By: Jamie Holroyd
It’s almost inevitable that as guitarists we want to be able to play fast at some point when learning how to play the guitar.
Whatever style of music you play, there’s no denying that it’s impressive to pull out fast licks here and there, not just to impress our audience but to also express ourselves in our playing.
Obviously there’s more to guitar playing than just speed, and playing fast all the time can get boring. However, there’s nothing wrong with having the ability to shred so you can when you need to.
So, how do you actually gain the technical proficiency to play fast?
Yes, we can transcribe fast licks and solos but sometimes they can be daunting and frustrating, so in this lesson I will be showing you an exercise that will help you build killer guitar chops in now time.
This warm up was shown to me in one of my first ever guitar lessons and I still use it to work on technique today.
The exercise builds up strength and dexterity in your left hand fingers and you can also practice right hand picking techniques at the same time.
Practice each of the following examples with a metronome.
Set the tempo slow to begin with and start increase it by 5 beats each day and you won’t even notice the difference.
Play the first note with your index finger, second note with your middle finger, third note with your ring finger and finally the fourth note with your little finger
Remember to press lightly on the strings and keep your fingers as close to the guitar fretboard as possible
When you feel comfortable with this exercise try it descending.
Then move the entire thing up one position, play up and down the exercise and continuing moving up until you reach the 12th position of the guitar neck.
Doing this will give you have a good smooth feel for playing all over the neck.
If you’re a beginning player and find these stretches difficult, you can start higher up the neck where the frets are closer together so you won’t have to stretch as much, then work your way down the neck from there.
After you feel comfortable with the above, the next step is to make your own finger exercise patterns.
Try and start each one start with a different finger so you’re covering all grounds.
Instead of writing each exercise out in notation, you can just think of four left hand finger numbers.
For example the first exercise we looked at would be 1, 2, 3, 4, because we used our fingers in that order.
In the following example the finger pattern is 4, 1, 2, 3.
You can apply the same steps as the first example to this exercise.
I recommend starting each practice session with this workout because it gets your fingers flowing nicely before you begin working on what you have planned.
Don’t spend too much time on it though; 10-15 minutes should be more than enough if practiced on a daily basis.
You can also practice saying the names of each note when going at slower tempos so you learn the fretboard too.
By working with this exercise you should be able to learn new licks and patterns easier and develop your left hand accuracy, strength, and speed.
If you want to go to one step further to increase your technique you can try the first ascending example again but make sure you keep each finger on the fretboard as you play the next note.
For example when you play the ‘Ab’ on the low E string with your fourth finger your other three fingers should be on the fretboard.
This is known as minimal movement and will help you avoid the problem of ‘flying fingers’. You can also practice this on any other scales that you are working on.
Did you find the exercises from this lesson useful? Share your comments in the section below.
About Jamie Holroyd
Jamie Holroyd is a UK based jazz educator and author who runs www.jamieholroydguitar.com, a free website with countless lessons and resources to help students across the globe play jazz guitar.