I get frequent requests from readers and students alike about how they can play fast or faster than they are currently able. They’ve seen or heard such-and-such guitarist and want to play just like that. They think it sounds really cool to play those scales, arpeggios, passages in the piece they’re learning at lightning fast pace.
Well, to the perennial favourite question of “how do I play faster?” my first response is “Why?” Does the music absolutely dictate that this fast (whatever that may be) tempo is required? If you’re wanting to play fast or faster, how does that benefit the music you’re playing? This must always be the first consideration. Fast for the sake of fast is not necessarily good – this isn’t primary school any more people (!) and a little bit of thought (and feeling) about what you’re playing, how and why will go much further than “I can play real fast”.
I would also say, as guitarists and as musicians, we have to avoid where possible (and it can be quite a challenging thing to do, I admit) comparing ourselves to other players. Players that we’ve seen on YouTube with their frighteningly fast arpeggios or their lightning ligandos. We each of us have our own strengths and weaknesses in our playing and comparing ourselves to other players we can sometimes forget this.
Chances are, this person you’ve checked out on YouTube may have a particular strength in this area, but they’ve also probably been working on their playing, their technique (with tempo and speed work just a part of that work, and a natural result of that work) for a reasonably long time. Good playing (and I’m most definitely not equating good playing with just playing fast here, as regular readers I’m sure will understand) takes time and consistent, considered practice to develop.
It personally took me a long time to let go of the “I must get faster” thing, so I totally understand where you’re coming from. I think it’s something that most developing guitarists go through. But let it go you must – as a developing guitarist and musician a much better use of your time and energy is to think about and be aware of your tone, the sound you’re making. Number one!
And then when you’re playing certain passages of music or arpeggios or scales or whatever that you have a certain tempo in mind for aim for evenness between each of the notes first – eveness in tone, eveness in rhythm, eveness in spacing, eveness in control. I promise you that faster playing will come later, and often without you thinking about it.