We’ve all been there. Practicing a riff or chord change for weeks and still can’t play it at the speed our favorite artist plays it at. Practicing it slowly and deliberately, focusing on every note. This playing tip is about letting all that go.
Sometimes to increase your speed you need to push the limits of your playing. You can get really good at playing a riff by practicing it slowly, but slow practice can lead to slow playing. After all, how you practice is usually how you end up playing.
The prevailing logic is that increasing your speed beyond what you can do “cleanly” can lead to sloppy playing. This is true if you do it all the time. However is you methodically and incrementally (but not slowly) increase it and know the point where your playing may become almost reckless I guarantee you will get good results with these ideas.
Its time to start pushing your limits! Here’s a few tips on how to do it effectively.
1) Take just 2 notes of a riff. Play them as quickly as you can. DON’T use a metronome for this; just play the as quickly as you can intuitively play them. Then add a third, as quickly as you can, then a fourth, etc… Don’t worry about the whole riff. Look at it as a series of quick notes that can be strung together. You will find by doing this you will get through the riff playing faster than you were before.
The trickiest part of this method is when you come to the end of the riff and need to cycle through it again. This is because getting back to the first note and carrying through the rest of it takes a lot of focus. Just get through the riff without cycling it a lot of times through and this harder task will come together later.
2) Practice in “speed bursts.” You’ll need a metronome for this one. Set the metronome for the speed you can most quickly play the riff you just worked up in part 1. Just once through will suffice. Then start out by playing it half speed along with the metronome a few times. When you are ready play just one “burst” at full speed then revert back to half speed. I like to practice 2 at half speed the one at full speed and then cycle it back to half speed. This way you can keep the riff flowing and get two real “clean” practices in for every one that may be pushing your limit. Keep in mind you may not always get the fast one perfect but the idea here is to push your limits so that you are used to attempting it at a faster pace than you usually would.
3) Put away the metronome for this one. Play the riff VERY slowly at first, next increase the speed a bit, then a third time even faster, pretty much as fast as you can play it “clean.” Last, go into reckless mode. This is what I call it when you play it at a rate when you pretty much expect to slop it up a bit. One out of 10 times you might get it at this speed. If you screw it up just try it again a few more times. Here you are teaching yourself to play intuitively, trusting your fingers to fall in the places you have rehearsed putting them over and over. Odds are they will at least fall close if you have rehearsed it slowly enough. Think of yourself as a daredevil pulling off a risky stunt just tempting fate.
4) Its always important to stay relaxed and not tense up when it comes time to play the burst. It’s the body’s natural reaction to become tense when something challenging is about to happen. The adrenaline flows and you go into fight mode. Problem here is if you fight the instrument it will fight back, resulting in mistakes. See my lessons on relaxing when you practice to increase speed to go further in depth on this tip.
So there you have it. Stop practicing so cautiously all of the time and just go for it now and then. Push the limits of your playing. You’ll learn to know your true boundaries better and expand them from there.