How to Play Faster


Hi everyone! In this article i want to talk about improving your technique in order to play faster on the guitar.

There are a lot of common myths about playing really fast. However, in truth there are two factors that will help you improve your technique so that you can play with more speed:




Let's look at these concepts and how they influence the way you play.



This is the first thing to realize if you're going to improve your playing speed on the guitar.

Playing efficiently means playing notes one by one using AS LITTLE HAND AND FINGER MOTION AS POSSIBLE. That's right. Both hands have their own way of moving efficiently, as we will see.



Picking hand efficiency

The picking hand has only one job: moving the pick towards the right string and striking that string with the pick. The picking hand usally limits playing speed for a lot of guitar players. How can we improve this?


Play a scale, like pentatonic minor or a major scale. Or even play a lick you like. Look at your picking hand. Is it moving a lot while you play? If so, there is room to improve. If not, there is also room to improve. The pick has to stay as close to the string as possible at all time without touching it. If the distance from the string is too big, you'll have to make a bigger motion which is less efficient.


First play alternately (downstroke, upstroke, downstroke, upstroke and so on) on one string. Don't use your left hand. Hold the pick loosely and let your up- and downstrokes come from the wrist. People use the joints of the fingers, the wrist, forearm and even elbow or any combination of those joints to pick. Don't worry about that, just pick like you normally do. Now, play really slowly, even four times as slow as you'd do normally. This is important. Pick down, up, down, up. Make you strokes as small as possible but keep the pick attack clear. Do this for a while until all strokes are small and all the notes sound the same.


Now, we do the same exercise, but using two strings. Use the adjiecent bottom strings B and high E (5 and 6) for now. Still no left hand, just pick. Because we have up- and downstrokes we'll try two ways of doing it.


First, play the B string with a downstroke, then the E string with an upstroke. Repeat a lot of times (5 minutes) and go for a steady, slow tempo. As you can see, after playing the B string with a downstroke, you have to cross the E string with the pick before you can hit it with an upstroke. Try to also minimize that movement.


Secondly, do this exercise the other way around: play an upstroke on the B string, followed by a downstroke on the high E string. Slowly. As you see, after doing the upstroke your pick has to cross over the B string in order to reach the E string for the downstroke. Repeat this also for 5 minutes and minimize the movement. This is difficult to do but certainly worth the effort!


In short, picking efficiently involves being able to alternate pick, regardless of which string you're playing, with as little movement as possible.


There is also another way which is even more efficient than alternate picking. It's called sweep picking or economy picking. The downside is this: you'll have to use an uneven number of notes (so 1 or 3) per string to be able to do that. That limits your playing to preconceived licks and runs. In the context of playing an improvised solo that can be limiting to your freedom of what to play. So learn alternate picking first!


Fretting hand efficiency

The fretting hand is faster than the picking hand for most people, but its also worth improving on your lefthand technique, so you'll be able to play even faster. What does the fretting hand do exactly when playing fast? The finger presses down a string on the fret for the time that the note has to sound. Nothing more. After pressing down the note, the fingers lifts from the string. And there is usually our problem. We lift the fingers way too high after fretting the note and before fretting the next note. This way the fingers move too far from the string. That is very inefficient and limits playing speed. How can you play more efficient with the fretting hand?


Start by placing the index finger on the eight fret of the B string (2nd from below if ya don't know). Now, place the middle finger on that same string on the 9th fret, the ring finger on the 10th fret and the pinky on the 11th, while all the time keeping the index finger on the 8th fret. Here it comes, lift the pinky, ring finger and middle finger one by one, very slowly. Than place them back as described, first middle finger, then ring, then pinky. Lift them again one by one. Slow.


As you see, the tendency is to lift those fingers too high. If you can repeat this slowly for 10 minutes, you can minimize that lifting motion by concentrating on the moment that the finger lifts and keep the finger tips as close as possible to the string. That way you can improve your speed because after a smaller lifting motion you'll also save time when putting the fingers back on the string.


Oh yeah, the index finger is really your anchor so it has to stay on the string as much as possible and it's the first finger to move to another string when you're playing a scale or solo over multiple strings.

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Just a short word about relaxing the muscles. The only way to play really fast is by ONLY using the muscles we need (very important) for picking and fretting. And, use as little force as possible with the muscles we DO need. That's muscle economy for ya.


A lot of people will cramp up the picking hand or even the whole forearm when trying to play fast. Do not let that happen. When you practise everything very slowly, you'll be able to relax the muscles. Practice slowly and relaxed a lot, and after you'll be able to play faster, WHILE STILL BEING COMPLETELY RELAXED IN THE MUSCLES. As soon as you feel any excess muscles tightening in your arms and hands, stop and go back to your slow, relaxed state. It all comes down to feeling easy and good, physically, while practising. Be aware of all uncomfortable feelings when you practise. Try always to go back to that relaxed state.


The result?

If you study the picking hand efficiency and fretting hand efficiency, and when you combine both basic lefthand and righthand exercises by alternate picking on one string while fretting the notes one by one as described, you be able to play faster. Focus on small movements, and a relaxed feeling in your arms. Keep on practising like this and you'll be able to play a lot faster soon. Maybe even as fast as the world champion in the Youtube video!! Good luck!!


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