I just broke the speed barrier!


Well, sort of.

Here's a link to my previous thread for those who want to follow the whole gruesome story:


To summarize though, I basically have been experimenting trying to get to "shred speed". I'm not planning on becoming a shredder or anything, but I would like to be able to burn some really fast licks when I want to, while still playing melodically and musically as a mainstay (think Neal Schon for example). It's always been a "want" of mine.

Like many things one "wants" though, despite my innate rebelliousness and outright stupidity at not taking the advice of others and always having to figure things out for myself, I finally drank the Kool-Aid and went with the philosophy: If you want it, you have to WORK for it.

Previously, I've dabbled. I'd try to play something fast and if it didn't come naturally for me, I'd give up on it. I think that's a real difficulty for us musicians is because we have natural talent, we tend to rely on, and get by on it, and those things we need to work at become that much harder to work at because we can do so many other things naturally we just don't want to put in the effort.

Anyhoo, I've basically been experimenting with myself to see how I can get myself to work at something consistently (keeping a practice diary has helped that) and to see what kind of things work best. I'll go into detail about that below but on to the good stuff - breaking the speed barrier!

The things I was doing were getting faster, and tighter, but progress was slow. And like many, I'm impatient (been playing 30+ years, and old dog, new tricks, time, etc.). I also felt like what I was doing - I was getting faster at finger exercises, but big whoop - was not all that practical. I'm running scales, I'm doing various things, but nothing was really coming together.

Basically, I've discovered that if I'm playing most stuff at 135, I can learn a new pattern, and a day later have it up to the same speed as everything else. I've done it with new modes, new fingering patterns, new melodic patterns, you name it. Getting things as fast as everything else isn't a problem. It's getting things faster yet...

So I tried a new experiment. I knew it was easier to play the metal "gallop" - 8th and 2 16ths much faster and longer than 4 straight 16ths because that little pause your RH makes "lets it rest" for a split second.

So I made up a riff with pauses like that in it, with patterns I though I could play faster than most stuff:

E -----------5-7------7-5------------------5-7-8-7-5-------------------
B ----5-7-8---------------8-7-5----5-7-8-------------8-7-5----5---------
G --------------------------------------------------------------8----------

That's 4 16ths followed by a quarter on beats 1 and 2, and the same rhythm on beats 3 and 4, followed by 16ths on beats 1, 2, and 3 of the next measure ending on a quarter on beat 4 (I'm playing the quarters short though, as an 8th followed by an 8th rest).

What I discovered was, I could play the first two groups of 5 notes at 210 BPM! But the last group of 13 I couldn't even play at 140!!!!

OK, so this is a problem.

What I know from this is, the last half is going to keep the whole lick from getting any faster.

My problem has been in the past, how to go about finding out WHAT is causing the slow down:

Was I just less familiar with it?
Was it just because it was longer?
Was it a particular fingering combination?
Was it a picking issue?

I tried some other patterns for the last group. I changed up the order of notes. I found there was one pattern I could do at 180. Others I could do at 150 or 160. And those were all patterns I introduced ONCE or TWICE when I had already played this other pattern MANY times. I was less familiar with them so familiarity couldn't be the issue.

Well, those other patterns were as long too, so that wasn't the issue. I also did RH picking in rhythm (on a single string) to make sure my RH endurance wasn't an issue. It wasn't.

Fingering Combination:
It could be - and what I discovered in the Familiarity experiment was that there were some finger combinations I had issues with (oh, goody, yet another thing slowing me down). But this one was so out of whack compared to the others, it had to be more.

Picking Issue:
Well, this was the only one that went to the 3rd string. I could play the motion faster when it remained on the 2nd string, so it wasn't the fingering. I also noticed that what was happening was the second to last note (the one on the 3rd string) was not sounding.

A-ha! I'm missing the change to the 3rd string. Why?

Turns out, it was because it involved inside picking. I did a lot of experimenting to figure this out too, but that's what it was.

So, how to fix it?

Work it.

I've spent the last two weeks isolating small portions of the lick that concentrated on the problem areas, as well as inventing new little licks to also work those. I practiced them at 120 for a minute, then went up 5 BPM, and did another minute (up and down the neck).

Last week, I was able to get it solid at 140 (which it wasn't before) and push it to 150 (sloppily).

Two nights ago, 150 was good, 160 was sloppy.

Tonight, I played the whole original lick, not at 180, but at 185!

I was shocked, amazed, and ecstatic!

I CAN shred!

Well, I can play one lick fast. But it's a start. I can branch this out - those other versions, I can move it up in the key to the next set of notes. Etc.

What I learned though was, HOW to identify, isolate, and work the problem areas. Everyone always talks about "slowing things down" and "just keep plugging away at it". But that won't work. It only works up to a point. And everyone talks about isolating your problem spots and working on them but no one ever really talks about HOW to do that.

I asked on another forum things like how long people would spend on a lick, how they'd practice it - the whole thing, pieces, at what tempi, etc. No one could give me a straight or definitive answer. And while I'm sure different things work for different people, it would still be nice to have some points of departure.

So I'm leaving this here in the hopes maybe it will help someone else. I'm also going to try to expand on it as I expand the universe of that lick and develop new ones from that "core".

Feel like I finally made some real progress - a real breakthrough!



Congrats on the breakthrough. It's always nice to get to a new plateau. Way back, there were certain things that I'd try to acheive, speed wise and hit a wall, not even close to my goal. No matter how much I'd practice, I'd hardly get anywhere. I recall a particular Yngwie tune/licks and it was incredibly hard for me. When I saw him play it, it was ridiculously easy compared to what I had been doing. Got it immediately watching an old VHS tape. I had been trying to pick everything religiously, it just didn't work for me. He never turned his wrist inwards to pick a certain thing, like I was, which is what slowed me down. I watched a VHS tape and seen he completely avoided that pitfall I was painfully trying to work through. Same with another hero of mine, EJ. When he came out with that instructional tape back in the 90's, it made everything so much easier. My teachers always told me to alternate pick, and that's what made me struggle so much with those odd grouped licks Eric does. I could see that he wasn't alternate picking everything, but using some economy mixed with it. Same as Yngwie's lick. I studied the tape and figured that out, ...SO much easier, faster, cleaner.. almost instantly.

Once I saw how, It did not take a long time, just a question of the correct technique and mechanics. I was banging my head against the wall, prior to that.

I really think a lot of these great players pick up one lick, and then just build their thing around that technique and lick. They give the appearance that they can play anything, but would have a very difficult time trying to do another guy's thing.
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Jo-Jo Beans

Nice. I was a piano teacher for a long time and would always counsel students to start slow and to move the speed by 4-5 BPM every time they played it correctly. It's slow enough that you barely even realize it, but when you look back you realize just how much you've sped up and have improved. Of course, piano students being what they are, none of them EVER actually practiced it and I never saw any of them improve because of it! I myself got through several jury recitals in college through that very technique, however.

You give me hope that one day my guitar playing can speed up a lot, too. On the piano my left hand is blazing fast - just as fast as my right hand. Typing on a keyboard, too. But something about the slightly different technique on the guitar slows me down like crazy.


My perception is that both respondents to the OP sort of missed the point. Not to say that their comments are not useful and accurate, but ...

Budda seems to be talking about finding (via videos, personal investigation, whatever) easier ways to play things. That's to say, different sequences of fingering, picking, etc. that result in ability to play a certain lick more easily and faster.

Jo-Jo is referring to the same old 'start slow, speed it up incrementally' advice that we hear so often. Again, not to say that its not valid and helpful.

But Stevel is specifically talking about very careful observation and analysis of his motion, observing how some activity sets up (or doesn't) the fingers properly for a subsequent action. Doing micro- analysis to find hiccups in his effort and fixing those. Not necessarily doing anything different in terms of which fingers do what, what notes are picked vs hammered, etc. but doing the 'same' thing more efficiently. I think there is tremendous value in this vs. just grinding away, however patiently, at something.

A bit of a disclaimer - I started this guitar stuff late in life and I'm not that great at it. I'm certainly not fast! But a lot of what modest progress I have made has been the result of these kinds of observations. The book 'Guitar Principles' and a sequel goes thoroughly into how to approach things this way. To be fair, many of these observations were made by that book's author in skype lessons I've taken with her. Little (!) things like controlling a tendency to lean my hand. Managing obvious tension in my pinky that affects the other fingers.

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