How To Play Fast

Certain technique exercises for playing faster.

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How to Get A Faster Speed: This article is no BS. Skip to section IIB if you feel you have a good workflow on how to practice.
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I. Restating the Obvious

- Metronomes must be used when practicing, otherwise you are not really practicing. They help you focus in addition to their intuitive benefits. Free Metronomes can be found with a Quick search on google. I recommend the first one. Do this now.

- First of all, plan to practice the specific riff/lick/section/technique for multiple practice sessions, not just in one day but over a period of time of a few months. I don't mean plan mentally, I mean build it into your practice schedule. If you don't have a practice schedule, make one now. I guarentee it will help you improve at least 20% faster. Make sure to put the highest Beats per Minute you achieved in each day (AKA update it often).

- Don't spend too long on one thing. Practice it (the riff/lick/technique) for 20 minutes at a time. You may go back to it immediately after. For example, for 20 minutes, practice the solo. Then the next 5 minutes practice the bridge to the solo, or whatever precedes getting into the solo. Then go back to practicing the solo for another 20 minutes if you wish. Playing an extremely difficult or fast section for too long will cause you to lose focus.

- Always be relaxed when you play. If you are playing so fast that you feel tense, stop breathing, or make facial expressions, slow the metronome down a lot (50% of what it was) and then gradually raise it back up to that tempo, over a period of about 2-2.5 minutes. Make a conscious effort to stay relaxed during this time. This kills two birds with one stone. On one hand, it will ultimately help you be able to play faster. On the other hand, it will allow you to build muscle memory more efficiently. See next point...

- Conciously try to remain relaxed when practicing. You should, optimally, be able to "watch TV" while playing the riff. If you can read, watch TV, sing, or talk while practicing it this means you are building it into muscle memory, instead of conscious effort. For example, to learn how to sing and play at the same time, try first watching TV while playing, then reading while playing, then talking while playing, then singing while playing. It works extremely well.

- IMPORTANT ONE: Some people say to always play with a metronome while practicing. I think you should play with the metronome about 3/4 of the time.

- Always warm up or stretch before practicing. Warm ups and stretches will really help you improve your technique. Take about 5-8 minutes to warm up before a practice session. These will help build immense, "popeye" forearm muscles and better timing. I will include a stretch technique exercise.

Example 1: Max this out on the metronome every day as a warm up. By max out I mean to do exactly this: play it at the maximum speed you can while keeping all fingers on the fretboard before moving to the next position, moving one finger at a time. This will give you better finger control and efficiency of movement.

This is THE guitar exercise to practice. Don' hesitate to customize it to your specific needs/goals. For example try going 1 3 1 4 1 2 or 1 4 1 4 3 2 1 or any other combination.

----------------------------------------------1-2-3-4-------------
-------------------------------------1-2-3-4-----------1-2-3-4----
----------------------------1-2-3-4-------------------------------
-------------------1-2-3-4-------------------------------------ECT
----------1-2-3-4-------------------------------------------------
-1-2-3-4----------------------------------------------------------

II. Proper Technique

A. Alternate Picking or Sweep Picking

- Alternate picking sounds more articulated, and sweep picking sounds more smooth/legato.

- In other words, the experienced guitar player needs to make a conscious decision on which technique to use for each specific riff. IF YOU DO NOT DO THIS STEP YOU ARE HURTING YOURSELF IN THE LONG RUN. You MUST have a specific technique down you are going to use each and every time, otherwise you might not as well be practicing. If you don't practice something the same way each time, you are not practicing efficiently AT ALL. Think about it.

- The experienced or professional guitar player will tell you that alternate picking is the industry standard; basically, most professional guitar players use alternate picking. What I really mean is that about 98% (literally) of your practicing and playing should be ALTERNATE PICKING ONLY.

- Sweep picking can be useful to make things easier on yourself, for example when you are playing fast arpeggios, especially on the top 3 strings. Also, many common licks on the top 2 strings can be played much more easily this way.

For example, the fast parts of the Freebird solo. Sweep picking can also be combined with hammer-ons and pull offs very effectively, as you actually continue to "stay in time" in the alternate picking fashion.

- Example 1: This lick is easier to play using sweep picking. However, you would still use alternate picking if you wanted to achieve a more articulated sound. So you must make a conscious decision as to which one, depending on the context.

|----8--5-----5--8--5----------------------------------------------
|----------6-----------6-------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------

This is a common rock and metal lick (or the many variations thereof) which I usually play using hammer ons, pull offs, and sweep. Try it out with sweep and h/o p/o and see if you can play it faster and more cleanly than alternate, I bet many intermdiate guitar players will be surprised. This is meant to show that there are some applications of sweep picking which you must consider.

Note that Sweep picking this while using h/o & p/o will still allow you to stay in time with the consistent up-down motion of alternate picking.

- Example 2: Depends
------------------------------------------------------------------
------------------------------------------------------------------
---------------5--7--9--------------------------------------------
-----5--7--9------------------------------------------------------
------------------------------------------------------------------
------------------------------------------------------------------

For this type of riff/lick/whatever, it is up to you to decide how to play it.

Once again, if you want it sounding super smooth/legato, use sweeping and hammer ons/pull offs. If you want it sounding articulated, use alternate picking. 98% of the time you would use alternate, simply because articulated notes are much more common! (And by the way, you can still achieve a smooth tone when using alternate picking, you just angle the pick in a different way).

- Example 3: Don't Sweep
------------------------------------------------------------------
------------------------------------------------------------------
------------------------------------------------------------------
------------2--4--2-----2-----------------------------------------
-----2--4------------4------4--2--4--2----------------------------
------------------------------------------------------------------

Seriously, don't sweep or "economy pick" this kind of thing. Use strict alternate picking. This means that you are always downpicking on an on beat and up picking on an off beat, to create a consistent up/down motion. This kind of picking will help you get faster, get better rhythm, get better timing, and muscle memorize the distances in between the strings. HOWEVER, if you wanted legato on this section you might consider hammer on and pull offs.

Notice that if you did use hammer ons and pull offs, most of it would be played as a "sweep" anyway, even when using alternate picking.

- Example 4: Consider A Sweep

------------5------------------------------------5----------------
--------6-------6-----------------------------6-----6-------------
-----7--------------7----------------------5-----------5----------
------------------------------------------------------------------
------------------------------------------------------------------
------------------------------------------------------------------

At higher tempos with straight sixteenth notes or sixteenth note triplets, I would sweep this sort of shape. Still, I would alternate pick it at lower tempos, or if I wanted it to ring out, or if it was a non-straight rhythm, or if I really didn't want a legato sound.

***SO IN CONCLUSION, SWEEPING AND HAMMER ONS AND PULL OFFS ARE USED TO ACHIEVE A LEGATO SOUND, AND SHOULD BE USED ACCORDINGLY. THIS MEANS YOU MUST LEARN HOW AND WHEN TO USE BOTH ALTERNATE PICKING AND SWEEP PICKING.

====================================================================

B. Technique Exercises

Here are some technique exercises to help you get faster. When practicing them, play at the maximum possible speed at which you can hit every note with an even, consistent volume and tone. Play along with a metronome and record your maximum, relaxed, perfectly played speed in BPM.

Example 1) The Ultimate Finger Workout

This one will work out every finger and fretting combination possible and can be used to practice either alternate picking or h/o & p/o style. This one will take some time, so only do it every so often.

In this excercise, you will use all finger combinations possible for each variation, going all the way up the neck. It's a very intense workout so much sure to take breaks.

Figure i) Play this first with index and middle, then middle and ring, then ring and pinky.

|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|----------------------------------1-2-1-2-1-2-1-2-----------------
|------------------1-2-1-2-1-2-1-2---------------------------------
|-1-2-1-2-1-2-1-2--------------------------------------------------

|-----------------------------------1-2-1-2-1-2-1-2----------------
|------------------1-2-1-2-1-2-1-2---------------------------------
|-1-2-1-2-1-2-1-2--------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------

|-2-1-2-1-2-1-2-1--------------------------------------------------
|------------------2-1-2-1-2-1-2-1---------------------------------
|-----------------------------------2-1-2-1-2-1-2-1----------------
|----------------------------------------------------2-1-2-1-2-1-2-
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------

I think you get the idea, all the way up the neck and back down again, 3 times (one for each finger combination). So you first play it using index/middle, then middle/ring, then ring/pinky.

Figure ii.) Variation

Now, instead of playing the minor second interval, you will play the major second interval.
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|----------------------------------1-3-1-3-1-3-1-3-----------------
|------------------1-3-1-3-1-3-1-3---------------------------------
|-1-3-1-3-1-3-1-3--------------------------------------------------

Hopefully you get the idea, same deal as before but with a different fret distance in between the fingers. This one will be hard but rewarding to play with the ring and pinky. Great stretch exercise, just don't push yourself too hard.

Figure iii) Variation 2
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|-1-4-1-4-1-4-1-4--------------------------------------------------

Make sure to go back down as well as going up, I didn't draw it out but it's equally as important, it sucks to be really good at going up the neck and have no way of coming back down.

I wouldn't play this one using ring and pinky on the lower frets, but you may try it if you wish.

Example 2) Modes/Scales

- No handout for this one, because it can already be found on Ultimate Guitar.

It's a Power Tab file called Modes and Scales. It starts at the Fifth Fret Low A and runs thru all the modes starting from this root. Use strict alternate picking. After 3-4 months hopefully you've memorized all of them, if not, still really solid practice. Really useful little file. Thanks to whoever made it.

Example 3) ThunderStruck Timing Exercise

|--0-4-0-7-0-4-0-7-0-5-0-8-0-5-0-8------0-1-0-2-0-3-0-4-0-5--------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
This is a cool type of lick to learn how to play really fast, but it is also a great timing practice tool. Try doing this one with hammer ons and pull offs as well as strict alternate picking. It is meant to exercise your left hand right hand timing coordination. Always use a metronome for this one.

Example 4) Position Movement on One String
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|-0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-------------------------------------

Keep all fingers on the fretboard after placement, before a position change. So, all four fingers should be down when you reach fret 4. Then position change as fast as possible to having index on fret 5. Make sure not to squeel/scratch on the string with your hand, bad technique, you're going too fast. Play on all strings, up as well as down, etc etc... Try it with and without the metronome.

Example 5) Right Hand Workout: Do this for 5 minutes every day. Metronome only. Eighth notes, if they are too slow raise the metronome rate, instead of going to sixteenths (double met rate instead of halfing note length). This will help timing more accurately.
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|-------------------------------------0-0-----0-0-----0-0----------
|---------------------------------0-0-----0-0-----0-0--------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|--0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-----------------------------------------------
This one is pretty obvious, you've got to have a killer right hand, period.
Try palm muting on and off, accenting certain notes, down picking only, triplets, sixteenth note triplets, multiple string skips, etc.

Example 6) String Skipping
|-----------------------------------------8---6--------------------
|----------------------6---8----------------7---5-8---6------------
|--------------------5---7--------------------------7---5----------
|-------------6---8------------------------------------------------
|----6---8--5---7--------------------------------------------------
|--5---7-----------------------------------------------------------

|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|----6---8---------------------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------------------------------
|--5---7-----------------------------------------------------------
Do this one with a metronome to practice string skipping. Plus it sounds cool once you can do it fast. I didn't draw it in fully, but please make sure to come back down as well as going up. It's much much harder, especially on the lower strings.

Example 7) Hammer on Pull Off With Pinky Diminished Run
|--------------------------11-14------14-11------------------------
|--------------------10-13------------------13-10------------------
|---------------8-11-------------------------------11-8------------
|----------7-10----------------------------------------------------
|------6-9---------------------------------------------------------
|--5-8-------------------------------------------------------------

This is a cool metal lick that is also a great pinky workout.

If you enjoyed this lesson please check me out on Youtube. Username: coolbian57

44 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    BlitzkriegAir
    - Metronomes must be used when practicing, otherwise you are not really practicing. - IMPORTANT ONE: Some people say to always play with a metronome while practicing. I think you should play with the metronome about 3/4 of the time.
    but then i wouldnt really be practicing
    guitar_fingers
    It seems to me you have no idea what sweeping is, and I'm curious as to how you could sweep a two string lick that you're using legato for. The "string skipping" lick also skips almost no strings throughout the entire lick.
    grantjames
    If you are playing so fast that you feel tense, stop breathing
    I'm turning blue in the face here!!! When can I start breathing again?!?! Awesome article though. Really enjoyed reading it!
    Minivirus2
    Awesome article man! I'm a self taught guitarist and I've always lacked a specific practice regimen. I'll be incorporating most of what you mentioned here, as I'm trying to build a good practice schedule. I've always been disappointed in my porgression, but this article has me feeling optomistic. Thanks a million!
    GoneSocietyLead
    JD Close wrote: 1 Major seconds are the same as minor seconds
    Major second intervals are a whole tones and minor second intervals are a half tones. Just lettin' ya know.
    Reffa
    SGA wrote: Unfortunately I cannot download the file for Modes/Scales. I'm running on Ubuntu and Power Tab isn't supported by Linux
    Try tuxguitar (from the software centre), you should be able to open powertab files with that.
    SGA
    Unfortunately I cannot download the file for Modes/Scales. I'm running on Ubuntu and Power Tab isn't supported by Linux
    Mitsos55
    Stop thumbing down every comment that doesn't just imply "GREAT ARTICLE" By the way, great article.
    L2112Lif
    - The experienced or professional guitar player will tell you that alternate picking is the industry standard; basically, most professional guitar players use alternate picking. What I really mean is that about 98% (literally) of your practicing and playing should be ALTERNATE PICKING ONLY.
    That's like saying that 98% of the population drives Honda, so you'd better do so as well. Find a style of picking that works for you, and develop all of them so you have the ability to switch between them all, pssh, its like you've got no musical base whatsoever.
    Seth Shadows
    guitar_fingers wrote: It seems to me you have no idea what sweeping is, and I'm curious as to how you could sweep a two string lick that you're using legato for. The "string skipping" lick also skips almost no strings throughout the entire lick.
    This. Good workout though, pretty self explanatory.
    G-money!$
    L2112Lif wrote: - The experienced or professional guitar player will tell you that alternate picking is the industry standard; basically, most professional guitar players use alternate picking. What I really mean is that about 98% (literally) of your practicing and playing should be ALTERNATE PICKING ONLY. That's like saying that 98% of the population drives Honda, so you'd better do so as well. Find a style of picking that works for you, and develop all of them so you have the ability to switch between them all, pssh, its like you've got no musical base whatsoever.
    Please tell me that chris broderick isn't experienced...all downstrokes when he isn't soloing (nearly)
    FunkySpider
    JD Close wrote: GoneSocietyLead wrote Major second intervals are a whole tones and minor second intervals are a half tones. Just lettin' ya know. That's thirds. Seconds are always the same. Go to a piano and play C major and then C minor. The second is D both times. Flat seconds are found in such scales as the Egyptian and Hungarian minor scale.
    A minor second is indeed a semi-tone, while a major second is a whole tone difference. So saying major seconds and minor seconds are the same is wrong. What you just pointed out is that the second interval is the same in major and minor scales.
    JD Close
    1 Major seconds are the same as minor seconds 2 That's MAB's ultimate warmup 3 String skipping? 4 You should show sweeping arpeggios on more strings, it's easier to do and is good practice 5 Put a link to that download bro Other than that, good article man
    topotopo1
    Awesome article man! I'm a self taught guitarist and I've always lacked a specific practice regimen. I'll be incorporating most of what you mentioned here, as I'm trying to build a good practice schedule. I've always been disappointed in my porgression, but this article has me feeling optomistic. Thanks a million!
    You've always wroten all that I would write ! xD Awesome article btw !
    Jazzymetal420
    Hi, good article. My guitar teacher showed me most of these about5 or 6 years ago and I always thought they were kind of annoying but after coming back from a long break from guitar I lost a lot of old strengths (though gaining new ones somehow). I have been practicing these for the last year and some other ones and my playing has dramatically increased beyond what I was able to play prior. I would like to leave you with a couple extra patterns to practice. Sometimes I play this backwards or pick a starting note, lets say F, and I find and play this pattern starting on low E string 1st fret and find every F and play the 2 string pattern and go back and play at that starting F back and forth. |----- |----- |-----2-1--3-2--4-3----- |-----2-1- -3-2--4-3---1----2----3----4---- |-2-1--3-2--4-3--1----2--- -3----4----- |1----2----3----4----- I start that pattern on open E 6-1st string 1-6 back down, and then move up the neck. Coming back down would be like e|-4-3---3-2---2-1-- B|3---4-2---3-1---2-- G|----- Also another one I like is: |-----4--3---2--1----- |-----4--3--2-4-1-3--2--1---- - |---4--3--2--1-----4--3--2-1----- |--3--2--1-----4--3-2- -1-----4--- |-2--1-----4-3--2-4-1--3---- |1-----4--3---2-- --- and then mirror that |-----1--2---3--4----- |-----1--2--3-1-4-2--3--4--- -- |---1--2--3--4-----1--2--3--4----- |--2--3--4-----1--2- -3--4-----1---- |-3--4-----1--2--3-1-4-2----- |4-----1--2- --3----- I also practice all of that and then a lot of the ones the OP posted by playing quarter eigths and sixteenths: |----- |----- |-----4-4--- |-----3-3----- |---2-2----- |1-1----- OR |----- |----- |-----4-4- 4-4--- |-----3-3-3-3----- |-----2-2-2-2----- |1-1-1-1---- - I think you get the idea. Oh and I also do 3's and sometimes 5's 6's etc etc depending on what type of challenge I am going for. I like the 4's because it gives you time to relax your fretting hand and it to remember to fret as lazily as possible. I hope this helps someone out since it took me forever to type that Cheers
    guitarmaniac88
    guitar_fingers wrote: It seems to me you have no idea what sweeping is, and I'm curious as to how you could sweep a two string lick that you're using legato for. The "string skipping" lick also skips almost no strings throughout the entire lick.
    I was thinking the same thing, I started to ask myself if I was sure you skipped strings when string skipping! I then remembered that surely Paul Gilbert wouldn't have lied to me about that.
    TomAwesome39
    Great article! The things you mentioned as far as how to practice can be applied to ANY instrument. I've taught percussion for many years and would try to instill these lessons in every student. Anyone trying to take short cuts is really not gaining, but hurting themselves. What good is a really fast shredder if they can't stay in time?
    fahmi123
    i there,I enjoy reading through your article post Entertainment & Music News
    TomDerrick
    hey ! I just want to ask about planning to practicing a technique exercise . Does it mean that I need to practice a technique exercise a day ? and then on the other day , I'm going to practice another technique exercise ? Is that what it is supposed to mean ? and uhm ... how long do I need to practice a technique exercise per day ? Because I need to study also because I'm a college student right now , it's been hard for me to manage my time but I really want to practice as soon as I get the chance to .
    coolbian57
    Hey Tom, I wanted to follow up to your question about time management in college. I'm actually a college student as well, and although college should usually come before guitar, you can and should definitely still fit in some time to practice and improve during this stage of your life (try to keep up with the music majors at whatever school you're at!). If you're really motivated, I would recommend waking up earlier each day to practice in the morning. Many musicians I've talked to say they play better and are more creative in the morning, plus it encourages you to wake up early. Anyway enough words, if I had to estimate how many technique exercises to practice per day, I would say about 5. Spend 3 minutes on each one, and use a timer to both keep yourself focused, but also move on when the time is up. One more thing: don't get too focused on just technique! also spend time doing music theory study, writing your own music (tip: exercises are easy to write, and good practice for both writing and your technique!), and of course learning, analyzing, and memorizing many many many songs of all styles and difficulties.
    anant299
    zub555 its up and down picking because you dont have much time to pick only downwards in shredding or playing fas solos. Example- Down=D Up =U So practise this tab- 1-/-1d-2u-3d-\ Practise with a metronome
    Jazzymetal420
    none of those are supposed to be stacked, I hope you can figure out the patterns if you study it close enough >< sorry again I'm unsure how to do tabs on here correctly.
    GlacierMan
    zub555 wrote: What is alternate picking?
    Strum down, strum up, strum down, strum up... I think A good example of string skipping is the intro for "Immigrant Song" by Led Zepplin: 2nd on the E, flicks up to 4th on the D string
    deltadaz
    I allready do a lot of these exercise's but well wrote out and explained thumbs up here
    rockgodman
    Yea playing adjacent strings=skipping no strings. Steve Vai's 10 hour workout basically has all the same type of licks so just look that up and you'll be good for a long while
    JD Close
    GoneSocietyLead wrote Major second intervals are a whole tones and minor second intervals are a half tones. Just lettin' ya know.
    That's thirds. Seconds are always the same. Go to a piano and play C major and then C minor. The second is D both times. Flat seconds are found in such scales as the Egyptian and Hungarian minor scale.
    RockRolla
    Very good,well written lesson.You put alot of thought into this,I feel more inspired now more than ever.I need to develope a more structured practice time.Thank You.