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How to improve at guitar ... forever!

How Good is Your Technique?

How to Improve Speed on Guitar 101

speed test for guitar

It's as easy as A B C D!

A minute to learn; a lifetime to never master! What could be simpler than the 4 notes, A, B, C and D repeated? They're shown here laid out in semiquavers (16th notes) and when played continuously, fill a 4-beat bar of Taplature like this:

It's recommended but not required to play each note with a different finger, finger 3 to start, then 1,2 and 4. The only other fingering that really works is 2,1,2,3. Try them both out. Which are you better at? Which improves the fastest?

How do you measure up?

So what's being measured here exactly?

Let me first say that this is not presented as an "exercise" (although it may be useful as such to begin with); rather, it's a test of your ability to play this pattern. Your top speed is limited by the following 4 factors:

1. Mental Technique (Familiarity)

I've yet to meet anyone who didn't get 20bpm+ better with plain brute-force repetition the first time they focused on it. That initial steep rate of improvement usually levels out quite soon afterwards however and a deeper approach is required to keep progressing. As one gets faster it's also possible that problems keeping track of the notes at new higher speeds become an issue.

2. Picking Speed and Control

The pick pattern is not the easiest although it's straight alternate (down/up) picking. We need to jump across the G and B strings twice to play the 4 notes which is a core skill for myriad other patterns.

My best effort to date! See my students' high

score chart on the wall from (0:30-0:40)

3. Left Hand Finger Independence/Strength

Here's where the toughest challenges usually lie. Each finger only plays one note and for maximum efficiency ought never to aim anywhere but back at the note it's playing. If you've never examined anything like this before it's likely that isn't happening for you, yet! Click here for a series of articles and videos I made examining how to improve your finger independence on guitar

4. Left/Right Hand Co-ordination

If there are any timing issues between your left and right hands the notes won't come out right. Most commonly I see this on the 3rd note of the pattern when the 2nd finger lands early on the note C, hammering it before it gets picked. Happily once such a problem is ironed out it's rare that it creeps back in at a higher speed.

As we improve it's not uncommon to see the current problem preventing progress moving from one of these areas to another.

Semiquavers proving elusive? Try it in 8th notes (quavers)!

Now the pick follows the foot tap up and down! 100bpm in quavers equates to only 50bpm in semiquavers.

Ballpark figures!

Although there's nothing magical about this pattern I use it a lot in lessons as it's such an easy one to teach, learn and test. The gradings I guessed at back in 2007 have stood the test of time, beginners clocking the speeds I expect (20-30bpm) and long time players who've never really focused in on their technique generally clocking from 50-80bpm.

The highest speed I've ever seen from someone trying this for their first time in a lesson is 95bpm and the fastest any student of mine ever reached in lessons with me is 160bpm (the impressive 16 year old TS quoted on this page). For me as a teacher it's a great way to get a quick overview of where a student is at, as well to take satisfaction as they rise the ranks (knowing that most everything else they play has benefited similarly).

A standard tale ... topped out years ago!

Will you beat this sort of "improvement"?

The worst speed I've ever seen was sadly my own effort after spending 6 weeks re-learning to play the guitar left-handed back in 2008. Despite having played right-handed for 23 years by that point, the best I could manage was a pitiful 12bpm. I'd fully expected that having my dominant hand on the fretboard I'd have an advantage. I was very wrong!

Watch Yourself Improving!

Key to improvement is measuring and monitoring your progress (or otherwise) on this or any pattern, riff or lick you want to get better at! Writing down your top speeds removes any mistakes in your perception. You're either better at something or you're not! File and forget, until the next time you return to it! Remember ... this is a lifetime's challenge.

I've added this benchmarking and grading sheet for the 4-note pattern in the appendix to "Discover Taplature!" sent free to all subscribers. Grab a copy and put your marker down today!

Want an even better record? Start your own practice journal in the Taplature forum and post your progress in video form! I'll be on hand to offer advice to get your speed up fast!

It's you vs. yourself!

Although I've offered a grading system the real challenge isn't against others but against your own inertia. To keep beating your own top speed you'll need to learn a whole load about guitar practice: what works to improve you and equally as important, what doesn't! This isn't about hours of mindless repetition (it shouldn't take long to prove to yourself that you can do that forever with no results) it's about investigation and problem solving!

To increase your high score you'll need to strengthen at least one and probably all of the 4 factors listed above. If you'd like a hand with doing any of this, come and take advantage of the best offer you'll ever find on any guitar website ...

Anyone want to claim that better mental technique, pick speed/control, left hand technique or co-ordination doesn't benefit everything you can do on guitar? See me here in the Taplature forum!


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