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How To Build Speed On The Guitar

Updated: 3 days ago

If you are stuck on a certain phrase, guitar lick or a challenging passage this article is for you!

In this article I will present to you how to build speed on the guitar.

Introduction To Speed

I want to start off by saying that the relationship with speed and guitarists is often an unhealthy one.

I find that a lot of guitarists prioritise speed over everything else because they are inspired by the technical prowess of their favourite guitarist.

This often leads to neglecting a lot of the fundamentals as a guitar player for the chasing of speed. Its great that you have become inspired by a really technically proficient guitarist, more power to you.

I would just like to see people who become inspired in this way develop a lot more of their fundamentals first or understand how to build speed without neglecting the other aspects of guitar playing.

This article serves to help you gain speed but also put it into perspective of the goals you may want as a guitar player.

In This article we will go over a few topics and they are as follows:

Speed vs Accuracy

Accuracy is king, speed is nice

To continue on from my introduction to this article, I would like to stress that speed should be a by-product of doing things accurately over a long period of time.

I’d rather students I teach have better accuracy and control than to be blisteringly fast but not be able to hear any definition in the notes, timing and delivery.

Of course, it’s possible to have both, but those who do have both have spent many years improving on their accuracy.

This is why I want to stress that when practicing speed, it should always be secondary to accuracy. If you aren’t accurate (by that I mean able to play it in time and sound good)

It doesn’t matter how fast you are or think you are if it isn’t being played properly. Accuracy is king, speed is nice.

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The Traditional Way To Improve Speed

Now everything is in its proper context I want to introduce you to how speed is traditionally improved.

This will involve you needing a metronome. A good sense of rhythm. Left- and right-hand co-ordination and a lot of determination.

Traditionally when we are introduced to the concept of training speed, we take a phrase as seen in Example 1. Something that’s within our reach to learn but also quite challenging.

Traditional guitar speed exercise | How to build speed on the guitar - Grokit Guitar
Traditional guitar speed exercise | How to build speed on the guitar - Grokit Guitar

It doesn’t have to be this phrase it could be anything that you are working on or want to achieve.

We then learn it at a lower speed at the speed in Example 1. At 60 bpms (beats per minute). To begin the process, we make sure that we get familiar at playing it a slower speed.

This is to reinforce our positioning with our fingers and our left and right hands synchronising correctly.

Once you feel confident that you are getting it nailed correctly, we then start to ramp up the speed by 5 bpms and repeat the process of becoming familiar with how it feels to increase the tempo and how you have to adjust your technique to the higher speed increment.

Eventually you will reach your target speed. This is how achieving speed is taught traditionally or by most people. I have found this method to be frustrating at times which leads me into the next topic.


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A Different Approach To Gaining Speed

“If you want to go fast, play faster”

The reason why I find the previous method of speed building to be frustrating, is due to the jarring nature of being expected to just go faster when you increase the bpms when you get used to a slower speed.

It’s a very weird observable psychological phenomena that occurs.

What tends to happen when you practice this way is you are anticipating the next push for the next increment, which I’ve found to feel more like an obstacle to overcome than an achievement it also feels like adding anxiety to your own playing due to trying to push yourself a little harder and then feeling not so great when you can’t do it.

I did a bit of research when I realised that this method wasn’t working for me and I came across a lot of really fast players coming back with the same mantra;

“If you want to go fast, play faster”

It sounds so obvious, (which it is) but there is a method to this simple phrase which I cracked when listening or reading some advice from Shawn Lane, if you don’t know of Shawn Lane then I implore you to look him up, come back and know that when it comes from him it’s a good source of information.

The Different Approach

Firstly, we start of as we did in the traditional way learning the phrase at a lower speed or as slow as possible to get it under the fingers.

We then set the target speed for this example we are going to set the bpms to 120.

This is important for later.

Instead of the traditional method of going up by 5 bpms, after learning it slowly we exceed the target speed of 120 by a lot higher let’s say 160.

Which maybe a crazy concept if first coming across this method, but I assure there is method to this madness. By going faster than the target speed you have already shattered the glass ceiling.

This has an interesting psychological effect when it comes to speed. Since you have already attempted past the target speed, going down from a ridiculous speed feels easier and there is less struggle.

So my advice is to go to that 160 then go down by 5 bpms.

The first time you try the ridiculous speed at 160 it will feel uncomfortable, not accurate and generally you won’t be able to get it correct. That is totally valid and how this exercise works.

The idea of doing it this way is that you have to try and from trying and going down to the target speed the target speed feels easier giving you more a more competent chance at handling the target speed you wanted.

I find this method to be the most useful as I have often struggled with the anxiety of going up by 5 bpms each time only to be frustrated that my fingers feel like its climbing a mountain.

I hope this article has been helpful in how to practice speed and to set you up for the correct approach.

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