How Your Guitar Heroes Learned to Play So Fast

Have you ever watched your favorite guitarist and wondered how they got so fast? You may think you’ll never get there, but that’s not true. With guitar, just like anything else, you get out of it what you put into that. That’s the first and most important thing.

Guitar Hero: Jimmy Page

Guitar Hero: Jimmy Page

But there are things you can do to help the process along and progress faster to the speed licks you’d like to be playing.

  1. First the basics: Make sure your guitar is set up properly. If the action is too high, or the neck is warped, or the strings are too heavy or too light for your hands, it’s going to be hard to gain speed. It also won’t be as much fun to play.
  2. Try different picks. Some people like thinner or thicker picks, and you might not be using the right one for you. Many shredders prefer smaller jazz-style picks to the traditional teardrop style. Go spend a couple bucks and pick a large selection of thicknesses and shapes to see what works best for you.
  3. Use a metronome. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. Start with a slow tempo on your metronome. Really slow. Like 52bpm. Pick out a scale or musical phrase you’d like to work on. When you can accomplish that phrase at that speed 5 times in a row without making a mistake, bump your metronome up just one notch. That’s generally 2-4 bpm faster. Go through the same process there, bumping it up a little bit each time. Within 15-20 minutes you’ll have that phrase blazing fast!
  4. Work on your right hand. We tend to forget about our right hand a lot since the left is where all the action is. But your right hand is the engine driving the action. If it can’t move fast, it won’t matter how fast your left hand can go. Back to your metronome again, take just one note (preferably a fretted one) and practice playing 8th notes and 16th notes. Again bump the tempo up slowly until you’re reaching speeds you want to hear.
  5. Practice left hand finger patterns. Scales and arpeggios are good also, but these 5 finger patterns will give you most every combination you need. Here they are:
    • 1-2-3-4
    • 1-3-2-4
    • 1-2-4-3
    • 1-4-2-3
    • 1-4-3-2.
    • Do these on each string, in both directions, and on different areas of the neck. You can reverse them all.

  6. Keep a written log of your progress. Using this “slow and grow” method, you may not notice that you’re getting faster in regular playing situations. I certainly didn’t. One day it snuck on me while I was listening to a recording from my gig the night before. I heard a blazing fast guitar lick and asked my girlfriend who the heck that was! She reminded me that I was the only guitarist in the band so it must have been me.

So, yes, it does take putting in the hours to get your speed going, but these tips will help you get there faster. As Eddie Van Halen said in a recent interview, “Just keep playing and playing and you’ll eventually find out who you are.”

Get at it!

Post by: Phil Johnson