March 29, 2021 by Klaus Crow
Working on increasing your picking speed is not just for the hell fire speed wannabe’s.
Once your speed increases your whole style of playing loosens up. Your fingers will feel light and flexible and you’ll gain much more freedom in your playing.
Your fingers will float easily across the strings without trying so hard. It’s an important skill to work on and to maintain.
Increasing your picking speed comes with obstacles, victories, ups and downs, lots of patience and hard work. It’s all about practicing and equally important “the right way of practicing”. Just practicing a lot of hours doesn’t necessarily increase your picking speed if you don’t do it the right way.
Every individual has it’s own specific hurdles to overcome, but if you focus on these tips you are already off to a great start.
You can do it too!
1 – Practice slow
Most people know this already but don’t have the patience to go slow. Everyone wants to go fast now not later. But in order to go fast we got to slow down first!
Do not ignore this rule or you will become a sloppy guitar player.
Start out slow and gradually build up your speed. Make sure you play with proper hand position and good posture. Don’t go any faster until you can play each note Clear, Correctly and Comfortably.
2 – Use alternate picking
The most used picking technique to increase speed is the alternate picking technique.
There are other picking techniques as well like economy/sweep picking but alternate picking is the most common one and it creates a certain sound that is different from other techniques.
Alternate picking means you hold the pick between your thumb and index finger with the pointed end facing toward the strings. You strictly use alternating down and up strokes. The first note you play is downstroke, the second an upstroke, the third one a downstroke, the fourth one an upstroke and so on.
3 – Use a metronome
To learn to play accurate and get your speed up to a high level you need to learn to play with a metronome. You can get a metronome at your local guitar store, download a metronome app for your Iphone/Ipad or you can find one online.
Here are some neat and functional metronomes on the web:
4 – Avoid tension
When you try to play faster your fingers probably get more tense. Tension reduces speed so try to loosen up while your playing. Relax those muscles a bit. Be constantly aware of this while you build up your speed. Also avoid any tension in other parts of the body like your wrists, arms, hands, shoulders and back. They all have an effect on your playing.
5 – Practice fast
Once you’re able play slow clear, correctly and comfortably you can try to play faster. Sometimes even a little faster than you think you can handle.
You can compare it to weight lifting. Sometimes you want to try to lift some heavier weights, a bit heavier than you’re used to just to try to exceed your limits. Then you’ll take a short rest and turn to some lighter weights. You’ll notice the lighter weights have becomes easier to handle than before.
The same thing works for practicing speed. Sometimes you need to turn up the BPM (beats per minute) on your metronome and go a little faster than you’re used to in order to exceed your limits.
Note: You still need to practice slow, because practicing slow makes you learn to play clear and accurate. Practicing fast is to build speed.
6 – Analyze your playing
Analyze your playing every single workout. Take notes from your observations. Study your left and right hand. Where do you come short? What and why doesn’t work the way you want it? Be creative, think and come up with exercises or solutions to make it work.
For example: If your ring finger and pinky are to weak to speed up, then create an exercise for just those two fingers to get them in shape.
7 – Video yourself
Another great way to see what you are actually doing (analyze) and how you’re doing (progress) is to video yourself each workout or once a week (if you’re busy). You can really take a close look at your hand position and posture. You’ll see things you probably won’t notice otherwise.
It’s also a neat way to see how far you’ve come and see the difference in your technique and speed over time.
8 – Practice regularly
Increasing speed is not an overnight thing. To play really fast can take months even years of practicing, but if you work on increasing speed you will get results quite fast and within a couple of weeks or months you’ll become much faster and flexible than you’ve every played before which is also great benefit because it will have a huge effect on your overall playing.
Practice regularly better yet practice daily for a half an hour to an hour to get virtuoso results.
If you don’t have this much time then 15 minutes of daily speed practice will get you great results as well.
Again it’s not just how much you practice but also how you practice. Keep that in mind. But anyway regular practice is a must.
9 – Exercises
Here are some great exercises to build up your speed:
21 Cool 3 Notes-Per-String Exercises to Rock On!
12 Cool 3 Notes-Per-String Exercises to Rock On! Part II
22 2-String Alternate Speed Picking Exercises
Why Guitar Players Need to Be Fit (See the below section of this post)
Now practice and amaze yourself!
Do you know more ways to increase your speed?
Please share it in the comments.
I appreciate it.
Thanks, Klaus Crow
Larry6 String says
Breathe while playing fast, do not hold your breath–ie. choke while playing. I learned this from Eric Johnson.
Klaus Crow says
Indeed that is some good advice. You’ll notice it right away if you concentrate on your breathing.
Hi, im reading you every day, this web become my favorite to improve my skills, you are an inspiration to me and many guitar players. Can you give me pls an advice to use the metronome? Im currently working on Scuttle Buttin but i want improve my current speed.
Thanks and sorry for my English.
Greetings from Colombia.
Tom McCool says
After 30 years of strumming and a bit of fingerpicking, I’ve found the motivation to try some improvisation. I’m still at at 1 and 2 slow and alternate, but combined with your impro and scales post its fun and something I should have been doing long ago, however the key is practice and patients. Keep posting its one of the most informative guitar blogs available.
Klaus Crow says
Just one step at a time, enjoy whatever you practice and you’ll do fine. It’s getting more fun as you get better, so keep working on your improv!
Thanks for the comment. I really appreciate it.
I’ll keep posting as long as you’ll keep reading. :)
Klaus Crow says
Figure out the tempo (beats per minute) of the song by listening to it (count the beats you hear in the first 15 seconds of a verse or chorus and multiply it by four)
or download a bmp counter to figure it out for you.
Then turn on your metronome and slow down the speed (slower than the original tempo) until you feel comfortable enough to play along with the beat. Once you feel comfortable enough increase the speed gradually.
If you find it hard to play along with just the beat of a metronome, you can also use specific mp3 players to slow down or increase the tempo of a song (mp3) while the pitch remains intact.
This way it’s easy to play along with the music at your own speed.
Just google mp3 slowdown and you’ll find something you need.
I agree with Larry that breathing is VERY important to playing with speed. As in athletics and martial arts, a relaxed muscle moves the quickest. Lately though I’ve been wondering if there’s a way to practice speed that also improves MUSICALITY. In other words, works on speed but the notes really can mean something.
Do you have any ideas?
Klaus Crow says
“Practicing speed while improving your musicality”
It depends on what you mean my that. If you practice scales you are improving your musicality, but I don’t know if you’re after that. I just read some of your posts.
Improving your technique by playing scale sequences will ultimately result in your ability to play melodies on the spot more easily and fluidly, because your fingers
will know their way around the fretboard. It will definitely pay off.
You can also use backing tracks to play your scales over. Find a middle of the road song in the key of C (for example) and practice your C scale in different positions, go through some sequences and try to make some melody with those scales and sequences. That’s a start.
Nice blog by the way!
I guess I was thinking about a way that works on scales that isn’t too mechanical such as just running up and down and moving up a half step.
I guess I was thinking about breaking out of my method for scale practicing. I’ll check out some more of your articles and I’m sure I’ll find a great method :)
Thanks for checking out my articles!
In your list of ways to improve picking speed, I’m surprised that you make no mention of picking hand placement, in order to achieve the stability necessary for controlled picking, fast or not. I think help in this department is essential and is something I’m personally hving trouble with. Hand positioning and stability (pinky finger position etc) is much more difficult on electric guitar than an acoustic due to the exta hardware – pickups, tremolo equipment, control knobs etc. Could you please extend your list by one, to cover this subject?
Thanks for all your help
nick andrews says
Your absolutely right . Effective Fast picking is 70% correct hand placement and the rest is proper practise including slowing sequences down etc . If you type in nick andrews into youtube , I do a lesson on how to pick like paul gilbert .
Its all about isolating and using the right muscles. Using the wrong muscles results in tension . Wat
I dont know why sometimes m able to play faster but not everytime. i dont have metronome i practice without metronome. Thanks for these notes . i shall practice the same . i wish i could play canon rock Jerry C
Rahul Bhavsar says
Hello…everyone i am a beginner, but i am interested listening songs of Lamb of God.so i am interested in playing guitar fast..so what should i do? please help me.
Great work sir!!! I’m studing
in 9th n i think i have improved my guitar skills quite a bit just in a year and its all because of u!!!thanx a lot and keep posting like this!!!!
hey thanks for your advice. am a beginner a month of learning to be precise, but my finger tips are killing me, any advice?
Sxean Lee-David says
Also want to Add that you still have to practice, but not as much.
The TIPS provided on this Page are some of the most Concise Practicing
Steps one can use. Very Effective and helped my practice time as well.
And with the Ultra Speed Pick, I’m already at Yngwie Malmsteem speeds.
Playing fast is one obstacle I don’t have to worry about. Now I can
focus on the music. :)
Pls mention about hand placements
I just came across your wonderful website right on time ! Though I started learning guitar a bit late ( I’m 26 now), I think your article will lead me in the right path, right from the start. I’ll definitely use these techniques as I practice and update soon, probably in a few months. Thank you so much.
Nethan Paul says
There are many problem I am facing while playing the guitar. One of them them is the speed and finger picks. Well I have just purchase guitar strings and few spare parts for Gibson guitars to repair my old Gibson guitar. I was practicing with Acoustic guitar. Now I want to practice with this old one. Is it a good idea or bad idea?
Alan Jackman says
Nice tips, but I was looking for something more specific. Still, the tips are make perfect sense for beginners. I do have a similar article https://beginnerguitar.pro/how-to-play-guitar-faster. The tips are general too.