9 Tips to Start Playing Faster Right Now

In this article I share with you 9 tips to help you get your technique to the next level.

Ultimate Guitar
In this article I share with you 9 tips to help you get your technique to the next level. 

1. You only have some years to develop speed, but a whole lifetime to get accurate

This is perhaps the most controversial piece of advice that you don't want to hear:

The earlier you start practicing for speed, the more likely you are to develop some great chops. I'm sorry to say this, but if you started "late," you can never get very fast. If you trusted the classic "play veeeeeeerry slow and then increase the metronome by five bpm everytime" you're very likely one of those players who complains about being slow 10 or 20 years after picking up a guitar for the first time. When we are young, our joints are flexible and very likely to learn new movements. Listen to recordings done by established shredders when they were teenagers. They were already very fast after some years of practicing. Guys such as Jason Becker, Paul Gilbert, Yngwie Malmsteen, John Petrucci, Steve Vai and Satriani were already fast enough as teens. 

Thinking that you can still pick up a guitar in your late 20's or early 30's and develop a decent speed is wishful thinking. However, I think I might be able to help you develop a certain amount of speed. Read on.

2. Avoid linear picking patterns

Go angular instead. Even the most challenging solos on guitar are objectively speaking easy once you get acquainted with angular picking patterns and melodies.

3. Pay attention to your posture

Holding your guitar too high or too low will definitely have a detrimental influence upon your performance. If you truly want to know how fast and accurately you can play, place your guitar on your left thigh!

4. The thumb's position

Classical guitarists tend to economize movement and hand motions. For them, having their thumb stationed on the middle of the neck makes perfect sense. Thanks to the electric guitar's thinner neck, it is rather difficult to do that. A flexible thumb that rests somewhere above the middle of the back of the neck lends itself for better technicalities.

5. Most guitar solos are easy

Stop thinking there are things you can't play. This self-defeating attitude is probably the reason why you're stuck in a rut. In comparison to solo pieces written for other instruments, guitar solos are fairly easy. Whenever you think one solo by your favourite band or solo artist is difficult, try to play Paganini's 1st or 23rd caprice.

6. Don't forget "fast" is relative

To some, 16th notes at 180 bpm are very fast. To others, 16th notes at 200 bpm are not a big deal. There is another guild to whom the fun starts at 230 or 240 bpm. Remember to set realistic goals, and don't forget about the aesthetic aspect of technique. 16ths at 240 bpm are sixteen (!) notes per second. After a certain speed, things start to sound pretty much annoying, so you either minimize the amount of speed, or avoid going to the limits altogether. Remember that fast stuff sounds less listenable on the guitar as on the piano.

7. Economize as much motion as possible

To play fast you don't need to move a lot per se. Your right hand shouldn't look like you're jerking. Nor should the fingers of your left hand look like the fretboard is on fire.

8. Don't listen to what the pro's say unless you're paying them for advice 

Guitar magazines are mostly filled to the brim with terrible advice on how to develop technique. Did you really think the pro's want everybody to be able to play astonishingly fast? It's like expecting alchemists to tell everyone how to make gold out of nothing. 

9. The chromatic scale/exercise is NOT a speed exercise!

The chromatic exercise doesn't require stretches that are particularly difficult. Unless you're a beginner, the classic 1-2-3-4 pattern will prove both easy and boring to you. Exercises that stretch your tendons=speed exercises. The chromatic scale is a great warm-up exercise, but you'll fail to develop true finger dexterity by practicing such a simple pattern for years. Don't be afraid to combine unusual intervals on the left hand with angular picking (mentioned above).

I hope these 9 recommendations are of some help to you. I invite you to take a look at my stuff on YouTube. Here's a video of me performing a classical piece I very much enjoy:

YouTube preview picture

25 comments sorted by best / new / date

    What?So much misinformation,it hurts. Regarding point No 8:Wow,I've never heard of guitar conspiracy theories before. No dude,the pros don't know about a secret spell that will make you play ultra fast.To think that they don't share their tricks so that you will never be as good as them is crazy. In fact all of them share the same and only advice you need to get goodractice,practice,practice. And even I were to follow that point and not listen to the pros,why should I listen to you in the first place?Don't you see the irony here?
    "practice, practice, practice" is useless advice if you're not playing the right exercises. It's like someone tells you to keep on doing bicep curls 100 times a day everyday so that one day, you can bench five hundred pounds. It's not about practicing a lot, but about practicing the right things. You're free to ignore my advice and approach practicing any way you want. I just felt like offering an alternative point of view, that of a self-taught guitar player.
    Actually it's about practising the right things a lot. But the problem is,there isn't an SI unit that defines what excercises are better than others. Petrucci got his speed by carefully examining his week spots and improving upon them through specific,horrible sounding,excersises. Guthrie Govan on the other hand,got his mad chops by trying to play exactly what was on his head and practising that. It's as if their methods counter each other,but as both have technical proficiency you can't say that one works better than the other. So no pro would intentionally give you bad advice.He would tell you to do what worked best for him.It' up to you to find the advice that works the best for yourself.
    "Petrucci got his speed by carefully examining his week spots and improving upon them through specific,horrible sounding,excersises. Guthrie Govan on the other hand,got his mad chops by trying to play exactly what was on his head and practising that." Both are great ways to approach technique. It shows that everybody is different and there is no single magical trick that will make you play better. I am not saying that the pro's give you bad advice. I'm saying they don't tell you everything they know, because they probably believe it only works for them. Just like these tips won't work for everyone.
    Hi miguel-m, do you have any advice on good patterns/scales to practice to improve speed? It's kinda hard to find anything other than linear picking patterns, chromatics, and things that aren't really cyclical enough for consistent repetition. By the way, I really like that you didn't use distortion in the piece you played. Cool stuff.
    Yeah. Why would the pros be concerned if you learned to play as fast as them? There are so many fast guitarists around today that speed doesn't make you unique. There are many guitarists that are faster than many of the legendary guitarists, but people still prefer listening to the legendary guitarists. Speed isn't everything. If you can't use the speed, it's useless. Most professional musicians are pretty humble (of course excluding people like Yngvie) and want to share their knowledge. They realize that what makes you unique is the ideas in your head. Playing the guitar is just a way to communicate those ideas. Most professional musicians don't see music as a competition. And also, if you were to copy Steve Vai note for note, you would just sound like a copycat and nobody would really care about you. Of course they won't start giving you lessons for free but a couple of advice shouldn't cost anything. (They may even benefit from having a "betcha can't play this" video on Youtube. They get recognition - more people will hear their music. They may also have sponsors so when they post a video on Youtube, they are actually making money. The videos are "free" but they may have ads in them - usually in the beginning of the video.)
    I wouldn't say you've got very accurate at your playing technique. I would just like to say to everyone who's read this article, that neither of these points are good enough to be points. I would like to make THREE real points that really make sense, and there is no secret in these ones. 1. Practice your playing from slow to fast gradually . The thing is that your fingers and hands has their own memory, as well as your brain - motion memory. Start any lick or exercise you want at a maximum slow (yes, especially in this way) rate so that you can hear it is played accurately. After that, increase the speed and practice. If you're struggling, you'd better have a break. Your fingers can crap out. Give them a break. Wash your hands. Go for it. For about 5-6 hours a day you'll receive an amazing performance. If there's not enough free time - no disappointments. Your progress will just go slower, but won't stop. Just remember that practicing should be daily as it is pretty familiar to workout. 2. Get your technique perfect with the help of the pros. They have never been your enemy, Such great players as Govan, Gilbert, Petrucci and MAB give perfect advices. I've practiced their licks and excersises a lot and they helped me a lot. Especially, they give priceless advices in a picking technique. They're all different, and you just have to pick the one, you're in comfort with. 3. Set your targets wisely ! Pick the songs you love and pick those, which are always a bit above your technique level. Let your hands and mind see they are progressing. You'll make a great scores. Set your mind to think that the route to your dream technique is just a stairway. Don't run as you soon get out of your strength and fall. Don't slow down as you will never see the peak. Move at a regular speed and you'll soon get on a top. Hope, you guys like my mindset and these points. If anyone's interested, contact me, I won't take money for an advice. Music is my life, and life is priceless. Don't get annoyed with preconceptions or apprehensions. Believe in yourself and treat the people you love. AZ.
    Holy hell. On the ones that are correct you then proceed to give your own bad advice. The only reason I won't get into detail is because it would take too long to write about all nine of them. How did you get this published on U-G?
    I'm sorry (but not really), all of the information you presented in this article was very subjective. I disagree with you on the majority of these points.
    Dude, you forgot the old "you're either born with the talent to play or you're not; if you ain't got it, you'll never play well." Seriously dude, these are some cliche and seriously damaging points of advice; not good stuff. Anyone, can start at any age and get fast and have great sound and technique. Check your fuckin' ego man. Your playing isn't even that great.
    Holy shit. While it's true that younger people pick up things faster, it's very inaccurate to imply that getting a late start makes it unlikely to achieve speed.What does differ is that younger people have more time to obsess over things, while an older person might rationalize away their ineptitude and give up. This can be seen in many fields: academia, sports, love life etc. The one factor successful people share is perseverence. You get good at what you do. If you practice speed, then you'll get fast, eventually. It seems you're trying to bash late starters, but also give them the "secret knowledge", which is dishonest, and most often blatantly false information.
    "5. Most guitar solos are easy". Whoopdiedoo I am Buckethead
    he meant in comparison to other instruments, which is very true.
    ahahah. I was thinking just that. In my case i grew a red beard and drank 2 black tooth grins while playing Domination with just my pinky. All after reading this. Amazing.
    Ok after watching that video, definitely "ego" involved. I will rephrase what I said and basically say you have given some TERRIBLE advice. Have you even faced any challenges that deem you incapable that you overcame and did what was the impossible? I honestly don't know you but going by your comment I have a hunch you have never faced real challenges in life, being told you will never do by medical professionals only to do EXACTLY THAT and at a high level... my man. You seriously have no idea about the human spirit!
    When we are young, our joints are flexible and very likely to learn new movements Please guys, ANYONE READING THIS ARTICLE - please please please take note... it's bollox! Joints for one are not flexible, it's the muscles and stuff around them. What he said is nonsense. Take care of your body and you will have a rather surprising ability into your later years. I am 40 and can easily raise my leg head height and compete in high entry Muay Thai. I was told I would never be able to do this due to a serious back injury. Take care of your body. This guy really does not know what he is talking about and it saddens me to see that he has wrote an article which may mislead and put people off wishing to accomplish goals. And for the record, he's not exactly one to be giving advice on speed playing going by the video clip. Just be wary of people like this in life. They will drag you down and make you feel like you can't. I do not like your attitude Mr. Whoever you are. It stinks of negative and stereotypical egoism. So sad, very very sad. Practice like hell, NEVER quit. And it will come.
    Thank you for your comments. I'm in my 40s, and I called bullshit on the comments this person made as well. For one thing, I think developing speed is mostly about nervous system development, not joint flexibility.
    "Thinking that you can still pick up a guitar in your late 20's or early 30's and develop a decent speed is wishful thinking. However, I think I might be able to help you develop a certain amount of speed. Read on." ^ This... that is attitude. Now, before you take me the wrong way let me explain something. I do not mean to pick at that but I do not for one moment believe that is true. Why?I think it's misleading, like saying "you can't learn to DJ in 6 months" (which I did), or "you will never be able to compete at high level Thaiboxing due to serious back injury" (which I do) or "you will never be able to learn x, y, z because of your learning disability" (which I have and now hold a job in x, y, z). There is NOTHING in this world, given you are healthy, able and competent enough, dedicated and driven to stop you from reaching ANY goal you seriously want to achieve. So that statement, in as friendly a way I can put it is complete nonsense. I really apologise if that comes across as very rude, I am not a rude guy. I just do not buy into those type of statements. We are all capable of amazing things if the drive and desire is there. I taught myself grade 8 (I think it is) classical piano because I was told I couldn't. You know where I am going with this? Maybe "some" people without that drive or the sheer will power to reach that goal may not reach it but it is individual. If you or anyone REALLY wants and is able enough to play as fast as whoever the hell they want to be as fast as then you can given the drive, dedication and sheer obsession. I have had nothing but "no you can't"'s thrown at me all my life only to prove the complete opposite! Please reword that paragraph mate. It's complete nonsense. But many thanks for the very helpful info which follows. I am grateful for it.
    Look up Troy Grady's series on picking technique, called "The Code." You can find the whole first season on YouTube, and the second season is in the making now. It really breaks down and examines picking techniques. I got a little faster and cleaner just by watching it and comparing my technique, and more importantly, watching it actually made me want to pick up my guitar and practice!