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How To Practice for Maximum Speed

Tom Hess

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~ How To Practice for Maximum Speed ~

Effective Practice Strategies

by Tom Hess



The scope of this subject is too broad to be fully covered in a single article. After receiving hundreds of requests for advice on this subject of developing speed, it seems an article is long overdue on the topic. Training advanced players to become virtuosos is a very rewarding and fun process for me. (as Im sure it is for most teachers who teach highly advanced students).


A Typical question from a student: What specific strategy should I employ to approach better speed development?


Although my answer varies from person to person, depending on what I know about that persons current abilities and goals (among other things), I generally recommend some variation of the following strategy:


Stage 1: When first learning a new technique, determine (using a metronome of course) your maximum speed you can play cleanly. Write this speed down on paper in a practice log.


Stage 2: Practice at 20%-35% of your maximum speed. Do this for 5 consecutive practice sessions. Resist the temptation to go faster during this stage. Make sure everything is still very clean. There must be NO excessive tension anywhere in your arms, hands, wrists, shoulders, neck, head or anywhere else. Watch to make sure you have no excessive or unnecessary movements in either hand. For some guitarists, this first step is very boring. You MUST remain patient with yourself, and the process, during this time. This is absolutely critical! If you skip this step, you will probably train your hands to play incorrectly, inefficiently and ineffectively. At this stage you are developing the proper muscle memory for this technique. If you are currently studying with a great guitar teacher, your progress will be much faster, easier and better than if you attempt to do this on your own. Once you have mastered stage two, you may move on to stage three, but not before! Above I said you should practice this stage for 5 consecutive practice sessions. That is only a general guideline, after the 5th session, reevaluate your progress. If you have not mastered this step, continue practicing at 20%-35% before moving on to stage 3.


Stage 3: Practice at 50% of your maximum speed. Do this for 3 consecutive practice sessions. Again, make sure everything remains very clean. Play relaxed without tension anywhere in your arms, hands, wrists, shoulders, neck, etc. Watch to make sure you have no excessive or unnecessary movements in either hand. Do not move on until this step is mastered (it could take longer than 3 sessions, but do NOT move on to stage 4 before practicing for 3 sessions.


Stage 4: Practice at 60-65% of your maximum speed. Do this for 3 consecutive practice sessions. Again, with total relaxation and economy of motion (no unnecessary movements).


Stage 5: Practice at 80% of your maximum speed. Do this for 5 consecutive practice sessions.


Stage 6: Practice at 85% of your maximum speed for the next (1) practice session only.


Stage 7: Practice at 90% of your maximum speed for the next 10 practice sessions.


Stage 8: DRILL IT! TOTALLY RIPPIN (translation play at 100%) FOR an entire week!


Stage 9: After that week evaluate where your new maximum speed is (it will be higher than when you first measured it in stage 1).


Stage 10: In this stage you will rotate every 3 practice sessions like this: Session 1 = 60%. Session 2 = 85%. Session 3 = 95%. At the end of each practice session DRILL IT (100%) for a few minutes.


Once a week, measure your new maximum speed, and adjust your metronome speeds accordingly.


Warning: NEVER play/practice your guitar in pain. Serious injuries can occur. This is not a joke, I know people personally that have had to have surgeries on their wrists and arms!


If interested in reading more of my articles, there are many more here


Thanks.Tom Hess



Copyright 2006 by Tom Hess. All rights reserved. Used by permission.


Edit: Links Removed


Tom. We truly appreciate your very informative posts, but you cannot use this forum as a promotion for your web page. If you'd like to stick around and participate, I'm sure you'd be a great asset here.

~ Tom Hess ~


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You know what this looks like to me? The kind of training plan powerlifters use to make gains on their lifts. The percents and time spent working at those percents before moving up are different, naturally since the goal is different and the muscle and type of development is different, but the concept is similar.


Hey Tom, did you base this on the way lifters make gains or from some other atheletic training?


In any event, it is very cool and thanks for sharing. We all know to practice slowly and all that good stuff, but laying out a specific game plan like this is really useful. I imagine this method could be used for practicing any tough passage in any piece of music we have to tackle.


Very cool.

check out some comedy I've done:


My Unitarian Jihad Name: Brother Broadsword of Enlightened Compassion.

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The information that Tom presented is good, he also has good advice around on his website about all kinds of ways to improve your music, not just your technique. It is a bit spammy, but the information is good enough that I don't mind.
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Whew!! extremely humbling


I've gotten my max sixteenth note triplet alternate and scale-sweep picking between 116-120


I just did the 30% reduction at 42 BPMs and have noticed many flaws


Looks like 5 days at 42BPMS this week


I am doing this w/all of the modes (and some designed triplet runs) of the Melodic Minor in the keys of B,A,D, and G because I will be using those in this tune I am writing

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Day 2 - 16th note trips @ 42 BPMS


I normally speed pick w/finger joints w/heel of hand anchored(lightly) and fingers out(relaxed)


I noticed that my scale sweeps are cleaner and more defined when I tuck my fingers in (as a light karate fist-no pressure) and put just a little more wrist into it

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So yZe, let us know which exotic scales you end up liking!


Do you happen to know which scale Mike Bloomfied used on East-West, or Roy Buchanan on Pete's Blues?


I had a lot of fun once with this Japanese one: E F A B C - it was a trip learning to avoid D's and G's like the plague! And I found a cool new chord: B D A C F A, low to high - a D min 7 over B. I played the low B with my thumb.


Once I found a list of exotic scales on the Holdsworth website, but I can't remember what I did with it.

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Okay, I did the 5 days @ 42 BPMS on the harm maj modes


Then I just did the 3 days @ 60 BPMS w/ the Hungarian Minor Modes


Now I am at 70-72 BPM for the next 3 days w/ the Hungarian Major mode


I am starting to notice the slop at 72 BPMS- especially when practicing the triplet scale sweeps

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Once one knows these scales, and can play them at an acceptable tempo, does one know what to DO with them?


To where they sound like they BELONG in the piece of music being played? The great players can play the most off-the-wall stuff imaginable, and somehow make it sound right!

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