9

When playing guitar, piano, or any other instruments, I am always stuck on a certain speed limit, and I can't seem to get past that limit. I've tried practicing with a metronome (It didn't t work), I've tried fixing my technique( it made a tiny difference) , I've even tried doing speed exercises on YouTube. None of those worked. So, have I reached the point where I can't get any faster?

4
  • 3
    I've tried practicing with a metronome (It didn't t work), I've tried fixing my technique( it made a tiny difference) , I've even tried doing speed exercises on YouTube. None of those worked. When you say you "tried" - what form did that take? A day of practice? A week? Improving your speed can take a lot of practice and a lot of time. – J... Jun 8 at 17:30
  • 1
    You already accepted an answer, but it would be nice to have some indicator of how fast you play now. Example passages and BPM. – Michael Curtis Jun 8 at 18:41
  • Here's something I saw recently which might give you some pointers youtube.com/watch?v=gGUbDU-jocQ – AJFaraday Jun 9 at 8:55
  • Yes, there's a physical limit, and no, you probably haven't reached it. I wrote a detailed piece on developing speed on the guitar for Quora a few years back that might help: quora.com/… – Tom Serb Jun 10 at 14:07
29

Almost for sure, the problem is that as you approach upper limits, you exert yourself more. When you're playing fast, your muscles have to relax INSTANTLY (like, already relaxing while you're pushing them down). The rule of thumb is this: the harder something is, the MORE relaxed you have to be in order to play it.

Try the following checklist (I'll give mine for piano).

  • the elbow joint is completely fluid (you can flop it around with no resistance, try moving your torso toward and away from the piano while playing to check this)
  • the wrist is not locked (very important for fast passages)
  • the palm of the hand is NOT drawn together at all.
  • the muscles in the webbing between the fingers are not working at all.
  • the fronts and backs of the fingers should never be tight at the same time

One more very important thing: When you first learn, you focus consciously. Once your subconscious is ready to take over, there's often a period of struggle, where things get harder.

The solution is to change the conscious focus-- to the sound, to your breathing, to a magazine that you've propped up (not joking about that). Deprogram the habit of projecting your conscious will into your hands too much!

16
  • 1
    That's not very scientific. You are speculating, and you might be correct. I'm asking if you have come across any articles that set a limit. – ggcg Jun 8 at 12:50
  • 1
    @ggcg Yep. That's what "bro science" means. The limits for sure will be dependent on physics-- I'm guessing more of specific instruments than of the human body. For example, a piano has a rather cumbersome mechanism that involves time to swing the hammer. And that will vary among different makes of piano as well. – Bennyboy1973 Jun 8 at 12:53
  • 1
    @Hoffman I agree. It didn't take me long to figure out that in playing Romantic pieces (I'm thinking Chopin's Ocean Etude in c-minor), playing at max speed didn't "sound fast." By slowing it down and really making sure each individual note was clearly hearable, it makes the piece sound way more impressive-- at least to my ear. I could play each bar at about Q=40, where the recommended is more like Q=80, and it was NOT an improvement. :D – Bennyboy1973 Jun 8 at 20:09
  • 6
    @ggcg Some actual science and demonstrations, Neely's What is the fastest music humanly possible. Briefly, our rhythmic perception isn't reliable below 100ms inter-onset interval (the time between two pulses), and below 50ms note duration we can't percieve pitch. The body's limit isn't well defined, you can design a series of notes that's easy to play fast (piano: white key glissando) or one that's way slower (piano: alternate bottom and top octave while keeping one hand busy in the middle), but neither are very musically interesting. – j-g-faustus Jun 8 at 22:30
  • 2
    Haha yeah, good point. Maybe we can get @ggcg to go post their comment as a new question, so you can answer it there. It's worth getting those facts on record! – Bennyboy1973 Jun 8 at 23:06
13

In order to go faster, you need to practice a lot slower.

Yes, I know exactly how counter-intuitive that sounds. Bass/guitar player here, in a thrash metal band, playing at way too many BPM. The problem you're encountering is not that you're physically incapable of playing fast, it's that you're not accurate doing so.

In order to break that wall, you need to get your metronome out again, and practice the passages you have the most trouble with very slowly until they are as close to perfect as you can. Do not speed up that metronome until you can play not only accurately, but also in a relaxed, easy-flowing manner.

This will build up your muscle memory, and after a few cumulative hours/days of practicing this way, you'll notice that everything else you play suddenly got easier "out of nowhere." And at this point, speeding up is literally a matter of just going through the motions faster, something you'll be able to accomplish as your brain now knows how to perform them 100% correctly.

If you simply try and practice at full speed, all you're doing is teaching your muscles and brain bad habits, thus hindering and arguably destroying your progress.

8

What speed are you at?

Of course the laws of physics limit all speed to be less than the speed of light ;-).

And, there must be a limiting speed based on mechanical constraints of the human body. I have found that the key to speed is very slow relaxed practice of basic movements with attention to minimizing movement (or creating optimal movement).

Most of these videos of people playing flight of the bumble bee at 1600 bpm have been proven to be fake, so don't waste your time trying to live up to that standard.

5

I find the best way is to practice the music at a slower, manageable, speed until it's really under the fingers, and keep playing it at that speed. All of a sudden you find that you're actually playing it faster without realising it. I think it's because I think of a passage as having a certain amount of difficulty, so the more it gets into my fingers the easier it becomes.

The problem with this approach is that I have to be careful to control it or I start rushing.

This might be useful Why does Presto always trip me up?

Good luck.

3

You're running into the fundamental physics problem of K = .5mv^2. (source - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinetic_energy )

K = kinetic energy of an object in motion.

m = mass of the object

v = velocity.

Note that the energy scales with the square of the velocity. On average, doubling the speed of playing guitar or piano should theoretically translate into quadruple the energy consumption which will quickly tire you out.

1

speed curve

The image above(*) shows a training strategy for increasing the speed, whereby you push a little above your current limit (the highest speed where you can still play clean) and then dial back a little.

In the above example, your current maximum speed for a particular phrase would be around 115-120 BPM. An exercise to increase that speed would start at around 100 BPM (below your limit, but not too far below) and gradually increase your practice speed until you go a bit beyond it, (e.g. 130) even if that means that your playing is starting to break up, and then come back down to 120 -- at that point you will feel that playing at 120 is not as hard as it was a few minutes ago.

Repeated systematically, and continuously adjusting the "speed curve" to match your speed limit (which changes all the time as you warm up, practice, etc.) this kind of exercise can help you break through apparent limits that you think you have. Or, in the unlikely case that those speed limits are actually your ultimate limits, this kind of training will help you play clean, precise and groovy even when you get close to those limits.

(*) Image taken from a software course called "guitar speed trainer". I collaborated in making that software some 10+ years ago.

1

Yes, maximum speed of sustained muscle movement is a thing.

The human body is made up of fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle mass; the distribution varies from individual to individual. I did not find a source talking about the effect of this specifically for musicians, but it is well known in athletics (i.e. here or - with more deeper references - here). For example, in fighters, you find wildly different styles to approach the sport - some specialize on hitting very fast, others on hitting very hard. Same for football; you have roles for people who move lightning quick; and roles for people who excell more in the relatively slower movements. This is not just random, it is all based on their muscle distribution (and probably plenty of other factors, of course).

So for your hands, there is certainly a maximum speed.

Obviously we cannot know if you are already at the maximum, and since every musician has to improve their speed before hitting their personal maximum, there are plenty of techniques and methods out there how to achieve that. So don't give up just yet. It may also be that over long periods of time, you might influence the distribution of slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscles, and since we know that the central nervous system can also change over time, I would not rule out that the whole system can definitely become faster in very small steps over a long time, even if it feels to you that you are doing everything right and nothing seems to be improving...

0

How fast can you play something really simple, in terms of notes per second? You're probably physically capable of playing a more complicated passage just as fast.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.