Five Myths About Guitar Speed That Damage Your Progress

date: 10/23/2013 category: features
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Five Myths About Guitar Speed That Damage Your Progress
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 to get more free resources and lessons on getting the most results from your practicing.
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