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My question is general and is instrument agnostic (it's actually even music acoustic).

I'm looking for ways to improve my hand and finger speed, whether it's finger drumming on the kitchen table, picking the string, or other fast tremolos of any kind.

My question is not about playing fast riffs, but rather on how to extend your physical ergonomic capabilities regarding speed of any kind. And 'eat more tuna' also counts as a valid answer as long as it's true.

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5 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

For me, my speed is directly related to coordination between my two hands. As a guitar player, this is my fretting and picking hands. So coordination exercises are important.

As for speeding up, I've found the best way to ramp up speed is to practice slowly and deliberately for a while, then try a few runs at a speed slightly faster than you are comfortable with. After doing that, you should find that your technique when slowed back down is more accurate and after a while your top speed should improve.

As suggested in another answer, relaxing your hands is also critical. The exercise I suggest should help with that, but another one to try, for your fretting hand is to learn to fret as light as possible. You can practice this by removing your thumb from the back of the neck and just use finger pressure to fret. This will encourage your to lighten your grip and hopefully speeding your fretting hand up.

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Speed, on any instrument, is about relaxing all but the muscles needed to perform the required motion. Here's an illustrative example: clench every muscle in your body and try to move. Hard right? When you practice something slowly, the focus should be on making sure you are not doing anything extraneous and that it remains comfortable and smooth. You must constantly check your body for extra tension. You will be surprised at how much tension is there that you don't even notice because it's there all the time.

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This is soo important .. not even just for musical practice, but for everyday activities, work, watching TV, whatever. Learn how to relax properly and life will be so much easier. :) –  Jens Jan 19 at 21:47
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There's an eastern meditation exercise which should offer benefits in mind/body coordination. One of the first exercises in Sadhana (/So' -dana/) by Anthony De Mello [link] is the following, assuming a comfortable relaxed posture:

  • Direct your attention on the left elbow.
  • Direct your attention on the right big toe.
  • Direct your attention on the left shoulder.
  • Direct your attention on the right elbow.
  • Direct your attention on the left big toe.
  • Direct your attention on the right shoulder.

Go through the sequence slowly the first few times, make sure you feel the spot (air moving against the skin, some sense of muscular tension (but don't tense, don't move anything during this exercise except for normal breathing)), perhaps even the pulse of the bloodflow. After some practice, go through the sequence more quickly.

I may not be remembering the exact sequence or locations, but the point is to learn how to quickly select a part of the body and more tightly bind the stream of sensations to the higher parts of consciousness. It should also increase your total awareness of your body.

Personally, I found the most difficult part of this exercise was alternating the left and right sides of the body. With my eyes closed, I can easily start with my index finger and move my attention to nearby parts, like the wrist, other fingers, higher up the arm. Attempting to find the right foot immediately after the left arm was (is) difficult for me to do quickly. I kind of have to feel my way down my leg to get there. But after a few times through, it becomes easier.

The next level is feel all these parts of the body at once. But it is a different exercise with a somewhat different goal.

I highly recommend the above book (I must have given away my copy) to anyone interested in meditation. It is spiritual practice but is essentially "religion"-neutral, and can be used by practitioners of any religion. (I'd be very surprised to learn different.)


Edit: Still more disjointed commentary. William James describes the primary function of consciousness as selection. That is selecting what to pay attention to and what to ignore. I had earler used the term focus attention which I now think is redundant, since both component terms implicitly include their opposite (to bring one thing into focus, one pushes others out of focus; to attend to one stimulus is to ignore (or reduce attention toward) another stimulus).

Now, since stimuli and motor commands are both carried by the nervous system, it becomes apparent that these can be affected by drugs that act upon the nervous system. Stimulants can increase the apparent strength of stimuli and the apparent speed of motion. But it's very difficult to analyze this effect upon oneself precisely because they both change together. You may indeed be the Drunken Master, but it's hard to determine this for oneself due to the Beer Goggles. :) (And remember, the Drunken Master still needed intense (sober) physical training.)

Other dangers in this area include: excessive dose of stimulants can produce jitters, shaking of the muscles in an uncontrollable manner (which is the opposite of what we want). Use of stimulants can encourage chemical dependence (not good). And abuse can cause hallucinations, disconnection with others/reality.

I suppose I'm saying try practicing after drinking a glass of water, and then try after a cup of coffee. I am NOT saying: try some coke to make your solo awesome. Use your brain, always. A beer may help you get the rhythm nice and smooth at the local open mic. A fifth of jack will not help.

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Can you please define what you mean by 'focus attention'? –  Shimmy Apr 4 '13 at 1:03
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Sure. I'll edit with more detail. But, let me give it some thought. –  luser droog Apr 4 '13 at 1:15
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I'm not sure what more to say because I have defined it twice already: "make sure you feel the spot (air moving against the skin, some sense of muscular tension (but don't tense, don't move anything during this exercise except for normal breathing)), perhaps even the pulse of the bloodflow", and "more tightly bind the stream of sensations to the higher parts of consciousness". Perhaps there's a better word choice than "focus attention". But I keep coming up with synonyms: concentrate awareness, pay attention to sensation, move the point of conscious awareness. –  luser droog Apr 4 '13 at 1:52
    
No problem. I can be difficult to understand. I write dense sentences. –  luser droog Apr 4 '13 at 1:56
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Great exercice, thanks a lot for sharing –  Chipsgoumerde Apr 4 '13 at 13:05
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I've always found a good exercise for finger speed to be simply, tapping. Tap away to glory. Use a metronome and keep up the rhythm. Slowly increase your speed and also the duration of each session.

The most important thing about speed is that it's not just your hand that's doing the job, but your whole arm. The muscle that will feel strain first is the one on your forearm, and this muscle is the most important. It gives you speed, stability and also helps keep your arm in place. Do stretching exercises for your forearm (ones by Petrucci are good) and ALWAYS do them before you start playing. These apply for both arms. The left forearm muscle helps you slide back and forth (along with the elbow muscles) and gives your fingers strength.

The next most important muscle is your bicep. Standard light exercises like stretching should help you out.

But most importantly, PLAY.

Pick a song you like and play that shit over and over and over again.

Play it along with the song, play it longer, play it faster. Go gradually. Select tougher and more technical songs.

At the end of the day, NOTHING will help you better than practice.

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I can only speak for guitar but you can basically see drastic improvements in lets say a year by practicing with a metronome. People do not want to do it because it is tedious but the improvement will be tremendous.

Start of with a 4/4 time signature and four crotchets. Start at 60 bpm. At the beginning you do not do scales they come a little bit later. You just pick one string at a time up and down the fretboard over all the strings. Using all your left hand fingers

I did practice sessions three times a week for two hours. After every second session I would go up five bpm. When you get to 180 bpm you cut the speed by half (i.e. 90) and do quavers. So it would be a 4/4 beat with 8 notes in a bar two per beat. Then you would go from 90 all the way up to 180 again.

What is great when you can play quavers at 180 comfortably you can start playing rhythms. Crotcet quaver / quaver Crotchet Crotchet.

Eventually you incorporate these rhythms into scales. You learn how to compose melodies and now you have the dexterity to actually play your ideas.

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