Guitar Shredding: Play Fast With The Painless Practice Process That Works

  • by Tom Boddison
  • 29 Jun, 2017
The complete process to mastering any lick, in any song...
Speed is a big goal for a lot of guitar players, and in the "shred" guitar world, everyone seems intent on finding the next cool lick.

The lick that'll finally let them break the speed barrier and play as fast as their heroes.

There are THOUSANDS of lessons out there featuring the "top 5 sweep picking licks", "top 10 alternate picking exercises" and so on, and yet there are THOUSANDS MORE guitar players out there who struggle to reach their goals!

Surely, something is wrong.

The truth is, it's not any particular lick that makes you a fast guitar player; it's the way you practice it . You can choose  any  lick or song and play it fast pretty soon if you follow the right methods.

This article features the  exact practice process I use every time I want to improve my speed on a lick. It's simple, easy to follow, and most importantly  effective .

Let's get started!

Grab your free "Shred Practice Checklist" PDF to keep with you every time you play. It's a dead-easy summary of all the points in this article so that you can make your practice super-effective and get faster on guitar.

What and How

There are two parts to anything you practice -  what you practice, and  how  you practice it.

You need both if you want to practice effectively.

Let's deal with the "what" first.

The licks you choose don't matter too much, but what movements you use does.

Use the same motions every single time - including fingerings, picking, and so on - otherwise it's like you're practising a different lick on every repetition.

Your brain doesn't deal in notes, it deals in movements. Remember to use the same movements every single time!

Conquering Every Challenge

The next thing is to take on challenges one at a time, and not all at once.

You can choose pretty much any lick, but you need to break it down. Trying to learn a big, complex lick all in one go is like jumping in a Bugatti Veyron on your first driving lesson.

It 'aint gonna happen.

Instead, find the individual challenges of the lick and conquer them one by one. Let's say I wanted to learn this awesome Dm pentatonic scale legato lick, for example:
There are a lot of notes, and a lot of challenges. If I tried to learn that all in one go I'd struggle!

Instead, I could break it down to  master each challenge one at a time . This way I'll learn much faster.

If you wanna learn this lick then follow along! Someone new to legato could start with the first two notes:
Once they'd mastered those (i.e. practised until they're the easiest thing in the world, even when played fast), they could move on to stretching:
While learning be sure to have a few "complementary exercises" like in the practice schedule , to keep it interesting.

You could have extra exercises for each individual challenge, so with each stage you master you "unlock" more cool licks!

Next we can add the two stages together to create this. The main challenge here is the string change.
That sounds pretty awesome! Once we've got that part fast, we can move on to the tapping:
Now we'll add the tapping to another part of the lick:
Once we've mastered those stages individually, we'll be able to play the whole lick:
You can see how breaking it down makes it much easier. Anyone can master the first stage - and if they can do that, they can do stage two.

Then, stage three isn't out of reach. Keep building up and before you know it you'll be playing stuff that's mind-boggling!

The key is to  master each stage before moving on.  Tackle one thing at a time, and completely own it.

Now we've covered what to practice, we're gonna discover  how  to practice it.

The "How"

How  you practice your licks is just as important as what you practice.

This is a fuller version of the process in the sweep picking article, but you can use it for any technique you like.

It's made up of four stages, and it's VITAL that you follow them step-by-step. Don't move on to the next stage until you've finished the current one.

The stages are:

1) Learn The Notes
2) Master The Movements
3) Make It Subconscious
4) Build Speed

Each stage builds on the one before. First you learn where the notes are on the fretboard, before mastering the movements used to play them.

Then you build them into your subconscious, before repeating them on auto-pilot to get them fast.

The best part is that if you follow this method, the lick will be  really  easy. Practice right, and you'll be surprised how effortless your playing becomes. It almost feels like your fingers are playing all by themselves!

That is the power of good practice.

1) Learn The Notes

The first stage is to learn the notes.

Get the tab/sheet music, and play through it one note at a time.

Read the first note and play it, and then read the second note. Alternate between the two a few times, and then continue. Pay attention to fingerings and picking directions, or if there aren't any then choose the best option for you and stick to it .

Write down the fingering/picking you use and do it the same EVERY time - as we said before, it's VITAL.

The idea is to be  100% certain about every note and movement . This is where you find out exactly how your fingers need to move to play the lick.

2) Master The Movements

Now we know what we want, it's time to tell our brain which movements to use.

Take a small 4-8 note section and play it  really  slowly, focusing on making every note perfect.

I mean one note every few seconds - it's really, really,  really slow! Some people compare it to meditation, because 100% of your focus is on this one thing.

You don't just wait between the notes, though - there's something specific I want you to do.

Before you play each note, visualise yourself playing it. 

Say to yourself "OK, so my middle finger lifts up and my index finger presses down on the 10th fret of the G string, while my right hand moves down to pick the note".

Imagine yourself playing it and picture your fingers doing  exactly the right movements.

Then, play the note. Then visualise the next one before playing it, and so on.

It sounds mad, but it works. It makes you play the notes perfectly - which creates a great foundation for playing FAST!

But  what do we mean by "playing perfectly"? What is "perfect"?

There are three areas:

MINIMUM FORCE: Only use the minimum muscle tension necessary. You'd be surprised how little force it requires to get a clear note! Any extra force is wasted energy that'll slow you down.

Be aware of tension in other parts of your body - is your back relaxed? Are your shoulders tensed up? Relax everything that isn't needed to play the notes.

Focusing on relaxation is  the way to get effortless, fast technique.
MINIMUM MOVEMENT: If you're moving your fingers really far off the fretboard, you're wasting movement. Use the smallest movement possible!

Every millimetre you move that isn't necessary is gonna slow you down - speed=distance/time, after all. This applies to everything - picking, fretting, tapping, legato, and anything else.

The smaller your movements, the faster you'll be able to play.

CLARITY: Make sure that when you play a note, it's clear and crisp.

If you're picking, make sure you pick and fret at exactly the same time; there shouldn't be any noise or gap between the notes. This is called "synchronisation" - synchronising the movements of your hands together so that you get a clear sound.

If you're doing legato then hit the hammer-on with a decent amount of force to get a loud, clear note - and then relax immediately after. It will obviously require some muscle tension to play a loud legato note, but in between the notes you can almost completely relax.

This will result in a clear, controlled and relaxed playing style that is REALLY fun - it feels like your fingers are doing everything by themselves!

Do this "super slow" practice for 5-10 repetitions before moving on.

Don't try to do it all in one go - do one or two repetitions at a time in little sessions throughout the day until you've done enough.

The goal here is to play it perfectly, so smaller sessions will help you to concentrate and make your practice more effective.

3) Make It Subconscious

Now we've told our fingers what we want them to do, it's time to make it subconscious.

This is important because when you play fast, you don't have time to think about every single note - the brain can't keep up!

To play fast you need to build the lick into your subconscious. Instead of lots of notes, it'll be just one pattern.

To do this, we're gonna get the metronome out.
Set it to 60bpm, and play one note for every four clicks of the metronome.

The idea is to build up from our "super-slow practice" tempo to a "normal" speed that we can use.

Play at that speed for a few minutes before playing one note for every two metronome clicks.

Concentrate, and make sure to focus on playing it perfect. Don't let the quality slip as you speed up!

Then, try playing one note for every click of the metronome.

Once you've done that, build up through the following tempos, spending a few minutes at each one and going back the moment any excess tension creeps in.

90bpm quarter notes

60bpm eighth notes

80bpm eighth notes

100bpm eighth notes

60bpm 16th notes (or triplets, if it's a triplet lick)

By this point the lick will feel pretty easy, and you should be able to play it  without really thinking about which notes you're playing. 

If not, spend a bit longer on this stage.

Then you're ready for the fun part - building speed!

4) Build Speed

´╗┐Complete the previous stages before doing this. Otherwise, it's pointless!
By now the lick should be pretty much subconscious.

That means that the only thing left to do is speed it up!

How do you do that? It's simple: repetition.

The thing is, though,  we've already practised it to perfection at a slow speed.  This means we can repeat it on auto-pilot - whilst doing other things - and still do high-quality repetitions.

Most people go straight to this and miss out the first three stages, which is why they have to focus ALL the time, because they never built it into their subconscious in the first place.

The thing is, if you wanna build LOTS of speed, you have to do a  hell of a lot of repetitions!

If you're concentrating on every single one, and sitting there with a metronome every time you practice, you're gonna get bored. Really,  really  bored.

However,  we've got the lick perfect and subconscious already, so we can do thousands and thousands of reps without really concentrating.

You can talk to a friend while you practice, or watch documentaries and videos on YouTube (like I do). You could even watch TV!

You can do HOURS of practice every day like this, and it doesn't even feel like you're practising because you're being entertained by other things. It's fun to do thousands of reps of the same lick, because you forget you're even doing it. The practice is subconscious.

There is one rule you must follow at all times, however: PLAY PERFECTLY .

Mistakes are good because they show you where you can improve, but when you're repeating on auto pilot you should avoid them.

Mistakes are only good  if you correct them - and we've already done that in the other three stages. Don't negate all the progress you've made by letting them back in!

Play at a tempo where you can play PERFECTLY, and stay there. Enjoy the feeling of effortlessness.

VERY occasionally - for about a minute each day - you can push your speed and force it a little bit, pushing your boundaries. Then, go right back to effortless speed again.

Then you can build pro-level technique without making sacrifices. You can have your leisure time  and  build amazing guitar skills.

You  can have your cake and eat it!

Try it for 30 days

I urge you to try this practice approach - for just one month - and see what it does to your technique.

Choose a lick - it could even be the legato lick from the beginning of this lesson - and stick to it for one month.

If you're fairly new to the technique then choose just the first challenge and focus on that until you master it. Then, go on to the next one and master that. Build up piece by piece, rather than taking everything on at once.

Pick ONE small thing and FOCUS - using these practice approaches, the sky is the limit!

You can do the first three stages of the practice process in a day or two, and then move on to speed building.

Every time you sit down to watch YouTube, watch TV, talk to your family, or just relax, grab your guitar and do rep, after rep, after rep.

You could do hours every day like this and you wouldn't even notice! It's amazing how much you can do when you focus.

The important thing is to  stick to it for 30 days! You have to practice ONE thing for long enough to see results. If you move on after three days then you'll never master anything.

Do it, and see what results you get. I'd love to hear about it - tell me on the contact page .

Remember to grab the  "Shred Practice Checklist" PDF free; it's a dead-easy summary of all the points in this article so that you can make your practice super-effective and get faster on guitar.

Have fun, and keep rocking!
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