Many guitarists will never be able to build real speed and become highly technical players because they make one of these mistakes:
Mistake 1:They spend all of their guitar practice time on ‘slow’ practice (often because they were told to practice this way by their guitar teacher). They believe that playing perfectly at slow speeds will give them the ability to play faster. Hmmm, ever stop to think about why guitar teachers who teach this idea don’t have guitar students who play fast?
Mistake 2:They only want to play at fast speeds and feel bored or impatient with slow practice, so they only work on ‘playing faster’ every time they pick up their guitar. They think that working exclusively on increasing speed every day will help them reach their goals.
99% of the time, these two approaches will NOT build serious speed. This is because both methods suffer from significant problems that are never addressed (by almost all guitar teachers). Additionally, spending too much practice time playing exclusively fast/slow causes big problems in your technique (even if you are unaware of it). To effectively build speed on guitar, you have to fully know ‘when’ and ‘how’ to use BOTH practicing styles together to make up for the shortcomings of the opposite approach.
Now you will learn why you will not increase your guitar speed by always playing ‘fast’ or ‘slow’ and which approaches you should be taking instead:
Why ‘Always’ Practicing Slowly Doesn’t Help You Build Your Guitar Speed
Reason 1:You Don’t Know What Prevents You From Increasing Your Speed
Before your ‘slow’ practice can effectively help you build speed on guitar, you have to know which problems are preventing you from becoming a faster player now. This is crucial! If you don’t take the time to understand this, your guitar practice time will bring you little to no returns. You simply can’t get big results by blindly practicing and hoping that you start getting better. To become a faster guitarist as soon as possible, you have to explicitly know what needs to be fixed in your playing and how doing so will help you increase speed. This requires actually playing at faster speeds and looking for any mistakes or errors that you can take note of. Only AFTER you’ve identified these things can you truly begin to have effective slow practice.
Trying to practice slowly without knowing exactly what you should be fixing is like running across a balance beam with your eyes closed and your hands tied behind your back while trying to maintain your balance. Open your eyes and untie your hands by learning what you need to work on to build speed BEFORE practicing slowly.
Discover more insight into this process by reading part 4 of this article series on developing faster guitar speed.
Reason 2:You Develop Poor Habits That Make It Difficult To Make Any Progress Toward Becoming A Fast Guitarist
While practicing guitar at slow speeds as your only means of practice, you begin creating habits of playing with sloppy movements that you would never use while playing fast. It’s harder to notice when you are wasting movement in your picking/fretting hands while playing at slow speeds (when you have a lot more time between each note to get it right). If you try to apply the same movements while playing at faster speeds, you will quickly notice a lot of mistakes and it will be hard to keep both hands coordinated together.
As an example, I see the following issues come up all the time when new guitar students come to me wanting to build speed:
- They have very sloppy sweep picking technique because they try to play arpeggios by picking each ‘separate’ string instead of using a single motion to sweep across all of the strings.
- They can’t play three note per string scales accurately or fast because they use strict alternate picking. Watch this video about playing faster on guitar to see how this problem is solved.
Reason 3:You Can’t Mentally Process Notes At Faster Speeds By Playing Slow All Of The Time
To play guitar at the highest possible speed, you have to posses the ability to comprehend notes at the same tempo (or faster) that you are playing on. If you never practice at fast speeds, you will never improve your ability to mentally comprehend the notes in a way that is necessary to play cleanly at higher tempos. This will result in sloppy playing at higher speeds and a lack of ability to follow the tempo in faster music.
To keep this problem from affecting your playing, you must train yourself mentally to process the notes at faster speeds. Train yourself to do this by taking this free guitar speed training mini course.
Why ‘Always’ Playing Fast (And Sloppy) Is Destructive To Your Overall Guitar Playing
You’ve now learned why it’s a bad idea to always practice slowly… but the truth is, it’s just as bad of an idea to ‘always’ play at faster speeds. Here are the reasons why:
Reason 1:You Unknowingly Train Yourself To Become Sloppy
If you practice a lot at fast tempos while making mistakes, you are essentially solidifying these mistakes into your muscle memory. This deeply engrains poor playing habits into your mind – essentially ‘training’ you to become a worse guitar player! I see this all the time with newer students. To help them become faster guitar players I first identify the mistakes they are making while playing fast. Then I show them how to spot these mistakes on their own so they can quickly improve. This is one way I have developed average guitar students into excellent guitar players time and time again.
To make sure you don’t become a sloppy player, focus your practice time on creating a balance between playing slowly with perfect accuracy and playing fast to master the skills that only faster practicing can build. Learn new strategies for this by reading part 1 of this guitar speed improvement article series and part 2 for a more advanced guitar speed strategy.
Reason 2:You Become More Prone To Injury
One of the easiest ways to injure yourself through guitar playing is to play fast with sloppy technique because you never took the time to learn how to play correctly/effortlessly at slower speeds. This is a very serious matter. I’ve seen tons of guitar players end up quitting guitar because of the injuries they sustained by continually playing fast with poor technique.
To make sure this never happens to you, always remain aware of how much tension you are using in your body as you play at faster speeds (you can only observe this while playing fast). Once you have pinpointed any unnecessary tension in your body, slow down and play using only as much tension as you need. Next, play at a faster speed again while using ‘just enough’ tension to play effortlessly.
Notice: If you begin feeling pain while you are playing, STOP! Take a break for the day and come back to playing another day when you can play without any discomfort.
Now you know the main issues that occur while practicing with conventional guitar speed building approaches, check out this video to see how you can implement the advice in this article to become a faster overall player while improving your sweep picking:
Check out the second half of this video about developing fast sweep picking technique.
About The Author:
Tom Hess is a professional touring musician, composer and successful rock/metal guitar teacher. He helps guitarists around the world learn to play guitar online. On his website tomhess.net, you can find guitar playing tips, free guitar resources and more guitar articles.