Exercises for Improving Speed on the Guitar

Developing speed with relaxation will make your playing easy as you build your guitar skills.

The most important thing to know about speed in the beginning of your study is that being relaxed is the key to speed on the guitar. The second most important thing to know about speed is that it takes different skills in the left hand versus the right hand. This means different drills are needed for each hand to build speed and one hand may succeed faster than the other. As long as you know this starting out, it’s easier to progress.

Think about this for a second…you may have all the skills in your left hand that you need to move those fingers fast and accurately, but if your right hand technique is not as solid, your playing will still sound “off.” You could be fretting each note right on target, but if your picking is inaccurate, it won’t sound like your playing is correct. If you keep this thought in mind while you learn speed, it’s much easier to correct any problems.

Common Problems

Let’s deal with a couple of common problems before we learn anything in the hands.  The key to speed is in these two things:

  1. Give up trying to go faster. You actually can play faster than you think, but being mentally concerned about it will cause tension in your hands, arms and shoulders that will slow you down. If you don’t care about playing fast, it’s easy to do.
  2. Give up trying to get the notes right. Be completely willing to play nothing but wrong notes for five minutes straight and laugh about it. When you don’t care about getting the notes right and just do the physical practice, you will actually play more accurately and have a whole lot more fun!

Now lets move onto some practice drills.  This first drill is for your right hand. With your hand away from your guitar, wiggle your hand up and down like you’re trying to shake water off of it. Notice that your hand, wrist and arm are completely floppy and able to move fast with no problem.

Place your hand in front of your strings and do that same “water fling” again, letting your fingernails strum the strings. Make it sloppy and do not try to sound good at all. The worse it sounds, the better! Notice how relaxed you are and how fast your hand can move when you don’t care. This is the key to fast playing. Now place a pick in your hand and do the same thing again staying as loose as possible in hand, wrist and arm. Did you know you could strum that fast?

Improving the Fretting Hand

Now for you left hand… place your left hand on the neck and put your first finger at the 7th fret on the 4th string. Your fingers will be on the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th frets. Place your thumb comfortably on the back of the neck and let your arm relax as much as possible. Press all four fingertips firmly into the neck and then let go immediately. Do this a few times and put your attention on letting go fast.

Once you’ve got the feel of this move, do it twenty times and focus on keeping your arm relaxed. The more relaxed your arm and wrist are, the faster you can do twenty repetitions.

It’s time to use the those fingers individually. Press your first finger at the 7th fret. Add your second finger at the 8th fret, while still holding your first finger down. Add your third finger, and then your fourth finger. Your goal is to keep each finger against the neck as you add the next finger. Do the pattern again and check to see what else you can relax in your hand and wrist. If there’s anything tense, let the tension go. Repeat the pattern twenty times and let you hand move as fast as it wants to. Your fingers probably can move a lot faster than you think they can. Let your hand be completely free to move fast and make sure each fingertip strikes the string firmly. Remember, focus on relaxing, not on “trying to get it right.”

If you’re up for a challenge, do the same exercise again with the left hand, but add your right hand in a “down-up” picking pattern. Coordinating the two hands means shifting your focus to making sound. Play through the exercise with the two hands, and keep your mind on listening, rather than thinking about going fast. This is because you can hear the drill a lot faster than you can play it. Bet you’ve never thought of it that way! But it is true.

Now here’s the ultimate challenge… Since you can hear the drill faster than you can play it, imagine how fast you want it to sound in your head first, and then play it at that speed!

By always taking the effort off of “trying to go fast” and putting your attention on these simple ways to relax, you will develop your speed and your playing technique much faster.

Phil Barrow

Phil Barrow

Phil discovered his passion for music in his early teens when he began learning to play the guitar. He attended the VCC School of Music where he studied jazz and contemporary guitar performance. Phil joined Resound as a guitar teacher in 2013 and has been the school’s Director since 2014.

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