February 12, 2018

Why the general approach of building speed probably doesn’t work so well…

by Constantin Einzmann

Playing guitar fast is one of the (if not THE) top goals of most guitarists. Ask any guy who plays rock- or metal guitar about which area of his playing he wants to improve and you will always get the same kind of answer: „I want to play faster!“, „I want to shred like Yngwie!“, „I want to increase my speed!“ etc…

Now what do most people do in order to improve their speed and what is wrong about this approach?
The general – and the most intuitive – way to improve your speed and the thing that I have done wrong myself for years and wasted hundreds of precious practicing hours, goes this way:

  • You practice the lick/scale/riff/arpeggio slowly and make it work fluently
  • You take a metronome and practice the assignment in a moderate speed
  • You increase the metronome speed gradually and try to play along with it

If you have played guitar for a while you probably have done this approach very often. I bet 100$ that while doing so you have encountered the following problems like (I think…) almost every guitarist in the world:

  • As you crank up the speed you sooner or later reach a point where you are not able to get faster any longer no mater how often you try and how much you practice
  • You will practice it a few more times or – if you have a very strong mind – stick to it for a longer time
  • Nevertheless – sooner or later you get frustrated and give up on this particular assignment!

There you go…. Congratulations! You probably have wasted a few hours of your time, although you could have achieved in that exact same amount of time way more than you have thought of. If at the same moment bullshit like „I’m simply too slow and there is no way to improve my speed….“ or „I will probably never play guitar like my great idols….“ comes to your mind, the mess is complete – you have just encountered the strongest enemy of your way to guitar heaven and the reason for thousands of guitarists to quit playing. It’s called „FRUSTRATION“…. what a surprise 🙂

You now ask yourself: „But what is wrong with this strategy? There is no other possibility to gain speed other than by gradually increasing it and becoming faster and faster by just practicing the same thing over and over again?“
I admit – you are partly right… I’m not telling you that this approach is completely wrong and that you should from now on quit doing it. The important thing is, that you should not do it exclusively as the one and only way of practicing your speed!

The crucial thing for you is to find out, why you are unable to increase your speed and why you are stuck on a particular plateau!
It is most probably that you have some flaws in your technique and accuracy of playing that prevent you from getting faster. These flaws are not problematic if you play with the metronome on a moderate speed, but they are exactly the reason that keep you from playing ultra fast and breaking through every speed plateau you could imagine!

Let’s make this clearer with the help of a simple example:

Imagine you want to learn the sweep picking arpeggio we can see above.

Let’s take a closer look on what kind of job the little pinky of our fretting hand has in this particular assignment:
It is responsible to push down on the 17th fret of the A- and the high E-string during the whole process. Now what happens, if little pinky is flying away from the fretboard every time the other fingers are engaged (this happens mostly due to unnecessary tension in the fretting hand)? It will have to travel a long distance (way longer than necessary) every time it has to fret a note in order to reach the right position. You can imagine what’s the outcome of this behavior: You are unable to reach your desired level of speed because your pinky is not moving efficiently enough!
If you are not aware of this problem, you can spend another hundred hours of practicing and still wont be where you want to be…. #Frustration !!

So you see that it is of vital importance to pay attention to every single aspect of your playing, because each tiny sloppiness can kill your speed building progress later!
Next time you are about to crank up the metronome speed piece by piece, check out first, if your playing and technique is 100% accurate. If not, get rid of the flaws before you even think about increasing your speed!
For many people this may seem over sophisticated and not necessarily applicable to their playing. Well… if you want to remain slow, then you can neglect what I am telling you and remain frustrated forever. But be aware, that killer speed players like Malmsteen, Petrucci, Tosin Abasi or Steve Vai have paid attention to every single detail of their technique and have perfectionized every little movement of their hands in order to become as fast as they are.

If you are not aware of the flaws in your technique and have no clue at all for what you should look, it is time to contact a professional guitar teacher who has already helped other frustrated players struggling to gain speed. I mean – if something hurts you or you have stomach problems whatsoever, you want to know the reason and contact a doctor. Why do you not contact a person that can tell you exactly the reasons why you fail to become a kickass guitarist?!

Very often there are some small details you have to work on that can change your speed building progress tremendously. Don’t hesitate to contact a teacher for you will be astonished by how far the impact of little details on your playing can change your guitar life! He will also lead you through the right process to achieve your goals and help you to get rid of all obstacles preventing you from becoming the killer player you deserve to be!

About the author:
Constantin Einzmann is a professional musician, guitar teacher and skilled mechanical engineer. He is the founder of the ShredFactory, a music school based in Augsburg, Germany.
For more info visit his schools website https://www.shredfactory-augsburg.de