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  1. #1

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    If you had to guess how players like George Benson, Eric Johnson, or Paco De Lucia play as fast as they do, what would be your answer?
    Most likely your answer will involve the words, “practice, metronome, slow and steady” etc.
    While these things are all valuable and there are many ways of increasing your speed, the most fundamental way is often not talked about at all.
    I’ve been teaching guitar for over 15 years and have never encountered another teacher discuss what I’m about to tell you. This concept was a humungous insight for me as a student and has helped dozens of my students over the years achieve more speed, control and relaxation while playing.
    When discussing speed and playing fast, it’s important that I remind you, speed is not the be-all-end-all. Playing fast should, and must be only a means to an end. If your goal is to play fast so you can impress other guitarists, you’re going to be disappointed, because there will always be a faster and better player than you out there.
    Instead, speed must be a musical tool, one that you use to express a certain idea, emotion or feeling. In other words, speed playing only really has an effect if there are slower licks or passages surrounding the fast ones. The variation in speeds within a solo or song give context to the parts that stand out, so when you inject a super fast lick in between a couple of medium-tempo licks, that fast one stands out and has a specific effect on the listener. On the contrary, if everything is blazing fast all the time, it likely has no musical impact on the listener at all.
    Now that we have covered why you shouldn’t be playing fast all the time, but instead using speed as a musical tool, its time to discuss how you can actually achieve this sought after speed.
    It is more often than not the fretting hand that slows players down, not the picking hand. To illustrate this, try tremolo picking as fast as possible on a single string. The chances are very high that this speed is much greater than the speed at which you can play notes with your fretting hand.
    What exactly is slowing down your fretting hand? I’ll tell you.
    It is the way you conceptualize releasing a note to move to the next one. When players practice slowly, most of them will laboriously lift their finger off a note in order to move to another one, with the aim of going slowly. After all, every great guitarist always says, “practice slowly”. So, understandably, you move your fingers very slowly towards the string until it is fretted, then you slowly release the string and move to the next one.
    This slow release of a note is the exact thing that is acting as a barrier to your progress. The reason for this is that when releasing a note, the aim is to use no muscle energy at all. Not a little bit, but actually zero muscle energy.
    If you hold a piece of paper and want that paper to be on the table in front of you, you can either place it on the table or you can hold it above the table and just let go. The latter will necessarily use less energy because you aren’t continuing to flex your fingers to hold the paper and you aren’t moving your arm and shoulder to gently place it on the table. You simply let go and it floats to where it needs to be.
    This is the same concept for releasing a note on the fretboard. Try fretting a note right now. When you go to remove your finger from playing that note think carefully about how you do that. Most likely you use your big knuckle to pull your finger away, thus releasing the fretted note and taking your finger off the string.
    Even if you end up very close to the string after the release (which is ideal, because the closer you are the less distance you have to travel to play that finger again), you most likely used muscle energy to move your finger away from the note in the first place.
    Now fret that note again, but this time when you remove your finger, simply allow your whole hand to go limp. This may take a couple of attempts, and is something you need to “feel” and not necessarily watch. But once you feel that instead of actively moving your finger away, you simply go limp and your finger falls away from the string, you’ll immediately understand the importance of this subject.
    In order to play fast, especially for longer periods of time, it is essential that you are not using excess energy. In order to conserve precious muscle energy you must play efficiently enough to maintain that speed.
    The attack towards the string must obviously be an active, muscle-controlled motion, but the removal of the finger cannot be an active motion but must be a passive motion.
    Think again about dropping the paper instead of placing it down. That is the same idea here. In order for your muscles to absorb the oxygen they need from your bloodstream, your muscles must relax in order for that blood to flow into the tissue. If they are tense during the fretting and then remain tense during the removal of the finger, there is no time at which the finger is relaxed. This means that there is no fresh oxygen reaching those muscles and thus guarantees that you will tire and slow down very soon.
    Check out this video I made on this subject for real-life examples of this technique.
    Now, this might mean you need to re-tool how you let go of notes on the fretboard, but ultimately it will be incredibly beneficial. After all, who doesn’t want to play more relaxed and with more speed?
    You must remember that the proper motion for releasing a note is not active. The entire process of fretting and releasing is asymmetrical. Where the attack is energy driven and the release is relaxation driven.
    With this in mind, begin to work on any speed drills you regularly use. Start slowly enough that you can focus exclusively on how you release the string. If you are doing it correctly you will likely be under 1cm away from the string after release. When incorrectly using active motion, it is probable that you will pull your finger too far away from the string and then have to move back toward it in order to play again.
    This is why when you watch the best players it looks like their hands are hardly moving at all. It’s because they really only move in one direction- toward the string. When letting go, they simply relax and the finger falls away into its neutral and relaxed position, which should be very close to the string. This proximity to the string allows for a fast re-engaging of that finger.
    This process compounded over multiple fingers is what allows players to play with extreme speed.
    Hopefully you’ve found this newsletter and the attached video helpful. If so please consider signing up for the newsletter here, or for those who are truly dedicated to the instrument, you might like to consider a private lesson.
    I offer discounts to all the members of the newsletter, so if you are looking for personalized help with any guitar-based subject, I’d be happy to work with you.
    In addition, any member who refers a friend who goes on to take a private lesson will receive a free 30 minute lesson as thanks for the referral.
    Thanks for reading and remember, stay relaxed!
    Max Rich

  2.  

    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2

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    Quote Originally Posted by MRichMusic
    If you had to guess how players like George Benson, Eric Johnson, or Paco De Lucia play as fast as they do, what would be your answer?
    Most likely your answer will involve the words, “practice, metronome, slow and steady” etc.
    While these things are all valuable and there are many ways of increasing your speed, the most fundamental way is often not talked about at all.
    I’ve been teaching guitar for over 15 years and have never encountered another teacher discuss what I’m about to tell you. This concept was a humungous insight for me as a student and has helped dozens of my students over the years achieve more speed, control and relaxation while playing.
    When discussing speed and playing fast, it’s important that I remind you, speed is not the be-all-end-all. Playing fast should, and must be only a means to an end. If your goal is to play fast so you can impress other guitarists, you’re going to be disappointed, because there will always be a faster and better player than you out there.
    Instead, speed must be a musical tool, one that you use to express a certain idea, emotion or feeling. In other words, speed playing only really has an effect if there are slower licks or passages surrounding the fast ones. The variation in speeds within a solo or song give context to the parts that stand out, so when you inject a super fast lick in between a couple of medium-tempo licks, that fast one stands out and has a specific effect on the listener. On the contrary, if everything is blazing fast all the time, it likely has no musical impact on the listener at all.
    Now that we have covered why you shouldn’t be playing fast all the time, but instead using speed as a musical tool, its time to discuss how you can actually achieve this sought after speed.
    It is more often than not the fretting hand that slows players down, not the picking hand. To illustrate this, try tremolo picking as fast as possible on a single string. The chances are very high that this speed is much greater than the speed at which you can play notes with your fretting hand.
    What exactly is slowing down your fretting hand? I’ll tell you.
    It is the way you conceptualize releasing a note to move to the next one. When players practice slowly, most of them will laboriously lift their finger off a note in order to move to another one, with the aim of going slowly. After all, every great guitarist always says, “practice slowly”. So, understandably, you move your fingers very slowly towards the string until it is fretted, then you slowly release the string and move to the next one.
    This slow release of a note is the exact thing that is acting as a barrier to your progress. The reason for this is that when releasing a note, the aim is to use no muscle energy at all. Not a little bit, but actually zero muscle energy.
    If you hold a piece of paper and want that paper to be on the table in front of you, you can either place it on the table or you can hold it above the table and just let go. The latter will necessarily use less energy because you aren’t continuing to flex your fingers to hold the paper and you aren’t moving your arm and shoulder to gently place it on the table. You simply let go and it floats to where it needs to be.
    This is the same concept for releasing a note on the fretboard. Try fretting a note right now. When you go to remove your finger from playing that note think carefully about how you do that. Most likely you use your big knuckle to pull your finger away, thus releasing the fretted note and taking your finger off the string.
    Even if you end up very close to the string after the release (which is ideal, because the closer you are the less distance you have to travel to play that finger again), you most likely used muscle energy to move your finger away from the note in the first place.
    Now fret that note again, but this time when you remove your finger, simply allow your whole hand to go limp. This may take a couple of attempts, and is something you need to “feel” and not necessarily watch. But once you feel that instead of actively moving your finger away, you simply go limp and your finger falls away from the string, you’ll immediately understand the importance of this subject.
    In order to play fast, especially for longer periods of time, it is essential that you are not using excess energy. In order to conserve precious muscle energy you must play efficiently enough to maintain that speed.
    The attack towards the string must obviously be an active, muscle-controlled motion, but the removal of the finger cannot be an active motion but must be a passive motion.
    Think again about dropping the paper instead of placing it down. That is the same idea here. In order for your muscles to absorb the oxygen they need from your bloodstream, your muscles must relax in order for that blood to flow into the tissue. If they are tense during the fretting and then remain tense during the removal of the finger, there is no time at which the finger is relaxed. This means that there is no fresh oxygen reaching those muscles and thus guarantees that you will tire and slow down very soon.
    Check out this video I made on this subject for real-life examples of this technique.
    Now, this might mean you need to re-tool how you let go of notes on the fretboard, but ultimately it will be incredibly beneficial. After all, who doesn’t want to play more relaxed and with more speed?
    You must remember that the proper motion for releasing a note is not active. The entire process of fretting and releasing is asymmetrical. Where the attack is energy driven and the release is relaxation driven.
    With this in mind, begin to work on any speed drills you regularly use. Start slowly enough that you can focus exclusively on how you release the string. If you are doing it correctly you will likely be under 1cm away from the string after release. When incorrectly using active motion, it is probable that you will pull your finger too far away from the string and then have to move back toward it in order to play again.
    This is why when you watch the best players it looks like their hands are hardly moving at all. It’s because they really only move in one direction- toward the string. When letting go, they simply relax and the finger falls away into its neutral and relaxed position, which should be very close to the string. This proximity to the string allows for a fast re-engaging of that finger.
    This process compounded over multiple fingers is what allows players to play with extreme speed.
    Hopefully you’ve found this newsletter and the attached video helpful. If so please consider signing up for the newsletter here, or for those who are truly dedicated to the instrument, you might like to consider a private lesson.
    I offer discounts to all the members of the newsletter, so if you are looking for personalized help with any guitar-based subject, I’d be happy to work with you.
    In addition, any member who refers a friend who goes on to take a private lesson will receive a free 30 minute lesson as thanks for the referral.
    Thanks for reading and remember, stay relaxed!
    Max Rich

  4. #3

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    Thanks!

    Quote Originally Posted by citizenk74

  5. #4

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    Very interesting and timely as I've been listening to John McLaughlin's Shakti albums all morning and, by jingo, he plays some terrifyingly fast stuff for hugely extended periods of time on them. I hasten to add that in the context of the Indian crossover music it doesn't come across as excessive, more like a beautiful texture as the staccato, acoustic notes come at the listener in waves and are matched by the intricate percussion parts, but I digress.

    I'll study your post in more detail later on but it seems to make sense and echoes similar things I've read by Robert Fripp in the past. The whole "economy of motion" concept is one that's relatively easy to describe, yet fiendishly difficult to implement if you're as bad a player as I am. No matter what stuff I try to learn, be it on guitar, bass, mandolin or whatever, I hit a terminal velocity where I struggle to get up to tempo on faster music.

    Thanks for taking the time to putting your thoughts down in detail and making suggestions to improve.

  6. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by MRichMusic
    ...
    It is more often than not the fretting hand that slows players down, not the picking hand. To illustrate this, try tremolo picking as fast as possible on a single string. The chances are very high that this speed is much greater than the speed at which you can play notes with your fretting hand.
    ...
    Can't say I agree. When I was in my mid teens I spent much time developing a speedy picking technique and could do scales or chromatic exercises, 8ths at 400 bpm. For easy things like scales, the left hand should have no trouble keeping up with the right hand, pressing and releasing fingers is also easy on other instruments (Piano, sax, etc). The secret to speed for musical lines, (ie, lines that include leaps, enclosures, string jumps, mini sweeps, alternate picking starting and/or accenting on either up or down strokes (on up or down beats) etc etc) is, as George Benson has stressed, synchronicity, between both hands...

    I quickly realised that playing scales was much, much, much easier than playing Bop lines! Dimeola or McLaughlin sounds impressive to a youngster, but once you try to play along with Parker solos at full speed, you find that months spent on speed picking exercises are not only useless, but actually harmful! Yes absolutely, a right hand picking action that is trained to move only to the next string is utterly ill prepared for the challenge of "real" Jazz lines that require much wider moves across the strings. Think of a printer head that has to move across an entire page with speed and precision, that's the kind control you need with your picking hand ...

    So yeah, for me it was always about getting my right hand up to speed, then synchronising the left hand to match it. And then, learning not to play fast at all!

  7. #6

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    I'm sorry, I hate claims that start "I'm going to teach you what no other guitarist will teach you" - I never got past your opening salvo of self-inflated hyperbole. But welcome to the forum! Get to know us before trying to save us, please!

  8. #7
    Great and interesting ideas here!

    Right hand movements are small compared to challenges placed on the left hand; until of course you need to change string; downstroke vs upstroke etc. I think it’s generally accepted though that the left hand is trying to keep up, or coordinate with the right.

    I think the theory here is sound. However, playing is not just up or just down. It alternates so you might need your pinky, for example, to stay rooted. That means pressure needs to be maintained. Crossing strings usually means preparation so your pinky may be releasing before the last note on any given string is played and moving into position. That implies some muscular tension.

    At high tempos, do the fingers really have time to relax? A more relaxed approach generally helps sustain speed. I see that as a holistic approach and getting rid of tension all over your body. That may help getting rid of tension in the fingers as well.

    The real challenge is not finger speed. It’s playing musically at speed. On a guitar, geography matters. Finding the path of least resistance while maintaining some sense of lyricism is important. Natural ability is also a factor. Age is a factor. Ego is a drawback.

    The bottom line is always that ‘music’ has to be musical. If you can be musical in all situations, great! If you can’t, it doesn’t matter, as few can.

    Just my tuppence worth.

  9. #8

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    It has always been my picking hand that is the source of my speed limitations. If I could pick, accurately, as fast as I can play, I would be a blur. But alas, after 45 years of plugging away I am not a blur. I am rather a happy slouch. My favourite jazz artist is Miles Davis and he was no lighting bolt in the speed department so at least my playing aspirations and my listening preferences are in sync.

  10. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by guitaroscar
    It has always been my picking hand that is the source of my speed limitations. If I could pick, accurately, as fast as I can play, I would be a blur. But alas, after 45 years of plugging away I am not a blur. I am rather a happy slouch. My favourite jazz artist is Miles Davis and he was no lighting bolt in the speed department so at least my playing aspirations and my listening preferences are in sync.
    That is a very good reply.

  11. #10

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    The picking hand must be the bottleneck, at least for me. There is a reason the picking hand is the *right* hand. Other argument, is many of us can improve the speed with legato, meaning the fretting hand can achieve faster speed, when it is free from the picking hand.

  12. #11

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    Thanks Max for your comments and advice on improving playing speed. Here, based on my very limited experience, is my thought on the subject.

    Two weeks ago I marked the one-year anniversary of my foray into learning jazz guitar so I am far from an authority on developing speed of attack, blazing or otherwise, and happily defer to those of this Forum who can speak with considerably more knowledge and experience than I. However, over the course of the past year in an attempt to develop my own fretboard facility, I have viewed countless videos of players of all ages, styles and level of accomplishment. Some have fingers that seem to effortlessly glide over the fretboard while the digits of others flap over the fretboard like sardines just pulled from the water. I would venture a guess that just by pure physical mechanics alone the sardines might have more trouble with Cherokee at 400 bpm than the gliders but both styles seem to suit their respective players quite well and neither seems to struggle to keep pace with the music. Suffice to say, I believe that in guitar methods as in life, what’s good for this goose may not be of any use to the gander (vice versa of course). Don’t get me wrong; I have no doubt that physical preparation and technique is important, but only to a degree. Rather, based on my limited playing experience, I’m convinced that mental preparation, knowing what notes come next well in advance of my fingers moving to create the sound, is many times more valuable than how my fingers or hands arrange to get to the proper string and fret. So, developing that mind/body connection rather than the style of my physical attack is where I plan to focus my attention.

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by ARGewirtz
    ... I’m convinced that mental preparation, knowing what notes come next well in advance of my fingers moving to create the sound, is many times more valuable than how my fingers or hands arrange to get to the proper string and fret. So, developing that mind/body connection rather than the style of my physical attack is where I plan to focus my attention.
    Yes, it's a mind - hands - mind - hands etc, "loop"... if you will. But most experienced players on any instrument will tell you that anything fast is prelearned, either verbatim "licks" or embellishing well ingrained devices that become easy to vary on the fly (note order, or rhythmic phrasing etc). Any concepts are obviously from the "mind", but execution of said concepts will always be a technical challenge, which can actually be overcome mindlessly, eg, watching TV while running arps, scales, lines, devices etc - committing part of your vocabulary to muscle memory requires hours of repetitions, not hours of active concentration. Some will disagree, but many (including Miles, believe it or not) don't...

  14. #13

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    Interesting point OP. As a generalisation of this specific issue during practice it pays to be really aware of what’s an active movement (and to do it with minimum effort) and what is a passive movement. This extends to just about every area of technique.

    One needs to cultivate physical awareness…

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob MacKillop
    I'm sorry, I hate claims that start "I'm going to teach you what no other guitarist will teach you" - I never got past your opening salvo of self-inflated hyperbole. But welcome to the forum! Get to know us before trying to save us, please!
    haha yeah; the assumption that we are all frustrated bedroom players is a little grating.

  16. #15

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    And many of us are teachers. So he announces himself as trumping every teacher here. Le mot juste!

  17. #16

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    God . .. just what the world needs . . . another YT hustler for the hordes of gullible bedroom artists around the world! A few things about speed from a performer:
    1. ultimate speed is genetic. We have all see accomplished players who just play faster than we play. Its a gift from
    the gods and no amount of practice will get you there. Period.
    2. for the rest of us, speed comes from muscle enhancement/memory and repetition over a long period of time. The classic
    example is tremolo adequacy among CG's. There are some players, despite years of practice, will NEVER have a good
    tremolo. Your shapes of hands, muscles, and genetics determine your success. However, with much practice, a CG can
    develop an adequate tremolo for the unwashed crowds . . . but, you won't impress CG's who have the real skill. This, of
    course also applies to EG's using a pick.
    3. Finally, why can't everyone play like Joe Pass, Part Martino, or Paganini? See #1 above.
    Play live . . . Marinero

  18. #17

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    True (in reply to Christian).

    Edit: Hey, Christian, where did your post go?

  19. #18

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    My only experience about every "execution" related learn goal is to do it low speed and as *accurate as it possible* This goes to both hands, and what is more importsnd the synchron between hands.

    I clearly remember as a teenager, we started learn guitar with my childhood friend, and wanted to be as fast as Jimmy Page or Ritchie Blackmore, and my friends father who was a musician always when he heard us to trying to impress ourself, practically begged: "slowly, slowly"

    Needless to say neither of us listened to him. Decades later when I started again, now I know what a fundamental and mandatory rule it is.

    unfortunatelly, I still not have the patience to do it...:-), but when sometimes I have, it always pays back.

  20. #19

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    One last comment about speed and musicianship:

    Speed is a tool that is a necessary part of your tool bag since its purpose is to create contrast in the performance of music. The bag also includes playing legato, staccato, forte, crescendo, expressivo, largo, etc. In fact, it is much more difficult to play Largo "in time" since at certain speeds, the slowness of the music throws your ear off and always wants to go faster. For example, set your metronome to 42 to the 1/4 note and play a simple "C" scale/first position 25X. Almost all beginner/intermediate students struggle, as well as some very advanced players, and play slightly before the beat or after the beat. In fact, it is a great exercise for ultimate tempo control and I use it occasionally when I warm up before playing.
    I remember playing a guitar duo at a VFW talent show with my younger brother in the 60's when we were in Elementary school. We played a popular tune at the time--"Sukiyaki" and, I think . . . "Tom Dooley". We thought we had really hit the ball since we didn't make any mistakes but the jury was comprised of college music majors and we didn't win since they said we played well but we didn't use dynamics and played the music in strict time. Speed? It's just another tool . . .nothing else. . . and certainly not a life goal.
    Play live . . . Marinero