Increasing your speed, picking hand (intermediate)
So you’ve been playing guitar for a while and you’ve obtained a certain comfort with the fretboard, all your basic shapes and have even begun playing slightly more technical material. You’re feeling though that something is holding you back and you’re having troubles speeding up; there are multiple reasons why this can happen but one of them is related to your picking technique.
Are you sure you’re holding the pick in the right way? You’d be surprised how many players realise they’ve been holding their picks in an odd manner far too late and have to restart from scratch. Speaking of scratches, in what angle are you picking? If you approach your strings at an angle you’ll be able to hear a weird scratchier tone (sometimes used on purpose as an effect). Where is your picking coming from? Do you pick from the wrist, the elbow, the shoulder?! Maybe you’re resting your wrist on a weird place, using your pinky as support or just plainly tensing up too much.
All of these are questions you need to ask if you find yourself in this situation. Generally speaking we always aim to eliminate unnecessary movements. Maybe when you pick, you move your wrist or elbow too much, resulting in an increased energy expenditure which leads to lower sustainability over prolonged periods of playings. You must aim to minimise any movement you do, be economical. When I’m playing faster all my picking is coming from the wrist, nothing else is moving. My wrist is resting comfortably on the bridge and my pick is at a 90 degree angle towards the strings.
Use a metronome (as always…) and just pick through various patterns, maybe just 8ths to begin with, then do some triplets, maybe 16ths and then combine them. While practising these, leave your fretting hand out of the equation and isolate the issue. You’ll of course restart using your other hand once you move on to something else.
Increasing your speed, fretting hand (intermediate)
Last time we spoke about how our picking hand, how a sloppy picking technique might be the reason why we can’t increase our playing speed. It is very possible though that the hand that keeps us back is the fretting one.
If you find yourself in the situation where you strum loads of chords in succession but can’t hear all the strings ringing, or you’re playing a lead line and you keep hearing dead notes then it probably means that your fetting hand isn’t keeping up with your picking hand.
Just like we said about our picking, we need to isolate the issue and work on it (spoiler alert, you’re going to be hearing a lot). There’s a huge range of exercises for you to chose from that will help you in solving this problem but let’s start by modifying the ones you have already been practising from day 1. Take your best friend (that’s the metronome by the way) Do your usual chromatic spiders but use just your fretting hand. You’ll probably catch yourself speeding up or slowing down, maybe you’ll realise that your 3rd and 4th fingers aren’t moving with the same ease as your 1st and 2nd. It could even be that you’re fine going up the fretboard but you struggle going down or your thumb isn’t supporting your hand the right way. There’s a lot of small details like these that once you become aware of them and do something about them, you’ll improve in a matter of days.
One extra note for those of you out there that favour the electric guitar over the acoustic. Try turning off your distortion, dial back the gain on your amp, turn off any effects and maybe even go on your neck pickup. As awesome as an overdriven tone might be, it can very easily hinder your practice as it often hides mistakes. Hammer ons and pull offs are so much easier to achieve with a distortion on, but practice them cleanly too, so you can make sure that your fingers are actually doing the job, and you’re not hiding behind a wall of sound.