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I've seen people like John Petrucci playing incredibly fast with their right and left hands, but I can't seem to get any faster than I am now (which is speedy, but not near as fast as John).

Is there a technique I can use to increase my alternate picking speed? What about my fretting speed?

Edit: I have heard of "circular picking" and picking with just your thumb and index finger. Are either of these better for playing with speed?

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5 Answers 5

Invest in a metronome. Start the metronome at a speed you can comfortably play at, then gradually increase it. Focus on playing accurately and properly, don't rush to a higher speed if you're sacrificing quality.

Speed will come from your muscle memory strengthening.

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Play with a metronome, while you are practicing drills. It's nice to be fast but it's really important to play in time. Once you get a speed in beats per minute where you are comfortable and are playing smoothly and cleanly then you you start bumping up the speed on the metronome a little at a time each time practicing until you are clean and smooth at the speed. In my opinion and if you watch a video of John Petrucci playing it's really apparent, how cleanly and smoothly you you learn to play at lower speeds will determine how fast you are at higher speeds. It's all about efficient movements of your hands.

It also helps to video tape your hands while playing and watch for wasted movements, the less you have to move you fingers/hands the faster you will play.

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The "less movement" makes sense. I've noticed that I can go faster with a hard pick, and a buddy of mine said that it was because less bend in the pick allows for tighter alternate picking (i.e. less right-hand movement). –  Mike Webb Jan 14 '11 at 15:56

The advice is: Do not focus on playing fast. Focus on playing expressive!

Joe Satriani said (I can't find the exact quote, this is how I remember it):

There are very many players that have a good technique. They play very fast, their fingers stretch very good. But very few of them know how to be expressive - and that is the most important thing.

But, if you still want to play very fast (shred), you should checkout Michel Angelo's DVD "Speed Kills": I think this is the best material there is.

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Oh, I can play expressively. It's my favorite way of playing, but I still want to learn how to bust out a shred when the mood hits me. I'll have to check out that DVD. –  Mike Webb Jan 13 '11 at 22:21
    
@Mike Webb I agree. there is nothing like having a good set of tools at your hand :) –  Silver Light Jan 13 '11 at 22:23
    
He is asking how to play fast, which is a different style than expressive. You wouldn't say "play blues instead - it's easier" to a person who asks you how to play classical music better. –  awe Jan 14 '11 at 11:30

Speaking of a certain solo you want to speed up;

Do not use metronome until it %100 gets into your muscle memory and you can play perfectly and expressively in slow tempo(or No-Tempo) Until then just play slow and

  • "FOCUS" on your right and left hands watch if there is any uneconomic excessive movements, the angle you hold the pick, how much of the pick is flapping outside..etc. The more you focus on anything the more experience will be permanent.

  • While focusing, spot and constantly eliminate any muscle tension in your arms and hands(this is HUGE) Your goal is to have an incredible lightness in your fingers. If you feel exhaustment or pain in your fingers after a small solo, chances are you are playing against a lot of muscle tension, which can lead to injury and limit your speed. (don't confuse this with the mellow tiredness of a muscle group after a workout)

  • "Listen" the sound you create, make it sound flowing and "BEAUTIFUL" in any speed, as if even with that speed it would play on radio and people would love it. Every note should have a definition.

When it starts to sound "beautiful" and correct, then preferably with a metronome little by little increase the speed without compromising that beauty and quality. But speed should come to you as a result of excellent conditions, and not you are trying so hard for it. All of a sudden you will feel like you can play a little faster with any extra efforts and tensions. Then you never have fear of playing the solo right or wrong for that speed, it will always be right. it will not be one big moment in the song that you feel the fear before solo if your gonna pull it correctly now or not.

Then you will get stuck on certain parts of solo, analyze them whats going on(which picking mechanics you use(up/down), are you changing strings with an up or down stroke ..etc) and isolate and only work on that 2-3 note spots maybe 1000 times(this is called efficient practising) then slowly incorporate everything together by the time.

After a while you will be saying to yourself "It's so easy, how come I couldn't play like this on the first time"

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+1 on "Do not use metronome until it %100 gets into your muscle memory". Practice makes permanent; Perfect practice makes perfect. –  VarLogRant Jul 25 '12 at 17:07
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@Spring Just a head's up, when you reach ten edits on your post, it will automatically become community wiki. You will no longer receive reputation from it. Make your edits count. –  American Luke Jul 25 '12 at 22:57

There is this pc program that helps you do just that check it out:

http://www.guitarspeed.com/

note: I am not spaming in any way nor affiliated to this site.

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why is there a downvote on my brilliant answer? =P –  Anonymous Jan 13 '11 at 22:18
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Self-contained answers are generally best. At minimum, you should have a description of how the program works. –  Matthew Read Jan 13 '11 at 22:36
    
I looked at the link, and found a quick guide to the main consepts, which looked useful, even without having the program - just read the tips and techniques on this page: guitarspeed.com/gst/method.asp. Instead of using the program, I would say you would get far by following this guide, and use a metronome to help pick up speed. –  awe Jan 14 '11 at 11:40
    
+1 this is a useful site –  DRL Jan 14 '11 at 20:28

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