Sep 4th, 2009
I've been playing the guitar for a long time. I started when I was twelve - I'm 34 now - learning "Smoke on the Water"by Deep Purple. After a week of constantly practicing the chorus using bar chords untill my timing was perfect I realized that this was it! This was what I wanted to do with my life!
And so it went on year after year from Jimmy Hendrix and Led Zeppelin to Guns and Roses then Iron Maiden, Queen, Metallica, Van Halen, you name it! If the music had fast lead guitar I was there listening to it.
I had a natural talent for the guitar but I found that I had limits. I couldn't play all of the faster lead guitar that my heroes could on there recordings. The harder I tried to play these fast ideas the more impossible they became. Sometimes I would practice 8 hours straight and be no closer to reaching my goal of playing lightning fast. Does this sound familiar to anyone reading this?
This became even worse when I would attempt lead guitar by artists like Yngwie Malmsteen. I can play Yngwie Malmsteens song "I am a Viking" note for note perfect without even breaking a sweat now. But, back then this was impossible for me and not through lack of trying or ability.
For a few years I gave up trying to play as fast as Malmsteen. I started telling myself loser negative comments like "He's just born better and faster" or "I could never be that good so why bother" and "I'm just better at rythm guitar than lead" as well as "He probably started younger than me so I can never become that good as I started too late".
Luckily I did keep playing the guitar and worked on semi fast blues playing and a nice wide vibrato similar to Vai in the movie "Crossroads". I could always play fast on one string using ideas largely borrowed from Kirk Hammet of Metallica. Still, anything fast that involved string skipping scared the crap out of me especially around other people who would say "Wow that's really fast" while inside I would be embarrassed because I knew that I had only barely been able to play it or sometimes I would make mistakes and hope that no one noticed. In essence I felt like a fraud!
The thing is it didn't matter if other people noticed or not. I knew! I knew that I wasn't able to play fast solos properly and it pissed me off that I wasn't good enough.
Well that nightmare scenario is now very much in the past for me and I want to talk about the principles that increased my limits of guitar speed by alot!
A common and Major mistake that new players make is to try and play everything fast too soon. By doing this they develop bad timing habits which are a symptom of another common and Major mistake which is tensing the muscles in the picking and fretting hands. I can see how the problem develops in young players. Think about it; you're listening to loud adrenaline enhancing Rock and Metal that makes you want to jump around head banging and pumping your fist in the air, so it's only natural that this attitude flows over into guitar technique.
The solution for this is to be more like a wise tai chi master or budhist monk. You make all your movements fluid and relaxed. You only use the exact amount of energy required for any guitar technique. You step outside of the chaos of the music and let it flow out of you in an almost detached fashion. When I am blazing up and down the fretboard I think of nothing just “what is”.
This is why when I was younger I could never play really fast. I was super tense if anything. I would attempt to crush any failure by tensing up even more.
So start practicing any piece you want to learn very slowly in a relaxed way. Use a metronome to keep steady timing or use TAB sofware like Guitar Pro or Power Tab which have built in functions to play a piece of music at a slow pace. This is the time for you to do any serious thinking about your technique, how you hold the pick, using the most efficient energy conserving movements and hand positions. So take it slow at first and you will be playing lightning fast guitar in no time.
Thanks for reading this article. I will be be submitting more on the subject of guitar technique in the near future.
If you are interested in more information on my guitar teaching methods I do have an ebook available with MP3's titled Shred Lords – Neoclassical Guitar available at my website www.jameserceg.com. If you are serious about a career in music working as a professional guitar player I would recommend the Music Careers Mentoring Course run by Tom Hess at http://tomhess.net/.