5 Guitar Speed Myths That Hurt Your Guitar Playing

5 Guitar Speed Myths That Hurt Your Guitar Playing

by Mike Philippov

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Your guitar practice results are determined only partially by ‘what’ you practice or even ‘how’ you practice. Another huge determining factor of your progress is the belief system you have about the process of learning guitar. There are many stupid myths that are widespread among guitarists that will forever cripple your progress if you believe in them. Here are 5 of these myths:

Myth #1: Practicing with a metronome is the key to building guitar speed

How this myth hurts your guitar playing: The problem here isn’t with the advice itself, but rather with the way it is understood and applied. Too many people assume that the metronome is the tool that actually ‘develops’ the ability to play fast, which is NOT the case at all. Your ability to play fast is the result of mastering the fundamentals of your technique in each hand separately and in their ability to work together (2 hand synchronization). After these fundamentals are in place, the metronome can (and will) help you to track your ability to apply your perfect technique at progressively faster speeds. However, until you do this, using the metronome to simply ‘try’ to play faster by gradually increasing the speed will only reinforce the same bad/sloppy technical flaws that make it impossible for you to play fast to begin with.

Moral of the story: Before you spend endless hours practicing with a metronome, invest the time into mastering the fundamentals of your technique that make speed possible and fix the bad habits that may exist in your playing that will hold you back in your quest to build speed if left unchecked. Watch this video about building guitar speed to get lots of help with doing this.

Myth #2: Classic rock/blues guitar players (or guitar players who don’t play shred/metal styles) don’t need to spend a lot of time practicing technique because their music doesn't require playing fast.

How this myth hurts your guitar playing: You need to understand that guitar technique is simply a vehicle for you to express what you want to express in music and “technique” has nothing to do with “playing fast”. If you intentionally ignore your technique and develop bad habits in your playing, you only make it so much harder for yourself to play the music you love. As an example, if your technique is sloppy, if you play with lots of excessive tension and you don’t know how to practice guitar effectively, you will find yourself with the following problems:

  • Your hands will get tired easily after playing for only a short time
  • You will get frustrated when you can’t consistently play the music you want to play without mistakes
  • You will be limited to playing whatever music your sloppy/flawed technique will allow you to play

Moral of the story: Even if you don’t aspire to become a shred guitarist, you MUST put some of your practicing focus into establishing the very best guitar technique foundation that you can in order to play the music you want. After you do that, deciding how far to go from that foundation (in terms of “building speed”) is up to you.

Myth #3: Speed interferes with emotion of your guitar playing

This argument falls apart for so many different reasons, but the main one is that there is no universal definition of ‘emotion’. In fact, there exist MANY ‘different’ emotions that all require different musical contexts in order to be expressed. Certainly some emotions (such as love, beauty, lament, melancholy, etc.) need to be expressed primarily using slower melodies. However, there also exist plenty of other emotions (such as anger, triumph, joy, aggression - to name a few) as well as general expressive concepts that can only be expressed with highly intense/fast/virtuoso playing.

How this myth hurts your guitar playing: Believing in this myth gives many guitar players the ‘excuse’ to not invest the time into developing their technique (similar to what I wrote in the point above about blues/classic rock players). I have also described my thoughts about this issue in more detail in the video below. Watch it right now to understand what blues and shred guitar players can learn from each other:

(Watch the guitar vibrato tutorial mentioned in the video above to learn how to greatly improve this area of your guitar playing.)

Myth #4: Alternate picking is the best picking system to build speed on guitar.

How this myth hurts your guitar playing: I have addressed this issue at length in the video below. Watch it right now to hear a detailed explanation and see lots of examples about the best picking technique to use on guitar for building speed:

Myth #5: Advanced techniques such as string skipping, sweep picking and arpeggio playing are only used in shred/metal guitar styles and therefore don't need to be practiced by guitarists who don’t play in these specific styles.

How this myth hurts your guitar playing: Fact is that the techniques listed above can be (and are) used in EVERY style of guitar playing and intentionally ignoring them due to believing in this myth will limit your ability to be creative on guitar. For example, “Arpeggios” are the same thing as “chords” (only played one note at a time). Since every modern guitar style uses chords (from classical to blues to progressive rock), not learning arpeggios all over the guitar neck will greatly limit your potential to express yourself when writing music and improvising guitar solos in whatever style you play in.

Sweep picking and string skipping are simply ‘techniques’ that can be used to play any style where a guitar pick is used, so obviously their use is not limited to only certain genres of music. However, many guitar students (who don’t specifically seek to play metal music) intentionally stay away from these techniques as if learning them somehow would detract from their ability to play in their chosen style when nothing could be further from the truth.

Moral of the story: Just because you don’t play metal or shred guitar styles, doesn't mean you need to automatically cut out the techniques mentioned above from your guitar playing arsenal. At the same time, of course you shouldn’t use these concepts in a way that conflicts with your style. Simply realize that techniques (such as string skipping and sweep picking) and musical tools such as arpeggios are ‘abstract’ concepts that don’t belong to any particular style. It’s only how they are used that determines what the music containing these elements will sound like. You need to learn how to ‘apply’ these techniques in your practicing in a way that best fits the music you play. As you do this (ideally with the help of a teacher), you will develop many new ways to be creative in your guitar playing.

To get the most from the advice in this article, identify which of the myths above have been holding back your guitar playing until now and apply the solution described in your practice sessions. As you do this, you will notice how only a small change in your general mindset about practicing will start a whole chain of positive events that will lead to you making faster progress in your playing than ever before.

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