Being able to play fast on guitar is easy to learn if you practice using the right methods. This thorough lesson will give you everything you need to be able to build up your speed on guitar.
This lesson will teach you:
- What skills to work on to play guitar fast
- 10 exercises to build your speed on guitar
- How to avoid mistakes and sloppy playing
- Tips and techniques to work on
Playing fast on guitar is all about control and accuracy. If you can develop a rock-solid picking technique with good accuracy, you will find it easy to play fast.
For more exercises after going through this lesson, check out this list of finger exercises.
If you want to work on your alternate picking technique, check out these 17 Alternate Picking Exercises.
Step-by-Step Practice Method for Speed
Being able to play fast on guitar is easy, but playing fast and accurately takes more work. Let’s look at what steps you need to work through to be able to play fast properly.
Step 1: Picking Control
Good speed starts with your picking hand. If you can develop good control over your picking technique, you’ll find it easier to play anything faster.
If you try to play fast without good picking control, you’ll end up tripping up over the string or you’ll have trouble synchronizing your hands.
Step 2: Hand Synchronization
Once you build up a solid picking technique with high accuracy, the next step is to focus on hand synchronization.
Poor hand synchronization leads to dead or muted notes or other timing issues.
Before you try to build up the speed on any part you’re practicing, spend some time working on synchronizing both hands.
Step 3: Building Speed
If you have built up solid picking control and you’re able to properly synchronize both hands, you’re ready to start building up speed.
It is crucial that you only build speed after you have already worked on your picking control and hand synchronization.
If you have a sloppy picking technique and you try to play fast, all you end up with will be fast and sloppy playing.
So take your time to work on the first two steps before you try to build your speed up to a high tempo.
Keep the above three steps in mind when working on any of the below exercises and you’ll learn faster and easier.
Speed Guitar Exercise 1: Picking Hand Control
This first exercise is to help you focus completely on your picking control without having to worry about coordinating both hands (that’s the next exercise).
The goal here is to make sure that your picking hand is able to consistently pick the string at a steady tempo without getting tripped up or missing a note.
As you can see, you don’t even need to fret a single note to play this exercise. This means you can focus 100% on how your pick hits the string without thinking about your fretting hand.
I know the above exercise looks too easy, but it’s an important step to work on before you move on to more complex exercises.
Here are the steps to practicing this exercise properly:
- Set up a metronome at a slow tempo (as slow as you like – maybe try 60 bpm as a starting point)
- If you’re playing electric guitar, turn off all effects and use a basic clean tone
- Play four notes per click of the metronome and focus on timing the notes perfectly
- Use alternate picking (explained below) and aim for a consistent picking motion
- Once you can play this exercise a few times in a row without a single mistake, slightly increase the tempo (eg: 60 to 65 bpm)
Aim for accuracy with this exercise. If you rush and try to build the tempo up too soon, you’ll end up with a sloppy technique that will cause problems later on.
Keep the main three steps mentioned earlier in mind. Build up control first, then hand coordination (not needed in this exercise), then build speed.
You will see two symbols repeated throughout these exercises. The square and pointed symbols in the above exercise tell you which direction to pick the strings.
Pay close attention to the picking direction in all of these exercises because the way you pick the strings will have a big impact on how fast you can play.
Read this Guide on How to Read Guitar TAB to learn more about the symbols used in TAB.
Do not move on to the next exercise until you can consistently pick the string without any mistakes at a high tempo.
After all, if you can’t play this basic one-handed exercise perfectly, how do you expect to be able to play fast parts that use both hands?
Speed Guitar Exercise 2: Adjacent Strings
This exercise continues to build the picking control you worked on in Exercise 1. This time the focus will be on moving back and forth between different strings.
Being able to play fast while moving between strings is harder than it seems.
The goal with the above exercise is for you to be able to effortlessly move between the strings without any missed notes, gaps in the rhythm, or mistakes.
The rhythm you hear in this exercise should sound exactly the same as Exercise 1. The only difference is that you should hear a change in pitch as you move between the strings. But the constant picking should sound exactly the same.
Start with a low tempo with the metronome and build it up gradually.
Once you’re able to effortlessly move back and forth between the strings without any problems, you can move on to the next exercise.
Speed Guitar Exercise 3: String Skipping
Exercise 2 helped you practice moving your picking hand to another string. This exercise builds on this skill and asks you to skip a string.
A lot of guitarists find string skipping challenging, so take your time working on it before you try to build up the speed.
Try to anchor your picking hand on your guitar by resting your pinky on the guitar’s body. This can help improve your picking accuracy.
After you feel comfortable with this exercise, try creating similar exercises that jump back and forth between different strings on your guitar.
Practice skipping one, two, and three strings until they all feel comfortable.
Speed Guitar Exercise 4: Hand Coordination
The first three exercises focus completely on your picking hand. When you can play all three exercises comfortably at a high tempo, it’s time to start working on your hand coordination and synchronization.
You have probably seen this classic 1-2-3-4 everywhere, but there’s a good reason why it’s used by so many guitarists: it works.
This exercise helps you work on synchronizing both hands as well as using all four fingers when fretting notes. It’s a fantastic exercise for developing speed.
When you play the above notes, use your first finger to play the first fret, your second finger to play the second fret, your third finger to play the third fret, and your fourth finger to play the fourth fret.
In other words, line up one finger per fret.
Your picking hand will be doing the exact same thing as it has done in the earlier exercises, so you should feel comfortable with the alternate picking.
In this exercise, you shift your focus to your fretting hand and the timing of each note.
Start off slow to make sure that you press down on each note just before you pick the string. This might feel easy when you play slow, but it becomes significantly harder to do once you start increasing the tempo.
I talk more about this exercise in detail in this List of Finger Exercises, so have a read for more tips.
Speed Guitar Exercise 5: Hand Coordination 2
This exercise builds on what you practiced in Exercise 4 and helps you feel more comfortable across the strings.
Continue the above pattern all the way to the first string, then reverse your direction and go all the way back to the sixth string.
You should only work on this exercise if you can play Exercise 4 at a high tempo without any mistakes. Once you can do that, you can shift your focus on to moving between the strings. If you can’t play Exercise 4 perfectly at a high tempo, you’ll struggle to play this exercise properly.
There are a lot of similar exercises to this one that you can do that work on. Check out a few variations on this exercise in this List of Finger Exercises.
The below exercises will shift focus to different techniques, but the above exercises should be your main focus in the beginning of your speed training.
Speed Guitar Exercise 6: Three Notes Per String
You may notice that a lot of fast solos often play scale runs and patterns using three notes per string.
This exercise will get you used to picking three notes per string so you feel comfortable with it when it shows up in songs.
The below exercise takes the simple pattern you practiced in the previous two exercises and modifies it to only play three notes per string. This will make it easier for you to focus on the change in pattern.
Just like the previous exercise, continue this pattern all the way to the first string, then all the way back to the sixth string.
There are many different ways you can pick this exercise and different guitarists will prefer different picking methods.
The above example uses strict alternate picking. In Exercise 5, you will notice that when you change to a different string, the first note uses a down-pick. That meant every string followed the same picking pattern.
With this exercise, the picking pattern changes with each string. The first three notes are picked down-up-down, then the next three notes on the next string are picked up-down-up.
This may feel awkward at first, but it’s a crucial skill to practice.
With enough practice, you will feel completely fine switching picking direction as needed. Keep practicing this exercise until you feel just as comfortable playing the up-down-up strings as you do with the down-up-down strings.
When you practice this exercise with a metronome, you want to play three notes per click. That means each string starts on a metronome click. If you want to practice this without a metronome while you build up your confidence, count out loud (or in your head) “one and a, two and a, three and a, four and a”. That’s how you count triplets as used in this exercise.
Spend a lot of time working on perfecting this exercise. The work you put in will pay off when you start seeing this technique used in songs and solos.
Speed Guitar Exercise 7: Adding Legato
There are different styles of fast playing and not all of them involve picking every single note.
A lot of guitarists like to use legato during fast parts instead of using fast picking. Legato is any technique that allows you to play a note without picking it such as hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, and tapping.
Let’s take Exercise 6 and add in legato so you can see how different it feels when playing fast.
Some guitarists find it easier to play fast with alternate picking while others find legato easier to play fast.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you continue to focus on your timing and accuracy. Sloppy legato played fast sounds just as bad as slopping picking.
For this exercise, pick the first note on the string, then smoothly hammer-on to the second note, then add another hammer-on to the third note. Keep the “one and a” triplet rhythm in your head.
The challenge with this style of playing if you haven’t tried it before is evenly spacing each note.
Once this exercise feels easy, try coming up with variations such as reversing the pattern (3-2-1) using pull-offs, or adding legato to Exercise 5.
Speed Guitar Exercise 8: Mixed Legato
This exercise combines hammer-ons, pull-offs, and picking to show you how combining different techniques can change the way something sounds on guitar.
Play around with the picking direction to figure out what feels comfortable for you.
The important thing with this exercise is that you keep consistent timing. Each note is the same length, so you shouldn’t hear some notes being played faster than others.
The interesting thing about legato is that it’s easier to play it fast compared to playing it slow. When you play legato fast, you don’t need to press down as hard on the string to keep the string vibrating.
So don’t give up if you can’t get this exercise to sound good at a slow tempo. As you gradually build up your speed, you will notice that the string seems to ring out easier and you can hear the five legato notes clearer.
As another exercise, try playing the above exercise using strict alternate picking instead of legato. See if you can build it up to the same tempo as you can play using legato.
By comparing the above exercise using legato vs alternate picking, you’ll get a good idea of which style of playing suits you. Some guitarists prefer the sound and feel of picking every note while other guitarists prefer the sound and feel of legato.
Play around with this exercise to figure out what you prefer.
Speed Guitar Exercise 9: Two Hand Legato
Two-hand tapping is a great way to work on your hand synchronization. Being able to keep both hands in perfect sync is crucial to play licks like this.
The ‘T’ above the notes in this exercise represents tapping using your picking hand. The other notes are played legato.
This means you don’t pick a single note in this exercise.
It’s up to you which finger you use to tap the higher notes. Play around with all four fingers to see what you prefer.
Remember that legato is harder to play at a slow tempo, so don’t worry too much if the notes don’t ring out perfectly in the beginning. As you improve your technique, you’ll be able to play exercises and licks like this at any tempo.
Be careful not to let the other strings ring out while tapping the notes. Use the rest of your picking hand to lightly mute the other strings and keep everything quiet.
You can give the string a little flick with your tapping finger as you pull off to the fifth fret. This will help keep the string vibrating and keep the notes crystal clear.
As you build up the tempo, you won’t need to flick the string at all and the force of your tapping will keep the string vibrating.
Speed Guitar Exercise 10: Arpeggios
A lot of guitarists enjoy playing arpeggios during fast solos or lead breaks. There’s something about how an arpeggio feels and sounds when you can play it blisteringly fast that guitarists are drawn to.
The above exercise is a simple example of sweep picking, but sweep picking is not the only way you can play this arpeggio.
Sweep picking is when you smoothly move the pick across the strings in one sweeping movement instead of using individual pick strokes. You can see that the first three notes in this exercise use a down-pick. To play this, you would smoothly rake your pick across the three strings in one smooth movement.
The challenge with sweep picking is timing your fretting hand to press down on each string just in time for when the pick reaches each string. You only want to hear one note at a time, so you also need to lift each finger off of the fret just after you play it.
Try playing this arpeggio exercise using strict alternate picking and compare it to sweep picking. You can play either picking technique at a high tempo, but you may find that one feels easier than the other.
Once you can play this exercise at a high tempo, try arpeggios that cover four or more strings or combine the arpeggios with two-hand tapping.
Learn 14 sweep picking exercises in this lesson.
Getting Past Speed Plateaus
When you work on building up your speed on guitar, eventually you will hit a plateau. You’ll reach a certain tempo and just can’t seem to play any faster.
You will hit many plateaus as you learn to play faster on guitar. You can get past them as long as you don’t give up.
Here are some tips to help you get past plateaus:
If you don’t practice regularly, you’ll hit a plateau sooner and you’ll have far more trouble pushing past it.
Aim to practice your speed exercises and solos every day. Every time you practice, you’re pushing your skills forward a little bit. Over time, the small improvements start to build up.
Find out more about how often you should practice and for how long in this guide.
Work on Something Different
Sometimes a plateau comes up because you get stuck in a rut working on the same thing over and over. Taking a short break and working on a different solo can help you work on your skills in a fresh way.
If you’re really stuck on a particular solo, take a short break from it and work on a different solo. When you come back to the first solo, you may find that it suddenly feels a bit easier.
Mix Up Your Exercises
If you only work on one specific speed exercise, eventually you will get really good at that exercise.
But to be able to play fast on guitar, you need to be able to play a variety of techniques and skills fast. To do that, you need to work on a variety of exercises and solos.
If you’re stuck in a rut, take a look at what you’ve been spending your time working on. If you’re not working on a variety of different exercises, mix things up.
Each exercise gives you a slightly different way to work on your speed. Don’t get too focused on one exercise – aim to work on a variety of exercises to build up your speed in a balanced way.
Check out these 17 Alternate Picking Exercises for a variety of fundamental picking exercises that can help you play faster on guitar.
Sometimes the reason you hit a plateau is that you’re trying to play faster than what you’re ready for.
If you push yourself too fast too soon, your skills won’t be ready for the higher tempo.
It sounds counterintuitive, but slowing the tempo down can do wonders for your speed.
Slow the tempo down and focus on playing with 100% accuracy. Think carefully about which finger you should use for each note, how you will move between the strings, which direction you will pick each note, etc.
Rushing and trying to build up the speed too soon is a sure way to hit a plateau. Build up a solid skill foundation at a slower tempo, then build it back up later.
You may be able to learn how to play guitar fast in a very short time, but being able to play fast and accurately takes time.
It takes time for your fingers to feel comfortable moving accurately between the notes at a high tempo. It takes time to build up synchronization between your hands.
Be patient with yourself and don’t rush.
The last thing you want is to end up with a sloppy technique, so be patient. There’s nothing worse than trying to undo bad technique, so take your time and get it right the first time.
Tools to Help You Practice Playing Fast
Here are a few tools you might want to check out to help you work on your speed.
A metronome is a crucial tool you must use if you want to play fast on guitar.
While it’s possible to learn to play guitar fast without a metronome, you will have a high chance of developing poor timing or sloppy technique. Even if your timing sounds perfect to you, you may not realize how bad your timing really is.
There are plenty of physical and digital metronomes you can use. I recommend a simple metronome app on your phone. There are plenty to choose from (free and paid).
Download a couple of metronome apps on your phone to find one that you prefer.
If you regularly practice with a metronome, it will give your speed abilities a massive boost.
The program I personally use to work on my speed on guitar is Guitar Pro (link to my review of version 8).
In Guitar Pro, you can take a section of a song (eg: a solo or fast part) and use the built-in speed trainer to gradually build up the speed.
In the below screenshot, you can see that I’m looping a section and gradually building it up from 40% tempo all the way up to full speed. Every time the loop repeats, it will get slightly faster.
This is a powerful way to work on your technique and timing. Gradually building up the tempo on anything you’re practicing is how you can develop speed and accuracy on guitar.
A big advantage in Guitar Pro 8 is that you can now import audio and sync it with the Guitar Pro transcriptions.
This is a great way to practice fast parts as you can slow the track down and loop sections while hearing the real song play in the background.
If you don’t have Guitar Pro, check out my review of Guitar Pro 8 here to learn why you might want to use it.
Slow Down Programs
There are a lot of programs and apps you can use that will take audio from a song and slow it down without affecting the pitch.
Being able to slow a song down is a great way to practice playing along with it and gradually build up your speed.
Programs such as Transcribe! or Amazing Slow Downer were specifically made for this purpose and work great.
They pack in a lot of other helpful tools, so if you’re interested in learning how to play songs by ear, it’s worth checking these programs out.
Alternatively, you can use any audio editor such as Audacity or a DAW to easily slow down and loop sections of a song. Or use Guitar Pro 8 and import the audio into an existing file.
Guitar Speed FAQs
Here are some common questions you might have about playing guitar fast. If your question isn’t answered below, ask it here.
How Important is Speed in Guitar Playing?
Speed is important in your guitar playing if you want to play fast music. But there is another reason why speed is important for guitarists. Practicing and improving your speed also helps you develop better overall control over your guitar playing. So even if you don’t want to play fast music, working on your speed can help you become a better guitarist.
Working on your speed on guitar is a great way to feel more confident with the music you play.
For some guitarists, speed is incredibly important in their guitar playing. For other guitarists, speed isn’t important at all. You need to think about what type of guitarist you want to become and what is important for you.
Why Can’t I Play Guitar Fast?
If you can’t play guitar fast, it means you haven’t spent enough time practicing exercises to improve your speed. Playing guitar fast is a skill that takes a lot of practice to build. Everybody is able to play guitar fast with enough practice. If you can’t play guitar fast yet, spend more time working on speed exercises and drills.
How Long Does it Take to Play Fast on Guitar?
If you practice speed exercises every day, you can learn to play significantly faster within a month or two. Complicated parts can take much longer to learn, but playing fast on guitar doesn’t take as long as a beginner may think.
It’s also important to keep in mind that you need to combine both speed and accuracy. There’s no point being able to play something at 250bpm if every second note is wrong or sloppy. Being able to play fast is easy, but being able to play fast and accurate takes longer.
Is Playing Guitar Fast Hard?
Playing guitar fast isn’t hard if you work on the right exercises and practice regularly. Playing guitar fast can feel hard in the beginning, but the more you practice it, the easier it will get. Anybody can learn to play guitar fast with enough practice.