Guitar Speed Exercises

Jim Josselyn

The following exercises will help you on your way to doing everything rhythm and lead guitarists do, such as playing melodies, chords, arpeggios, and scales faster. It is essential that you use a metronome with every exercise. Speed is a relative thing, and the metronome helps solidify the concept. Two-hundred sixty beats per minute may be fast to some guitarists, while 120 beats per minute seems fast to others. The keys to acquiring speed will be patience, going faster in small increments, and the belief you can do it.

Eight Ways to Get Faster

The following printable contains exercises to increase guitar speed. To print, click on the image. If you need help, consult this Guide To Adobe Printables.

Jim Josselyn

Rhythmic What?

When you diminish something, you make it smaller. Exercise 1 breaks down the simplest note values, starting with the whole note and cutting them in half until you get to the sixteenth note. To really start to understand what fast is, you need a perspective on tempo and the way each note value relates to it. Regarding your picking, with each of the following exercises you should use all downstrokes and alternate or down-up picking.

  1. Place your metronome on a medium or slow tempo between 70 and 80 beats per minute and play exercise 1.
  2. Whole notes get four beats, half notes get two, quarter notes get one, eighth notes get half a beat, and sixteenth notes get a quarter of a beat.
  3. As you get the feel for the exercise, increase the speed. Go up by two or three beats per minute. For example, 72 then 75 then 77 then 80 and so on.

Rhythm Guitarists Play Fast, Too

Listening to any variety of styles, such as jazz, Brazilian, punk, rock, and more, you know the importance of keeping the groove as a rhythm player. With any chord progression, you already work on bringing up the tempo until it's comfortable, and your hands are in sync.

  1. When playing chords, make sure there is no break in the sound when switching. Think of being a saxophone player and keeping the air going between all the notes.
  2. Play the given chords in exercise 2, and others, and play them with the rhythm exercise in exercise 1.
  3. Listen to what you're playing and watch for creative ideas. They're everywhere if you just listen.

Style in Rhythm

Guitarists from the beginning of the instrument have "arpeggiated" the chords to songs. Jazzers, classical cats, bluesmen, folk rockers, and studio pop aces alike use this technique.

  1. Again the idea is to flow. Work on having no break in the sound when you play exercise 3.
  2. When playing these type of progressions, the most important thing is keeping the time together. The order of the notes is of far less importance, so vary the notes while trying to play the root of the chord on beat one.
  3. To build stamina with exercise 3, create a four bar chord progression that extends it. Building speed is like weight lifting, so increase your reps.

Going Long

When you've listened to fast guitar players who play at crazy fast tempos with ease, you may notice they play all over the neck of the guitar from low to middle to high. The three octave E major arpeggio in exercise 4 is a great way to start seeing the range of the guitar while increasing speed.

  1. Play exercise 4 slowly, evenly, and correctly. Remember fast and wrong is still wrong.
  2. There are 12 keys in music. Play this long form arpeggio in all 12 keys. Again, you're lifting weights to get stronger. Twelve reps is better than one.
  3. There are quite a few chords you can arpeggiate, such as minor, augmented, diminished, sixth, seventh, ninth, major seventh, minor seventh, major ninth, and minor ninth...not to mention the accompanying scales. Welcome to the club!

Speaking of Scales

When you hear your favorite guitarist rip off an impossibly fast lick, chances are she played it before. Most likely, it came from a scale and is a pattern on a scale. For the purposes of these exercises, the A blues scale, will serve as the basis for pattern-based exercises. Keep in mind there are dozens and dozens of scales to master.

  1. Play the A blues scale at the fifth fret as in exercise 5. Master it and let every note ring clear at slow, medium, and fast tempos before moving on to the patterns.
  2. The pattern in exercise 6 is a technique you can use for speed and to get ideas for solos. Listen for the ideas and see if you've heard some of your favorite guitarists play these sounds.
  3. The skip a note idea in exercise 7 is challenging and will help open up the sound of what you're playing as it adds intervals like thirds and fourths into the mix.
  4. The add a note pattern in exercise 8 is a musical tongue twister and the most difficult to master. When you learn it, take your time and listen. The rhythm may also seem quite difficult as this is most likely a pattern you haven't heard before.

The Need for Speed

Music is an aural art form. You heard a virtuoso play something uptempo, you liked it a great deal, and now you want to participate. Taking a Zen approach to playing fast will serve you well. Come at this as if you are in the "beginners mind" and know nothing about the subject. Take your time and work hard. The results will be worth it. Remember, when greats like Pat Martino, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and John Williams started playing, they couldn't play fast. Yet.

Guitar Speed Exercises