How To Increase Speed Using Your Practice Time And A Metronome

This is a great lesson that is VERY useful in the field of playing faster and alternate picking.

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Ultimate Guitar
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Recently I increased my playing speed from 78 bpm to 170 bpm on a certain exercise. In two days. That's an increase of 118%. I never imagined I'd be able to achieve something like that, but it was surprisingly easy so easy that I am kicking myself in my metal butt for wasting so many years practicing inefficiently.

I'm so excited about this breakthrough that I had to share how I did it so that you can try it yourself. Here's how I increased my strict alternate picking speed by over 100%, and finally mastered a picking exercise that had eluded me for years, one that I honestly thought I'd never be able to play. The key, in a nutshell, is slow practice. Yes, to play fast, you have to play slowly first. Really f'n slowly.

Now before you stop reading in disappointment, rushing straight to the comments section to tell me That's nothing new it's common sense!, hear me out.

In my experience, most people even if they start out playing slowly try to play too fast too soon. And let's face it, having to play slowly when you really want to play fast is a drag. You get bored and end up hacking away as fast as you can fooling yourself for instant gratification and still sounding OK. But who wants to settle for OK? OK is for other people; we're going for mighty.

Here is how to dramatically increase your speed while maintaining clarity, accuracy, and articulation. Tools needed: metronome, programmable timer, practice diary for recording progress, and patience.

Procedure

01. Slow way down and carefully analyze your technique until you discover what is holding you back.
02. Decide what you need to do to fix your technique.
03. Practice this new technique ridiculously slowly, using a metronome.
04. Make sure you can play what you are attempting for one minute solid, relaxed with no mistakes, then
05. increase speed by 1 bpm.
06. Repeat until the desired speed is reached, over several sessions if necessary.

Overall Approach

If you find your technique getting even slightly sloppy at a certain speed, then that's your top speed for that practice session. Back up the metronome a few clicks to a comfortable speed again, and finish the practice session by playing a few one-minute repetitions at your highest relaxed and clean speed. It's important to finish your session feeling successful so that you will be eager to resume practice the next day.

Remember, the whole point of playing slowly is to give yourself room to analyze your playing, identify any tension or bad habits that are holding you back, experiment to find your optimal technique, and let your brain and muscles gradually learn to consistently get it right. If you are feeling tense, you are playing too fast. To make real progress, you'll have to fight the natural tendency to want to rush past the boring slow speeds and get to the sexy faster stuff. But if you move slowly move forward, one click at a time, past the frustration point and through the impatience barrier, it will pay off. Guaranteed.

A Practical Example

Here is the example I started with. It's an ascending scalar pattern that I've wanted to be able to play fast and clean for as long as I can remember, but no matter how much I practiced it have never managed (unless you count HACKING my way through it).

 ALTERNATE PICK!! 
v = downstroke
^ = upstroke

v ^ v ^ v ^ v ^ v ^ v ^
|--------7------7-8----7-8-10-------|
|-7-8-10---8-10-----10--------------|
|-----------------------------------|
|-----------------------------------|
|-----------------------------------|
|-----------------------------------|

I made it my goal to master this pattern. Three notes per string, alternate picking is what I was striving for, but something wasn't working. Using my original technique I could only play this pattern at 78 bpm (16th notes) without blurring certain notes. Pathetic.

I slowed down to 60 bpm to investigate what I was doing wrong. Carefully observing my picking hand, I discovered that I wasn't alternate picking all the notes as I thought I was; I was doing some half-assed economy picking here and there. Therein lay the bad habit I needed to fix.

Objectives identified, I started practicing the pattern at 60 bpm, following the method described above. (I was reformatting and reinstalling Windows on my laptop at the time, so it gave me something productive to do while waiting.)

By the time Windows and my favorite apps were reinstalled, I had increased my speed to 115 bpm. A couple of times I'd slipped back into my lame economy picking habit and had to slow back down. But by the end of the session I felt confident and relaxed at 115 bpm.

The next day I started at 100 bpm and easily worked my way up to 120 bpm, my goal for that day. In fact, it felt so easy that I kept on going, one metronome click at a time. At this point I reduced the duration for each pass to 45 seconds because it seemed to be enough, but I stuck to increasing speed in one-click increments. In this fashion I gradually reached 140 bpm before starting to feel a bit of tension. I considered 140 my top clean speed for that session.

Then, just as an experiment, the little devil on my shoulder told me to try 150 bpm to see if my technique would fall apartI triedIt didn't.

160 bpm?

Piece of cake.

170 bpm?

Too much tension, but it still sounded good.

At 175 bpm I started having timing problems, so I considered 170 bpm my absolute-if-I-have-to-do-it top speed for that day. The slow playing had definitely paid off.

Above 140 bpm I was just starting to feel tension, so that is the speed I logged in my practice diary. But what's important is that after a measly TWO DAYS I was playing well enough at 170 bpm to use this technique in a recording if I wanted to. It sounded fine; it was the tension I was unhappy with. It is obvious to me now that by using the same method I will eventually reach a relaxed 170 bpm (heck, why not go for 200?). And if a non-shredder like me can do it, so can you.

66 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    Dark515Rogue
    Hey, this lesson is taken STRAIGHT from Lori Linstruth's site(she's a beautiful and pretty famous shredder girl that worked for a certain period with the band "Stream Of Passion"). You should write it, telling that THIS LESSON IS NOT YOURS. Not gettin' credits for a lesson that you DIDN'T make.
    wiggedy
    I read this somewhere before.... was it Lori Linstruth's website...
    t4int3d
    this is a great lesson i didnt even no what a metronome was and found out i had one so should be good to see how it goes,how many beats do i set mine to if im doing that example above
    DougM
    Bravo, this is a very good tip and very effective as well.
    notoriousnumber
    Im sorry but, "half assed" economy picking? I wouldnt be half as good as I am now If I didnt read up on economy picking on here a couple of years ago, I am astounded how you think it is rubbish. It is a much smoother and more natural way to play things, plus it helps with sweeps. And, Im not picking on you for everything, but this is kind of old news, it is common sense to do this sort of thing, and even so, it has been reiterated by millions of people on this site and elsewhere. Lastly, practise is not about doing something that is "textbook" as they say and expecting results the day later. Determination and patience are equally synonomous with practise as "skill improving" is.
    imuruki
    Im sorry but, "half assed" economy picking? I wouldnt be half as good as I am now If I didnt read up on economy picking on here a couple of years ago, I am astounded how you think it is rubbish. It is a much smoother and more natural way to play things, plus it helps with sweeps.
    He is not saying economy picking is "half assed", he was merely stating that his accidental economy picking was , he wasn't trying too... after all not everyone plays exactly the same, some just do what's comfortable. Thank you for the lesson. =)
    srvkicks@$$
    synestergates93 wrote: im in the mid 200s in the first day
    mid 200s are you tapping???
    zilverw0lf
    it won't work for me i start at 70bpm and work my way up to 92bpm and it starts to get tense and when i get to 95bpm i can't get further and then i go back to a safer speed and then i go back up again....but still not getting anywhere i've been doing this for like 3 hours
    greenguy_182
    hey this looks kool. i havent tried it b/c i just read it but i gonna do it when i finshing typing this... also what do you mean you say (16 notes)? ...one more thing, do you think the intro to whats my age again by blink 182 is a good riff to practice?
    mudfrog
    I did this routine last night and got upto 200bpm quite quickly. But it does need a few more examples as on it's own it doesn't necessarily mean your getting quicker overall, just that your better at that particular lick.
    Joskun
    Yes true, it's just for this lick and I'll experiment with various other lick too. If someone knows some good metal licks send me a link or post here.
    Life Is Brutal
    urrynater86 wrote: synestergates93 wrote: im in the mid 200s in the first day Are you shawn lane? mid 200s is ridiculous man. Rusty cooley tops off at about 230-240. That would be cool though. I can do really short bursts that fast. Please do share if you really can play that fast.
    Really? I though Rusty was faster than that, I mean he's got so much technique built up, I thought that speed would be cake for him. Even I can do 250...
    pixi-fan
    seems i cant edit :/ doesn't look too good. the exercise is starting on the low E and ending on the high E, then backwards. hope you understand
    cristharo
    AMAZING LESSON in the first two days i went from 120 to 210!!!!! Thanks ALOT!!
    Dregen
    Thank you so much for this lesson. I noticed improvements within the first few hours of using this method. I'm giving this a 10.
    BladeSlinger
    People who are saying 200+, do you realize it's sixteenth notes? That's like playing on the quarter note in 800bpm.
    NFed
    will try this lesson. hope it'll get me back to practicing more
    Ibarshall_X
    when doing this, then will it effect whole technique, or just the pattern i practice like that?
    superninjaturke
    just got to 281 on quarter notes and that's me maxed out for now but i'm hoping i can increase it fro next time!
    patrickodang
    when picking, does it make a difference if you economy pick instead of alternate picking?
    cody29
    are you tell ing me you bumped your speed to 175bpm doing 16ths ? if so thats amazing
    sparta09
    He uses alternate picking, but the entire point of the lesson or ANY lesson like this is that it DOES NOT MATTER. You can use this same method for any picking style, technique, or whatever you want to improve on. The main point was that he found his max bpm, lowered it like 20 or 30.. started from there and increased it by 1 BPM.. What you SHOULD do is go out there, find some finger exercises and use this for whatever technique you want, economy pick it or alternate pick. This lesson with the example he uses would be a good starting point for either alt or eco picking..
    pixi-fan
    thanks alot for the lesson, it really helped me alot! a good exercise for me was playing: e-----5-6-7-8 B-----5-6-7-8----- G-----5-6-7-8-- --- D-----5-6-7-8----- A-----5-6-7-8----- E-5-6-7-8----- then backwards like this: e-5-6-7-8----- B-----5-6-7-8----- G-----5-6-7-8-- --- D-----5-6-7-8----- A-----5-6-7-8----- E-----5-6-7-8-- -- also, you might want to keep your fingers down on the string UNTIL you have to move them, so you use your fingers individually. now thats one hard exercise also, thats guys that says theyre doing 200+ bpm are just playing 1 note per beat, so its not much, really.
    The.new.guy
    Ok! I'm skipping school tomarrow already, so I might aswell give this a go! If this works, I owe my freaking LIFE to UG! (music really is all I have. No GF, only 2 close friends, not very many other friends, and not very happy with my book-smarts.)
    The.new.guy
    Wow! In less than the time it took me to increase 5BPM, I have increased 20BMP with this practicing technique! Generally, I would take one day to increase 5BPM, and I was getting stuck quite frequently. Now, in about an hour, I've went from 60BPM to 80BPM. Unfortunately, I had a busy day, so I couldn't do more than my normal amount of practice time - 1 hour.
    urrynater86
    synestergates93 wrote: im in the mid 200s in the first day
    Are you shawn lane? mid 200s is ridiculous man. Rusty cooley tops off at about 230-240. That would be cool though. I can do really short bursts that fast. Please do share if you really can play that fast.
    rickyj
    srvkicks@$$ wrote: synestergates93 wrote: im in the mid 200s in the first day mid 200s are you tapping???
    hes playing 1 note every time the metronome clicks instead of 4 thats why he thinks hes playing mid 200s
    guitar-nwbie
    play slow to play fast... heeey... i like that way of thinking!!! great lesson too...
    DemonicTurtle66
    I was kind of stuck on the solo to Enter Sandman and I slowed down my playing (down to 25BPM) and I noticed that I wasn't relaxed, I was pressing down waaay too hard on the frets, and I was downpicking the entire solo. I didn't see any of this when practicing at the speed of the song, but when I slowed it down it made it painfully obvious and I wanted to hit myself for all of my mistakes. I'm still working on perfecting the solo, but I can say this technique works great.
    ZomBBoognish
    Yeah. It's funny how you could miss something like only down picking, but when you're trying to play that fast all your attention can go towards trying to just hit the next note.
    The_Pilgrim
    Despite its simplicity..the 1bpm a minute rule is absolutely groundbreaking for me...I was always racing up by leaps of 20 and getting frustrated..excellent tips
    Musjunk22
    Thanks for writing this! I've always read "Play slow to play fast!" but I really never realized the effectiveness of it.
    Vin_Gar
    i saw this lesson on another site a couple days ago. its great, helps alot. i think that anyone that plays guitar, wheather your playing metal, blues, or anything else, should try this. if you dont want to buy a metronome, there are a few sites that offer free online ones, thats what i used.
    misfitsramones
    i have thought of doing yuor idea before, but never tried, i can already play 150-160bpm (16th), but i can always increase. this is after i changed my picking style,