Most guitarists have never figured out the reason why they are unable to build tons of speed on guitar. This is usually because they take one of the following approaches:

1.They consistently practice at very slow speeds while believing that it will help them become faster players. Usually this approach is taught by mediocre guitar teachers or discovered through amateur guitar videos on the internet. Fact is, guitar instructors who tell their students to always practice slow have probably never produced any guitar students who can play at high speeds.

2.Some guitarists only want to play fast because they feel impatient while practicing slowly. This leads them to ‘try to play as fast as possible’ every chance they get. They believe that working on increasing their top speed every day will eventually help them play faster.

99% of the time, these two approaches will NOT build serious speed. This is because both methods suffer from significant problems that are never addressed (by almost all guitar teachers). Additionally, spending too much practice time playing exclusively fast/slow causes big problems in your technique (even if you are unaware of it). To effectively build speed on guitar, you have to fully know ‘when’ and ‘how’ to use BOTH practicing styles together to make up for the shortcomings of the opposite approach.

Here is an explanation of why you will not build your guitar playing speed when you exclusively practice either ‘fast’ or ‘slow’ and when/how you should use the opposite approach to counteract any problems you might be facing:

Why You Won’t Become A Faster Guitarist By Always Practicing At Slow Speeds

Reason 1:You Develop Poor Habits That Make It Difficult To Make Any Progress Toward Becoming A Fast Guitarist

While practicing guitar at slow speeds as your only means of practice, you begin creating habits of playing with sloppy movements that you would never use while playing fast. It’s harder to notice when you are wasting movement in your picking/fretting hands while playing at slow speeds (when you have a lot more time between each note to get it right). If you try to apply the same movements while playing at faster speeds, you will quickly notice a lot of mistakes and it will be hard to keep both hands coordinated together.

As an example, I see the following issues come up all the time when new guitar students come to me wanting to build speed:

  • They have very sloppy sweep picking technique because they try to play arpeggios by picking each ‘separate’ string instead of using a single motion to sweep across all of the strings.
  • They can’t play three note per string scales accurately or fast because they use strict alternate picking. Watch this video about learning how to play guitar fast, so you can solve this specific problem.

Reason 2:Constantly Practicing Slow Does Not Prepare You Mentally For Faster Playing Speeds

To play extremely fast on guitar, you must train your mind needs to ‘visualize’ notes at the speed you are playing them at. If you never practice at fast speeds, your mind will not be able to catch up to your hands (resulting in sloppy playing in general and inability to play at faster tempos).

To avoid this issue, you must invest time into training your mind, picking hand and fretting hand to play at faster speeds. To learn more about how to practice in this manner, take this mini course for building guitar speed.

Reason 3:You Don’t Understand What Is Keeping You From Playing Faster

In order for slow guitar practice to make you a faster player, you need to understand the problems (inefficient movements, lack of two hand coordination, etc.) that are currently getting in the way of you becoming faster. Until you pinpoint these things, your time spent practicing slowly will just be a waste of time. You’ll merely be guessing about what you should be working on – making extremely slow progress at best. In order for you to truly KNOW what to fix, you need to spend some time playing at higher speeds and observing when/why any mistakes happen. Only after you’ve done this should you begin practicing ‘slow’.

When you practice at slow speeds without going through the steps from above, it’s like walking across a tight rope with your hands over your eyes while attempting to keep your balance. To take your hands away from your eyes and maintain your balance (so you can make it across) you have to know what is keeping you from becoming a faster guitarist. Always make sure you understand this before you practice slowly.

Why ‘Always’ Playing Fast (And Sloppy) Is Destructive To Your Overall Guitar Playing

You’ve now learned why it’s a bad idea to always practice slowly... but the truth is, it’s just as bad of an idea to ‘always’ play at faster speeds. Here are the reasons why:

Reason 1:You Unknowingly Train Yourself To Become Sloppy

If you practice a lot at fast tempos while making mistakes, you are essentially solidifying these mistakes into your muscle memory. This deeply engrains poor playing habits into your mind – essentially ‘training’ you to become a worse guitar player! I see this all the time with newer students. To help them become faster guitar players I first identify the mistakes they are making while playing fast. Then I show them how to spot these mistakes on their own so they can quickly improve. This is one way I have been developing average students into truly great electric guitar students for many years.

To make sure you don’t become a sloppy player, focus your practice time on creating a balance between playing slowly with perfect accuracy and playing fast to master the skills that only faster practicing can build.

Reason 2:You Increase The Chances Of Wrist/Arm Injury

A major drawback to playing fast with mistakes is the injuries that can occur from poor, under-developed playing technique. Poor playing technique comes from not learning how to play efficiently/correctly at slower speeds so that you don’t use excessive force or movement at higher speeds. This is serious: I’ve seen many guitarists hurt themselves from continuous playing at high speeds - resulting in many months of recovery time away from guitar.

To avoid this, stay alert of ‘where’ and ‘how much’ tension is being used in your body as you play faster (you can only notice this during fast guitar practice). Once you spot unnecessary tension being used in your body, start playing again at a slow speed while only using as much tension as you need to sound the notes. Once you’ve done this, increase the speed again while using optimal tension.

Note:NEVER play guitar if you are feeling pain somewhere in your body (from playing)! If you ever notice pain or discomfort, put down your guitar and take a break.

Now you know the main issues that occur while practicing with conventional guitar speed building approaches, check out this video to see how you can implement the advice in this article to become a faster overall player while improving your sweep picking:

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Watch the second part of this video about playing with great sweep picking technique.

Author's Bio: 

Tom Hess is a highly successful guitar teacher, recording artist and professional guitarist. He helps guitar players internationally to become better players with his customized guitar lessons. Check out free guitar playing videos and use a guitar practice guide on his website with effective guitar lessons to learn effective methods for improving your guitar playing.