Building Speed: Getting It Smooth

As guitar players start developing some speed in their playing, they sometimes forget (or are not aware) that their notes are getting "choppy."

Ultimate Guitar
As guitar players start developing some speed in their playing, they sometimes forget (or are not aware) that their notes are getting "choppy." By this, I mean that the notes they are playing are not being held for their full duration - 8th or 16th and so on. The notes get cut short on the back end, often unevenly. Their playing may still be "in time" with the notes beginning on the correct beat or beat division, but the notes tend to get cut off short and have an uneven, "staccato" type of sound. At higher speeds, it becomes even more apparent when a recording of them is slowed down. This is primarily a left hand issue for the player and is caused usually by a combination of tension and underdeveloped coordination in transitioning from note to note in the left hand.

A good example of the type of sound we are trying to achieve here can be heard in the playing of someone like Vinnie Moore. If you listen to some of his older material, he tends to pick every note in scale sequence type licks, but there is a distinctive overall smoothness and evenness in the sound. There are techniques that can be practiced and developed to achieve this smoothness in your own guitar playing.

First, the player needs to become accustomed to holding notes for their full duration at slower speeds. Start with a fairly slow speed like quarter notes at 70 bpm (one note per click), for example. Play a C major scale using a three note per string pattern starting at the 8th fret on the low E string. Play the scale at one note per beat. As you move from note to note with the left hand, you want the timing of the notes to have no break in between - the C at the 8th fret is held exactly up until the D at the 10th fret is played. This requires relaxed, precise timing between the left hand fingers involved in playing the notes. As the index finger is coming off the C, the middle finger is moving to the play the D-all in one smooth motion.

If your playing has been "choppy" sounding, it may take some time to get used to the motion. Play scales and simple patterns at a slow rate initially until your fingers become accustomed to the motions involved. Remember, when beginning a new technique, you are trying to build muscle memory, not speed. The speed comes as a result of the hands acquiring the correct muscle memory and motions.

Record yourself playing along with the metronome. Listen for the notes "meeting" each other at that quarter note speed. There should not be any gaps or "false rests" in between them. When one note ends, the next one starts - it's all one motion between the two fingers involved. Slow, relaxed and precise motions are the key.

As your technique improves at the slower speed, try playing eighth notes at the 70 bpm rate, then 8th note triplets and so on. If you have trouble keeping your playing clean and precise, back the speed down. Remember, this is all about building muscle memory - not speed.

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By John,

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