When I reached an intermediate level of guitar playing I wanted to be able to play fast. Thus, I searched for a ton of random guitar speed exercises which I practiced for hours, while incrementally increasing the tempo on each.
After some time, my speed on the guitar started going up, and I recall showing off to my friends fast legato runs they surely couldn’t play as fast.
Was the way I used to learn to play the guitar fast, effective?
Yes, in fact I could play much faster after a few months doing this type of practicing.
Was it the most efficient?
No. I would have learned to play fast even sooner had there been a method to the guitar speed exercises I was choosing and the way I was practicing them.
Neither was my fast guitar playing accurate, though I barely realized it at the time.
The guitar speed exercises in today’s lesson are not random but chosen to help you develop different aspects of fast guitar playing technique.
They also come with instructions to help you make the most out of each exercise.
Before we start: The metronome
Most lessons on the Internet about this topic tell you to use a metronome to build your speed on guitar.
Using a metronome is very important, mainly for two reasons:
- To confirm you’re playing on time
- To measure your progress
This does not mean though, that you should be using a metronome all the time you’re practicing on improving your speed on the guitar.
In fact, there are two situations where you should not be using the metronome at all:
- When you’re still learning the exercise – while you’re finding the notes and deciding which fingers and picking directions you’ll be using
- When you want to focus on a particular technique that’s holding you back from building guitar speed and improve on it.
Use the metronome to check whether you’re playing in time, measure your speed and improve on it.
However, there are times when you need to switch it off and focus on different elements of guitar speed, instructions on which will be given in the exercises.
Guitar speed exercise 1
The first exercise is a simple chromatic exercise to get you started.
Since this exercise is easy to play, (the notes follow each other in a logical manner) I want you to focus on two things while practicing it:
- Your left hand fingers should make the minimum amount of movement necessary. The tip of your finger should be as close as possible to the note you’re going to play next. The wider your finger movements, the harder it is to play fast.
- Your right hand strikes each note with the same amount of strength (unless you’re deliberately accenting a note). One common way of playing guitar fast but not accurately is for the volume of some notes to be inconsistent. This tends to get worse the more you increase your guitar speed.
Guitar speed exercise 2
In the next exercise I’m simply giving you the minor natural scale, using a three note per string pattern.
What I want you to focus on in this exercise is the picking directions.
If you want to play fast, you need to make sure the direction of the pick is efficient, which is not always the case with alternate picking, as you’ll see when playing this guitar scale using the given picking directions.
Guitar speed exercise 3
In the next exercise, we’ll be using the same scale, but only play the notes of the first two strings, in a cyclical manner.
Once again, take particular notice of the picking directions. Using a different picking pattern will only make it harder for you to build speed.
Guitar speed exercise 4
In this exercise we’ll be doing the exact same thing with the next two strings. Keep doing this with all string combinations in the scale.
I suggest applying this exercise to every new scale you learn, since it will not only help you build speed on the guitar, but also learn the scale better to use it in improvisation.
Guitar speed exercise 5
All the above exercises require effort from both of your hands. This is important since the right hand, and synchronisation between both hands (learn more about this topic and other important techniques and strategies to playing fast in this free course on building speed on guitar) need to be trained as much as the left hand if you want to play fast.
However, there are phrasing techniques you can execute with your left hand that will give you the ability to play even faster when trained.
Hammer ons and pull offs are among these techniques. When notes are executed in this manner, as well as when using slides as in the exercise after this one, we call it legato technique.
The next exercise involves cycling through a three note per string sequence on two strings, like the previous two exercises. This time though, you will only pick the note when indicated and play the other notes as either hammer ons or pull offs.
Guitar speed exercise 6
Using slides, combined with hammer ons and pull offs is another way you can play legato technique and reach higher levels of speed on the guitar.
The following exercise is more challenging than all the exercises given so far and it’s important that you spend enough time figuring out the notes and applying correctly the guitar techniques before switching the metronome on.
Guitar speed exercise 7
The purpose of playing legato technique isn’t just to be able to play the notes faser, but also to get the smooth effect this technique creates on the guitar.
Thus, you may find situations where playing legato and picking the notes is mixed, in order to get the sound the composer wants.
This last exercise will prepare you for this musical situation since you’ll be practicing a combination of legato played notes, and picked notes.
Conclusion: Guitar speed plateaus
Practicing guitar speed exercises with a specific purpose, as the ones given above, will surely get you play fast sooner than trying out random exercises.
However, as you increase your speed on the guitar, you may start hitting “speed plateaus” that is, periods of time when your guitar speed cannot seem to increase further.
This is completely normal and this free course on playing the guitar fast will show you what you need to do to play the guitar fast and accurately as well as overcome any guitar speed plateaus you may face.
Also keep in mind that as desirable as it is to play fast on the guitar, speed is just one component of great guitar playing. These guitar exercises are aimed to improve your overall level of playing by addressing aspects of guitar playing you may be ignoring.
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