I share a problem with a lot of learning guitarists – I can’t play fast enough. My rhythm playing is fine, and somewhere around the skill level where I expect it to be, but my solo playing speed is just awful. Where I can usually push through practicing rhythms until they stick and I can actually start playing them well and adding personal touches to them, I can’t seem to really get there with solos.
To make a long story short, there’s only one way to get your playing speed up: practice more.
But there’s a few tricks that can help you get more out of your solo practice:
1) Divide into phrases
If you try to learn a solo note by note, you will probably never get up to speed – and probably not get the right phrasing. Try to pick the solo apart into smaller, repeatable licks.
2) Play slowly
Make sure you learn the licks of the solo properly by playing them very slowly at first. You need to get the lick into your muscle memory, and if you do it to quickly your muscle memory will learn it wrong. Make sure each note rings out clear and that your fingers don’t make any larger movements than they absolutely have to. Use a metronome and increase the speed gradually.
3) Train your fretting hand
Part of not being able to play fast is that you lack the physical strength, stamina and dexterity required. One way of practicing these abilities is to play a legato lick (any, pick an easy one) over and over and over. Start at a low bpm and keep doing the same lick for maybe five minutes – no picking. Rest, and increase the speed slightly. Mind-numbingly boring, but you can do it while watching TV. With the increased physical abilities you will hopefully feel your fingers are quicker and flowing more freely.
4) Play fast
Pick a legato lick (maybe the same as in the previous part) and play it as fast as you can. This time it doesn’t matter if it’s sloppy and sounds like crap, the point is to make your fingers used to moving fast and making them faster. Try to get high speed while still not tensing up. Tension is your enemy, relaxed muscles will always play faster.
If you want to learn something, practice it. It’s very easy to get distracted, noodling away on riffs or playing songs you already know. What you should do is cram away at that particular lick that’s evading you, until you nail it. It’s boring, but it’ll be worth the effort. I find that once I’ve learned something properly (a riff, a lick) it never goes away. But don’t overdo it in a few long sessions, many short practice sessions are much better.
Good luck with your practice! Share your own best tips in the comments.