Guitar Technique Lesson - Strategies For Busting Through Speed Barriers

If you've been playing guitar for a while then you've probably come across the dreaded speed barrier. This is something that occurs anytime you can't reach a particular speed goal. And it can be a really frustrating experience. You want to be able to play something at a certain speed…but you can't. No matter how much you practice it, you can't get it faster.

For Example: Let's say that you want to learn a guitar lick by one of your favorite guitarists. So you practice it…and then you practice it some more. But what happens? Yep…you guessed it. You manage to build it up to 96 bpm. But unfortunately, the lick is supposed to be played at 144 bpm. You've hit the dreaded speed barrier!

So what do you do? Well, that's an interesting question. And the answer is…it probably depends a lot on your personality…

I've noticed through years of teaching that it is quite challenging for students to escape who they are. What I mean by this is that their personality in every day life will have a massive impact on how they approach learning the guitar. And this means that when a student hits a speed barrier their personality will play a large role in how they overcome that speed barrier.

And the three most common strategies that I've noticed students take are the following…

Strategy #1: Giving Up

This is definitely a common strategy that I think many guitarists use. Rather than persisting, they decide to move onto something else. And while this may sound like a negative thing to do, it can sometimes be a wise thing to do. For Example: If the guitar lick you are learning is too far beyond you current level, it might be better to choose some easier licks to master first. This would allow you to develop your technique (and build your confidence).

Strategy #2: Using Brute Force

Often students who have very dogmatic and inflexible personalities will use this method. This method involves imposing their will on the music…no matter what. A common strategy is to practice at speeds that are way too fast for their current technical level.

For Example: Let's say that you've built an alternate picking lick up to 96 bpm and the target speed is 144 bpm.  If you were to use the brute force strategy, you would set your metronome to 152 bpm and practice the lick. You will basically try to force your fingers to play the lick at a speed that is simply too fast.

I can understand the logic of this strategy. If you can somehow coerce your fingers to play at 152 bpm, then 144 bpm will seem easy. Is it a good idea? All I'll say right now is this…while it might work for some players, doing this could be disastrous for a lot of players. (And I'm definitely not happy when I find out a student of mine has been using this strategy!).

Strategy #3: Using Intelligent Persistence

I feel that this strategy is the best one, and it's the one I recommend to my students. It takes quite a long time to learn to do it effectively. But once you become competent with it, you'll become unstoppable!

When I hit a speed barrier I become particularly curious and analytical about what I'm doing. I'm trying to find out the reason why I've hit a speed barrier. After all, if you know why a problem is happening you can then take steps to solve that problem.

To use the earlier example of learning a guitar lick, here's an example of the process that I might go through…

  1. I'll work out the exact speed where I start to make mistakes.
  2. I'll play the lick a few times at this speed. While I'm doing this I'll pay close attention to both my hands. I'll find out exactly what part of the lick starts to fall apart first.
  3. Once I know what part of the lick is falling apart, I'll do my best to work out why it's falling apart.
  4. Once I know why it's falling apart, I'll then use different practice strategies to fix the problem. (Side note: And this is why finding a guitar tutor can be incredibly helpful. They have dealt with many musical problems before and can often advise the best practice strategies to use for a particular problem).
  5. I'll then repeat steps 1 to 4 until I can play the lick up to speed.

So what are you waiting for? Grab your guitar, practice hard, and start busting through some of those speed barriers!

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