Guitar Speed Training – Beating the Limitations of Speed
By Tennyson Williams, Author of The Essential Guide To Guitar Virtuosity
When it comes to training for guitar speed, there seems to be a breaking point. When I say breaking point, I mean that it can literally make or break you. I would like to label this breaking point as “the wall”, because a guitarist can make so much progress when training for speed, but then find themselves running into this dreaded stone pillar.
Its hard to say exactly where this wall comes into play, and it also has a lot to do with the riff, lick, passage or exercise, but one thing is for sure – its definitely their.
If you are a little confused by what I am talking about, it may be because you have never heard of this obstacle.
You see, you can make a lot of progress with any exercise, but at some point you will encounter a point where you simply cannot get any faster at that exercise, or so it would seem.
I have noticed that with most guitar speed exercises it comes around the 200bpm (beats per minute) mark. Once you reach the two hundred level with a certain exercise, your hands tend to not want to progress beyond this.
There is no tried and true remedy for this problem, but I do have some advise that I know has worked for a lot of guitar players.
When you have reached the wall – you will know it. I’ve heard some guitarists label this as the frustration point, and it is a very frustrating place to be. They call it this, because its here where most guitarists eventually give up all together.
1. There is no need to give up.
When you reach this point, slow the exercise down a bit and start picking a little heavier. You don’t want to pick the strings too hard, but you do want to give them a little snap. Its important to slow down before doing this, because when you pick a string harder, you tend to make larger movements with the pick. You want to make sure that you are picking every note cleanly and in good timing while you are doing this.
Then, just like you normally do – start building up from their. You’ll probably have to do this over and over again, but that’s ok, because you will eventually be able to climb the infamous guitar speed mountain.
When you get back up to that make or break speed, put everything out of your mind and focus on that speed. Keep playing the exercise over and over again at that tempo. You have to be tough, because the breaking point is very obstinant.
You may find yourself working on this exercise at this same rate of speed for a week or two, but its completely worth it. You have to think of it as a minor set back.
It also helps to practice other exercises that are completely different from each other. When doing this, make sure that you each exercise is practiced at its own tempo. The goal here is not to practice every exercise at 180bpm. That would be overkill.
2. Set aside time to play things slow
When you practice at varying tempos it gives your hands time to detox. A guitarist isn’t always going to want to play things fast, and by working on slow passages it helps to improve your overall picking technique. This will help you to refine the subtleties.
It also helps to work on different types of techniques at varying speeds. If you can take the time to work on alternate picking, legato, tapping and sweep picking, or even economy picking – it will improve your playing far greater than just focusing on getting fast on the guitar.
Another big secret here is to mix up the techniques. You can do this by designing exercises that incorporate a little bit of alternate picking and legato.
I will generally practice an exercise with alternate picking only, and then take that exercise and practice it with a combination of legato and alternate picking. This gives your hands a break by taking the work load and evenly distributing it, and it also gives you a broader canvas to create with.
Now, I’ve mentioned this before, but I think that it is very important. I would suggest to any guitarist, that they take the time to working on their picking technique on just one string, and to do this before working on any complicated exercises. You would generally do this right after doing some hand stretches, at the very beginning of your practice routine.
You can start doing this by picking out one note on one string. A good way to do this is to take sixteenth notes and play them to the beat of a metronome, at a very slow rate of speed. This exercise doesn’t have to be played fast. Instead, you should use it to get your picking hand warmed up. Use strictly alternate picking and make sure that the guitar pick is striking the string evenly, and cleanly.
When in doubt, go to the backyard and scream, and then come back in and start practicing some more, because you will be able to overcome this challenge, and when you do – you will be laughing at how simple it really was.
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