and makes it seem a lot easier in the long run