Your guitar lessons have progressed well. Your technique is about right. Yet, you've reached a point where you've admitted to yourself that you're still playing as fast as you really want to.You may even be feeling stuck at your current speed, unable to play faster. And you would not be alone in feeling that way.
Faster playing speed is a burning desire for many guitar learners. Unfortunately, any sign of stagnation can cause frustration, boredom and distress, and even cause them to quit.
The ability to play fast enables greater musical expression, whether you consciously seek it or not. And setting aside how fast you actually want to play, the good news is that almost anyone can play faster!
What is Slowing You Down?
If you are playing with the right technique and practicing enough, speed should come naturally. When it doesn’t, something is amiss. So, the trick is in first recognizing what issues lie behind your slower speed, or the inability to improve it.
Firstly, just be sure that you're not putting too much pressure on yourself by wanting to improve far too quickly. Quite often, your playing speed may just but a symptom of a deeper lying problem. Some of the factors to consider include:
- poor tension control
- bad posture
- poor timing
- lack of practice
On their own, these may seem like minor problems, but you can’t play fast, and well, without arresting all of these issues.
How you sit, stand, or balance your guitar when playing will affect your speed. Bad posture will cause you discomfort and affect your stamina. And you can’t play fast enough when one of your limbs start hurting. Fix your posture and some of your troubles with speed will fix themselves.
Also, if you are not relaxed when you play and have tension in your hands and fingers, you won’t have the poise and flexibility required for faster playing speed. Rather calm your senses and warm yourself up with a few gentle exercises before you play.
There may also be a problem around hand synchronization, hand endurance, picking articulation, and mental processing speed. If you don’t time your strokes well, your speed is unlikely to improve. Isolate and fix issues like timing first with consistent practice.
Tips on Improving Your Guitar Playing Speed
If you need to improve your playing speed, the following tips are good aids that should help you along:
1. Take it slow at first
This will apply to both learner and experienced guitarists. It will increase your speed in general, and the speed at which you master a particular technique or song. You want to first play cleanly, at a comfortable speed, without the burden of speed.
A slower speed enables you to practice the right-hand movements and cut the ones that aren’t necessary. To understand how important this is, imagine how difficult it will be for a child to try to run before they can even walk a few steps without falling over.
Those unnecessary movements, in particular, are difficult to isolate when you are playing at high speed and will slow you down the most. Only start working on your speed when you can play comfortably, with all the notes sounding clean and crisp.
Continue practicing at that slow speed until you master the piece. Afterward, gradually increase the speed, as fast as you feel you can play comfortably until you reach your desired speed.
2. Practice with a metronome
A metronome is not typically a tool for practicing speed. But to play fast you need to be precise and coordinated with your strokes. Just like piano players use a metronome to practice and improve their timing, many guitarists use it to improve stroke pacing and timing. A metronome will help you master your piece faster, which should also benefit your speed.
The metronome will prove to be invaluable once you have mastered the song. As you need to increase your speed in stages, a metronome will help to determine a measurable standard for your speed.
You can choose to practice at a particular speed a set number of times, or until you can play comfortably at that speed. For example, you can decide to stagger your progress by 20 beats per minute, pacing the speed by 20 more bpm after you are comfortable playing at that speed.
The challenge with a metronome, however, is that it can trap you into mastering a song in parts and not as a whole. Analyze how slower or faster you master the piece as you increase the speed. If you take unusually long to master a certain speed, stop and check what issues could be causing it. It could be you are just tired, so take a break and continue when you feel rested and refreshed.
3. Practice for real life performances
It does not matter that you are just playing guitar for pure enjoyment. It will help to practice complete songs to a real audience. Invite some friends to your practice, or simply imagine you have a watching crowd. Pretend as if your practice session is an actual performance or a rehearsal for one.
The intensity and exhilaration of playing to an audience will push you to scale heights you have never attempted before which should also help your playing speed.
4. Record yourself
One of the best ways to fix issues and improve with music is to analyze a recording. Make recordings of yourself while practicing so you can sit back later and review it.
As you listen, make notes on areas where you have improved on and those you still need to.
It is not possible to properly analyze yourself after playing without a recording.
On the other hand, you can always go to someone with a trained ear who can provide some qualified feedback while you practice.
Playing Speed Takes Time
All the tips discussed above will help to improve your guitar playing speed. Most will correct areas of poor technique, some will build your hand endurance, and other may possibly improve your flexibility, posture, and tension control.
If everything else is correct and speed is your only concern, then consistent practice is the only sure way to improve your speed. This may even mean some interleaved practice.
Remember, with time your practice will start to feel less like practice, and your speed will naturally increase.
About the Author: Joseph Evans
My name is Joseph Evans and I am a guitar playing, freelance writing, online teaching music lover based in Seattle, WA. Growing up in a musical family naturally lead to obtaining my Bachelor of Music (BM) in Composition & Music Theory degree, after which I taught and traveled my way across Europe for 7 years before returning back home to settle in beautiful Seattle. On a typical day, you would find me playing my guitar, pottering around in the vegetable garden, going on long hikes, reading and/or writing.