6 Strategies to Improve Your Guitar Speed & Quality

Strategies to Improve Your Guitar Speed & Quality

Improving your speed, clarity, and overall quality of playing on the guitar is a common goal for most musicians. Here are 6 strategies you can use to improve these aspects of your playing:

    1. Practice regularly. Consistent practice is one of the most important factors in improving your guitar playing. Make sure to set aside time every day (yes, every day) to practice, and focus on specific areas that you want to improve.Practice schedule imageYou can find fillable/printable PDF’s at Axtreme-Guitar.com to assist you with building a schedule and tracking your practice. You are also welcome, in fact, I encourage you, to take advantage of my assistance as a guitar teacher. Together we can work out the most effective practice for you to see the best results in the shortest time.Sometimes life gets in the way and/or your motivation after work, before work, or on the weekends can be difficult. Responsibilities to your significant other and parenting will most often eclipse your desire to improve your guitar playing. The more you stick to a practice routine, however long you’re practice routine is on a given day, the faster you will see results. Try not to have a defeatist attitude; “I have only ten minutes…” or “only five minutes… there’s no point to try to fit practice in with so little time.”Five minutes a day seven days a week is 35 minutes in a week. In a month that adds up to nearly three hours! Don’t underestimate the power of small gains!Most importantly, five minutes a day for seven days is far better than the same amount of time (35 minutes) spent in one day out of seven days of the week.Put another way, if I practice for two hours in one day and never touch a guitar the remaining six days, I will get less out of my practice than if I had practiced a fraction of that amount of time every day. Why? Simply because I am being exposed to guitar daily. Picking up a guitar even for just five minutes every day keeps guitar on my mind more often and becomes routine. When it is on my mind daily, I am inevitably going to think about guitar at random times of the day in anticipation of the next time I will pick it up and am more likely to make extra practice time because I want to learn more.Axtreme-Guitar imageMany of my students who take my advice find that making five minutes per day happen, they see improvements in as little as a week.Additionally, if they have the time in their schedule, even if they only plan to put five minutes in, they end up practicing longer. Sometimes the idea of making time to sit down and practice seems to take the pleasure out of playing guitar. But when you make the time to sit down just for five minutes, oftentimes that can be enough time for you to remember, you’re doing this because you enjoy it!Another equally important thing to remember is, you don’t need to have a guitar in your hands to practice. You can visualize your fretboard while listening to music. Create your own substitute or purchase a pocket fret board.pocket fret boardYou can practice picking, fretting, fingerpicking, and building muscle memory without having an actual guitar in your hands! Try to think outside the box. If you have a long commute and take public transportation, that’s a goldmine opportunity for practice time. Pop in headphones, earbuds, or EarPods throw in a song you want to practice or maybe an Axtreme Guitar video lesson, or a podcast. You have more options than you may realize!

 

    1. Use a metronome (or drum track). A metronome produces a steady beat and can be VERY helpful for improving your speed and timing. Start with a slower tempo and gradually increase the speed as you become more comfortable. You can find one online (Google metronome), download an app, or purchase the physical device.Metronome imageLearning to follow the beat of a metronome teaches you to multitask. As a musician this is a gold standard to master. If you ever want to play with other musicians, having the ability to find and follow a beat is one of the greatest accomplishments. Don’t be that one person in the mix that always falls off the beat, whether trying to speed it up or slow it down. It can be frustrating for you to keep trying to play a song and losing your place because the beat eludes you. It is equally frustrating for other musicians if every time you try to play a song you fall off the beat. It takes only one person to derail a song in this way.The metronome helps to ground you, but it will take time to adjust to following. In the beginning, you’re so focused on trying to play chords and strum at the same time, trying to follow a beat becomes a near impossible juggling act. If you’ve never done anything like this before, try starting with muted down strums on the beat and slowly work into a simple muted strumming pattern. As an Axtreme Guitar member, students have access to short videos that go into detail offering useful strategies when working with a metronome that are good for beginners and experienced players alike.

 

    1. Work on your picking technique. Good picking technique is essential for playing guitar with clarity and precision.
      Picking imagePractice picking individual strings and working on alternate picking patterns to improve your picking skills to start out. Experiment with different pick thicknesses and materials to find the one you most prefer.As you improve with down picking and alternate picking, you may discover on your own (if you have an instructor, you’re highly more likely to learn about it) that there are differences in the angles you can use with a pick when picking single note melodies/solos. Some ways are more conducive to certain styles of playing than others. Additionally, there are other picking methods such as hybrid picking and economy picking that you may add to your repertoire.

 

    1. Practice with different tones each time. Make a point to practice using clean tone as well as varying levels of overdrive and/or gain. Varying your sound in this way presents a variety of new situations. In this way, it can help you to focus on the clarity and quality of your playing and can help to expose any weaknesses in your technique.Equalization image
      As an early guitarist, when playing electric, I was very much into cranking the gain all the way up. I would play all gain or, when playing clean parts of songs, no gain. What I soon discovered, however, was that when my gain was set to low or cut in half, I struggled to play certain riffs cleanly. Playing with less gain completely threw me off because it felt entirely different, made me feel like I had less control.
      The ultrasensitive feel I had become much more accustomed to in the full blast of gain was camouflaging my weaknesses and I hadn’t realized it. I wasn’t intentionally trying to hide behind gain or any other effects. But, intentional or not, the weakness was glaring, and it bothered me. So, I made a point of using various levels of gain when playing to ameliorate the problem. I still enjoy the full throttle of gain, but I am no longer intimidated by little or no gain.

 

    1. Practice with backing tracks. Playing along with a backing track is a great way to improve your timing and feel, as it forces you to stay in time with the music. I highly recommend experimenting with backing tracks, but like the previous tip suggesting varied levels of gain, you should make a point to vary the types of backing tracks you use. If you most often play Rock music, try working with Blues tracks or even Country backing tracks. Or how about finding a Salsa backing track?
      Guitars imageRemember also to vary the keys of the backing tracks you’re playing with. When you feel like you’ve gotten comfortable enough with the natural keys, try out the sharps. If you’ve mostly worked in major keys, try the minor keys. If you’re working on strengthening your improv solos, this will especially be important.This next point is not about playing to backing tracks but is related and especially important. If you are working on learning a song, I strongly recommend practicing playing WITH the song. You may struggle keeping up at first, but, in most cases, trying to play with the song you are working on will prove especially effective. You will learn more of the ins and outs of the song, develop an ear to details and timing, and in general ingrain the song into your memory.

 

  1. Work on your dynamics. Dynamics refer to the volume and intensity of your playing and are often overlooked by lesser experienced guitarists. Dynamics are an important element of creating musical expression. Dynamics help to convey the emotion in your music whether happy, sad, angry, excited, etc.Explore the songs you enjoy and, if you haven’t already, consciously take notice of how loud or soft a song feels at certain points. Most often verses are a little softer or feel less aggressive than choruses. The bridge of a song, if the song has one, and solos, also if the song has one, will vary depending on the arrangement of a song. Different artists/bands approach dynamics in different ways, which is what breathes life into the songs we know and love. Applying the right dynamics to a song can make or break how successful your song will be to the listener.

Each of these strategies can be expanded on in greater detail in their own dedicated blog post. For now, it’s good to get a general view of these elements and later drill down within one area at a time. Each of these strategies can be broken out into sub-categories, and those sub-categories can have sub-categories of their own!

If nothing else, remember to be patient and persistent, as these improvements take time and consistent effort. With dedication and the right approach to practice, you can enjoy incredible results. The musical journey is a life-long venture, great results do not have to be.

Kurt Echols imageKurt Echols is an American musician and the founder and Owner/CEO of Axtreme Guitar, a thriving Boston-based enterprise known for its guitar lessons and comprehensive maintenance and repair services. Kurt’s exceptional talent as a performer captivates audiences, while his creative prowess is evident in his skillful composition of original music that deeply resonates with listeners. He actively collaborates with fellow artists, co-creating captivating musical arrangements.

Alongside his musical pursuits, Kurt is committed to fostering music appreciation among young individuals. Through Axtreme Guitar, he engages with the community by providing music appreciation programs in elementary schools, inspiring aspiring musicians and instilling a love for music. With his diverse skill set, unwavering passion, and impactful contributions, Kurt Echols continues to leave an indelible mark on the music industry, both locally in Boston and beyond. Axtreme Guitar also maintains a strong online presence with engaging content on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/axtremeguitar and at Axtreme-Guitar.com.

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