Is It Really Possible To Increase Your Alternate Picking Speed?

I had a particularly interesting lesson this week. One of my students asked me this question…

"Is It Really Possible To Increase Your Alternate Picking Speed?"

It's an interesting question. It almost implies that he believes that picking speed is something that you can't change. (At least, that's the way that I interpreted the question). And before you criticize him for asking this question, I've found over the years that MANY guitarists believe that natural talent is the primary reason why some players can play at such a high level.

Rather than trying to persuade him intellectually that it IS possible to increase his picking speed, I did the following…

  1. I turned on my metronome and set it to a slow speed.
  2. I then asked him to alternate pick on a single note. I asked him to play three-notes-per-click of the metronome. (i.e. eighth-note triplets).
  3. Once he did this for a couple of bars, I then increased the speed of the metronome.
  4. We then repeated this process until he had reached the fastest speed of my metronome. (208 bpm).

After we had done this, I then asked him this question…

"Were you able to do this when you first started lessons with me?"

He answered "No". And he was right. There was no way he could have done this when he first started lessons. This gave us confirmation that his alternate picking speed had increased substantially. And this gave him an awesome feeling of accomplishment. :-) And this brings us to something really important…

A Healthy Belief To Adopt

I believe that you can substantially improve ANY aspect of your guitar technique given enough awareness, practice and time…

What do I mean by this? Let's take a quick look…

Awareness:

In the context of guitar technique, this means being aware of what your body needs to do to play the way that you want to play.

For example, for the first two years I played guitar I wasn't aware that my picking motions were too big. These big picking motions severely limited my picking speed potential. Luckily I got some lessons from a good teacher who pointed out the massive flaw in my technique. By being aware of the correct technique, I was able to make my picking motions much smaller.

Practice:

Once you are aware of what your body needs to do, you then have to do it. And for most guitarists this will mean a LOT of repetition done using effective practice strategies.

How much practice will it take?

Well, it's hard to say. But I feel that the best way is to find a player that you admire, and then find out how much they practiced to get as good as they are. If you are unable to find this out, then this statement sums it up nicely…

It will take as much practice as it takes.

Time:

Even if you practice a lot, some things will just take time. And this means that you will have to be patient. (It's an extremely rare quality these days!). In other words…

It will take as long as it takes.

Theodore Ziras WebsiteI came across a really good example of this the other day. I was reading the forum of Greek shredder Theodore Ziras. Someone asked Theodore a question about increasing their picking speed. And this was his reply…

Hello my friend

First of all, 200bpm 16th notes is VERY FAST……
After 200 you must try very hard to go faster……..

I will give an example from my experience…
I was playing 240bpm on 1998………
Now (2007) almost 10 years later i can play around 300bpm
So it is less than 6bpm per year.
This means that you must practice very hard to go faster.

Make a specific plan and organize your practice routines.
In your level it is not matter of quantity practice but quality practice.

I hope i helped you

Theodore Ziras

Please read that again.

It took him close to a decade of consistent practice to go from 240bpm to 300bpm! (And I'm sure a LOT of guitarists look at him play at those insanely fast speeds and say that it's all just talent). :-)

Food for thought.


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