Five Myths About Guitar Speed That Damage Your Progress

There exist many false beliefs about learning guitar in general and guitar speed in particular that will greatly hinder your progress.

Five Myths About Guitar Speed That Damage Your Progress
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The progress you make in your guitar playing depends not only on practicing the right things in the right way but also on the underlying mindset you have about reaching your guitar playing goals. There exist many false beliefs about learning guitar in general and guitar speed in particular that will greatly hinder your progress (in any style of music) if you believe them to be true. Unless your mindset is in the right place about these issues, having lots of guitar practice exercises and learning lots of "new" concepts about music/guitar will not help you overcome your guitar playing challenges. Here are the most common myths that damage your musical progress:

Myth #1: You develop guitar speed by practicing with a metronome

Why this belief is bad for your guitar playing: If you (wrongly) believe that the metronome is the key to speed, you begin to practice with the expectation of playing faster as a "direct result" of working with a metronome. In reality, simply "playing along" with a click does nothing to train the REAL elements that are involved in playing guitar fast (such as 2 hand synchronization, ideal hand position, picking dynamics, tension control at higher speeds, plus others). The metronome itself is more effective as means of tracking your progress with how well your guitar technique holds up under pressure of higher tempos - but it won't "give" you what you need to play fast. In fact, mindless practicing with a metronome can often develop many bad habits that you will need to solve later. How to apply the advice above: Set aside specific time to train the components of your guitar speed without a metronome so that you can get the most from the time you spend with the metronome. Watch this video to see how to practice to develop the elements needed for guitar speed:

Myth #2: Guitar players who don't play technical styles of music (like metal) and instead play blues or classic rock aren't required to invest time into building their technique because they don't need to play fast

Why believing this is bad for your guitar playing: Realize that having great guitar technique by itself has nothing to do with "playing guitar fast" - it's simply a means for expressing the music you want to play. If you deliberately do not put enough focus on your technique (thinking that it is not important for your musical style) and build many sloppy/bad habits in your playing, it will be so much harder than necessary to express yourself in any style and at any speed. This point is very obvious, but too many guitarists intentionally avoid putting in the work needed to build their technique - trying to get by with whatever limited technique they managed to develop as a result of "playing/practicing songs." Because of this, many suffer from problems such as:
  • Not being able to "consistently" perform the music you want with perfection
  • Struggling to play well under pressure (such as while performing or recording)
  • Dealing with fatigue in your hands that makes you stop playing when your hands become tired
  • Being restricted to playing whatever music your limited technique makes possible for you to play. How to apply the advice above: Regardless of the style you play, it is mandatory to set aside a regular portion of your practice time to build the best technical foundation you can - even if becoming a shred guitarist is not your goal. After achieving this, you can then determine how much further you want to develop your technique/speed, but you will now be able to make a conscious decision about this, vs. Being stuck with whatever bad habits and sloppy playing you managed to develop naturally. This change in mindset will help you to progress faster on guitar even if you don't change anything else about your practicing.

    Myth #3: Fast guitar playing sucks all emotion out of music

    This topic is a source of endless online debates, but the fact is that the above statement cannot be made out of context. "Emotion" means so many different things to so many different people. While there are some emotions that require slow playing to be expressed accurately (for example: sadness, lament, beauty), there are also many more (completely different) emotions that can only be achieved through over the top virtuoso playing and intense feel (such as anger, joy, aggression, triumph - to name a few). Speed of the music is not at all related to the amount of "inherent emotion" it contains. Instead, it is the individual guitar player who is either good at expressing whatever he wants to express (fast or slow) or not. There are just as many guitarists who play slowly but struggle to express any real emotion in their playing as there are shredders who only play fast but lack phrasing and expression in their music. Likewise, there are great guitarists who primarily play slowly and are masters of the emotions contained in slow musical contexts and there are virtuoso guitarists who are amazing at expressing what they want to express with very advanced/technical guitar playing. What does this mean for your guitar playing? Similar to myth #2 above, believing that slow playing is superior to fast playing because it is "inherently more emotional," is the excuse many guitarists give for not investing the time into developing their technique. As a result, not only do they rob themselves of the ability to express at least 50% of all other emotions that exist (that can only be achieved through faster/more intense playing) but their sloppy playing ability restricts them from even maximizing the emotion of their "slow" playing. The end result is that their mindset has influenced (negatively) their guitar practice efforts and limited the amount of progress that can be achieved. You should do 2 things to benefit from this advice in your playing: 1. Realize that much emotion is inherent in fast playing as well as slow playing and that "playing slow" does not automatically mean that you are playing with "more emotion" than someone who is playing fast. 2. Don't let the "speed vs. emotion" myth become your excuse for why you haven't developed your guitar technique to the level it should be to express whatever you want to express in your music.

    Myth #4: Metronome can only be used to build your guitar speed (and improve rhythm guitar timing), but cannot help you make your phrasing more creative or expressive

    Why this belief is bad for your guitar playing: In addition to incorrectly using the metronome to build speed (as I wrote above), many guitarists miss out on using the metronome in ways that could easily make their lead guitar playing more expressive. One of the most common examples of this is in practicing of vibrato technique. I wrote an article here on UG about this topic where I explain (and show on video) exactly how to use a metronome to greatly improve your vibrato phrasing in a very unconventional way. Rather than summarize the entire article here, go to this page to read it directly.

    Myth #5: Advanced techniques such as sweeping, string skipping licks and musical concepts such as arpeggios only have a place in "speed-oriented" guitar playing styles (such as shred/metal) and have little/no use for guitarists who play blues/classic rock.

    Why this belief is bad for your guitar playing: Fact is the above concepts and techniques are NOT at all "style-specific." They can be (and are) used in literally any style of guitar playing and if you choose to ignore them you will severely limit your own guitar playing potential. As an obvious illustration, the definition of the term "Arpeggio" is "chords played one note at a time." Because all songs you play will be based "on" chords (and any guitar solos you play will be played "over" chords) it is critical to learn to play arpeggios all over the guitar neck and understand how they are used in every style from country to blues to jazz to neoclassical metal. Not doing so will greatly limit your guitar playing potential. Likewise, ALL guitar techniques (whether it is string bends, legato, tapping, sweep picking, string skipping, vibrato or anything else) are equally not "style-specific" and can be creatively applied in every style of music. It is unfortunate that too many guitarists (who wrongly associate certain concepts and techniques with only a limited range of styles) intentionally stay away from practicing and studying them as if acquiring these tools somehow would limit their guitar playing in their style when the truth is just the opposite. How to apply the advice above: Realize that the techniques and musical concepts such as the ones above can add massive value to your guitar playing and it would be a mistake to assume that they are only reserved for some musical genres but not others. It's only how a concept is applied that determines how the music containing it will sound. So as you go through the process of seeking out new items to practice, don't automatically dismiss ideas and techniques based on a stereotype that needlessly limits your playing. Bottom line: to get the most from your practicing, you must understand that your mindset and belief system has as much of an impact on your progress as the actual exercises you practice. Make a small adjustment in the way you think about the process of learning to play - and the actions that will result from your paradigm shift will help you to see much faster progress than you ever have before. About the Author: Mike Philippov is a professional guitar player and instructional author. His educational articles and videos on practicing guitar help guitarists worldwide to improve their playing. Visit PracticeGuitarNow.com to get more free resources and lessons on getting the most results from your practicing.
  • 36 comments sorted by best / new / date

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      andre32065
      I have such a speed in both hands that my fretboard sometimes gets on fire. And i have never played with a metronome. Because my awsomeness prevents me to.
      Lefty7Stringer
      I will say this about a metronome. Unless you are frequently jamming with a drummer it is almost essential for developing an internal sense of rhythm.
      Ishiga
      This article really makes me wish someone wrote an in-depth article for erasing common bad habits. Started at 13, now 21 almost 22. I built bad habits by year two. Hectic life led me to make excuses as to why I'm not making any real progress and just deal with it. Now I'm in a crap spot with my playing. Improper left thumb position leading to awful bar chords, hand fatigue screws every practice session I ever do, at this point I've almost lost the will to continue.
      My Last Words
      Find a teacher. I mean, you're just 22. You'll only regret it later if you lose the will to play now..
      TheManPF
      Finally someone who understands that playing fast doesn't necessarily mean there's no emotion This "he's technical but he doesn't have emotion" bullshit just makes me sick
      PirateMuffinDan
      What a great article. One of the best I've read on UG. As for the Metronome debate, I feel it's best for tracking your progress, especially if you feel you're regressing. It can be useful, but the writer is correct in that it doesn't magically build speed.
      Zan595
      Metronome's help with speed, I can't even begin to understand why all of you are accepting that they don't (I'm aware the article doesn't say this exactly, I'm referring to user comments). If you can't play something cleanly at 180, dropping it down to a lower tempo and practicing it there helps improve accuracy, speed, muscle memory, and of course, will help you play the part faster in the long run. I'm curious, for those of you taking this standpoint- how is one supposed to practice then? Just metless and as fast as you can possibly play?
      rockgodman
      Everything about this article is true except #1...sort of. Just practicing with a metronome does not technically make you faster however practicing with a metronome (especially slowly) forces you to play the piece rhythmically accurate. This is something that if you cannot do then playing fast is something I hope you never perform. Its like having a fast car without a steering wheel. Sure you can probably move your fingers and pick very fast without a metronome, but if you can't play to a metronome then you probably can't play to a drummer and if oan't play to a drummer then you might want to wait on showing off your shred skills.
      plbrynt
      Myth #6 Reading columns on the internet will improve your guitar playing and solve all your problems... Why are you arguing when you could be playing?
      damon.carey.10
      sorta reminds me of a mate who didn't think he needed to learn scales cos he was a rythem guitar player and only lead guitarists needed to know such things
      Macabre_Turtle
      Couldn't bother reading after myth #1. The others might be true, but #1 is nonsense. Being able to play fast is a direct result of doing everything as accurately as possible when play at a mild pace. Of course a metronome is the most important thing for developing speed because it is the most important thing for keeping yourself accurate when not playing fast.
      Sickz
      I disagree. "Of course a metronome is the most important thing for developing speed", no it's not. There are plenty of people who has achieved great speed and technique without using one. Looking back at the great guitarists that have lived, many of them didn't sit down with a metronome. Just because it works for certain people does not make it true. Metronome =/= speed. If you want to achieve speed you have to practice with good posture, technique, relaxation, accuracy etc. This can be done without a metronome. According to Guthrie Govan he didn't practice with a metronome, and still he can play incredibly fast and cleanly.
      Geldin
      A metronome really isn't the most important thing for developing speed. It's a handy tool for developing the technique to play quickly, for the very reasons you stated, but that does not mean that playing to a metronome will make you faster.
      Genrecore
      That relies on the perspective you analyze the statement. The metronome itself does not increase the ability of your playing speed, as pointed in the first post. It is how the metronome is used that increases speed. Playing the same riff on 120BPM wont magically increase your speed and I find that many players feel that it is the miracle potion for enhanced ability; it is not.
      TheSpatulaOfDoo
      Addition: Anybody that practices with a metronome (all professional musicians I have EVER met use a nome or a click-track at least when practiceing licks; and often during recording practice and live play.) can usually tell when somebody else doesn't use one. We also usually say "dude you need to get a F***in' metronome".
      Macabre_Turtle
      Playing quickly is primarily an extension of playing accurately. To practice playing accurately, a metronome should be involved. You practice something at a given speed. Once you've gotten it down completely accurately, you bump up the metronome. Of course a metronome does automatically make you faster. It makes you more accurate, and then you apply that accuracy to playing faster.
      Smegal
      Sorry but this is just wrong. Your quote "To practice playing accurately, a metronome should be involved." is so wrong I put down my sandwich to reply. To practice playing accurately a metronome is NOT required in the slightest. A metronome helps you keep time but it is not required at all. A metronome also cannot help you get faster, you need to have the right technique, hand positions and synchronization to play faster, not a metronome. It can help you see where you are up to playing comfortably but it in no way helps you get faster.
      TheSpatulaOfDoo
      I'm gonna go ahead and assume you don't own a metronome nor have you ever actually taken the time to use one properly.
      Geldin
      I see the truism of "speed is a byproduct of accuracy" over and over again, but it is only partly true. Controlled speed is a byproduct of relaxation and accuracy. A metronome is an exceptionally useful tool in training accuracy, but without relaxation, you will never be able to control your playing at high speed. A metronome doesn't teach you relaxation and so it is just a single dimension of learning to play quickly.
      Sir_Taffey
      I'm just going to play the devils advocate here and say what if I was relaxed while playing to the metronome? I think it is very useful in practice to use one when playing a song so that you know you are keeping it tight. Nobody likes to hear a guitarist who can't play with the beat (and yes I am aware of Paul Gilberts comparison of rhythmic and arrhythmic guitarists). I think honestly it doesn't make you faster but it does help to keep you in line when playing something that HAS to be done in time, like a chord progression. I can keep a rhythm but it's good to sit with one every once in a while and do my fretboard work with it to track my speeds and keep myself in line.
      Ishiga
      What he meant if you paid attention is "Playing with a metronome will help with your timing, but won't give you speed. It will help your playing in a number of ways, but it won't just speed your playing by upping the tempo." This is truth.
      TheSpatulaOfDoo
      Gotta aggree with turtle here. First off... Guthrie is a freak along with Akerfeldt and Bulb. A metronome is one of the most important tools in music second only to playing with another living person and the tuner. If you actually pay attention to your technique, your phrasing and your metronome you can emulate another musician being "there" AND you can actually work your bad habits OUT without embarassing yourself on stage or at practice. AND... again... if your rhythm sucks(which it almost always will if you don't practice with a metronome) it doesn't matter how fast you "play" you're gonna screw up... poor rhythm = poor syncronization between your hands anytime it comes to something other than eighth notes in 4/4 at 120bpm(unless you're Guthrie, or Steve, or DiMeola. But you're not.).
      l0ld4v3
      I thought they teach you in music school to ditch the metronome. I was taught musical theory, classical guitar und cello without the use of a metronome. Some of the teachers said "Bad musicians can't use a metronome, real musicians have no use for it".
      crazysam23_Atax
      I'm assuming if it was a music school, they had you either tapping your foot or playing to "beat" of the conductor/percussion.
      Geldin
      I've never heard this one. Good musicians have no need for one when performing because they have mastered the meter and tempo of the piece, but a metronome isn't intended as a performance aid. It's a practice aid.
      GuitarFreak1387
      I find it hard to take anyone serious if they have had any involvement with Tom Hess. Though some of this makes sense, some of it is rubbish.
      Sir_Taffey
      I will respectfully disagree. One of my mates here in South Africa subscribed to online correspondence, got to go up and have actual classes with Tom Hess, had the chance to have players like Rusty Cooley supervise his picking technique, and all from Tom Hess involvement. He is now simply amazing at guitar. And a lot of what Tom Hess has to say is actually great stuff. He is also a great musician
      mbself73
      Metronomes are good for building up speed but I don't disagree with the basic premise the author makes. Building speed without that dang click is possible but I think the metronome needs to be dusted off to really track progress and polish it up. Also, a better method would be a variable speed backing track of some type. More fun and practical.
      Bluebit
      I suddenly remembered the 'vinegar on your fingertips' thing. lol (IIRC, that actually works . . !?)
      jds2
      While I'm nowhere near being able to shred, I really appreciated the video. Maybe it's stuff that I've seen, but it didn't sink in, but today it did. The section on proper pick holding in relation to the strings was a big help. *Now* I see how you can use a heavier pick, even for strumming. I didn't have the 45 degree incline relative to the strings. It was like trying to plow through rocks when I used anything other than super-light picks. Now the heaver picks are very good, even for open chord strumming. I agree with the kudos for helping people get out of bad habits. I really appreciate it.