Getting Faster - Are Speed Bursts Effective?

I feel like I’m on track with getting my escaped pickstrokes working well for me. For reference, I often do USX practice of a John Petrucci Chromatic Rock Discipline exercise. We’ve probably all seen/played it, but here’s the one I mean, just for clarity:

On good days I can loop this with 16ths at 180 - 185 bpm. I’d like to get this faster though and I’d also like to not waste time :slight_smile: Being able to do a repetition or 2 at 200bpm has always been a personal goal of mine. Mostly because prior to CtC I was so far away it seemed like it would never happen. I’m pretty sure his advice to increase this a few bpm until I get to 200bpm is frowned upon here (and based on what I’ve noticed getting to where I am, seems like for a good reason lol).

I’m wondering if speed bursts would be a decent idea. I’m thinking of this from an athletic perspective and it seems like to get faster I need to practice moving my hands faster than they can already (comfortably) go. While I can’t play the whole exercise at 190bpm yet, I can do little chunks of it at that speed. Feels like I have control and sounds clean. Once that’s pretty good I planned on doing the same with 200 and 208, then maybe having a go at the whole thing at 190 -195. Rinse and repeat until I hit my goal.

I feel like this is a an ok approach, I just want some reassurance from the group if there could be other unintended consequences of this approach before I devote any time to it. If not, what have you all done to get your smooth/fast motions even faster? Maybe I haven’t read enough posts here but I don’t see this type of question addressed directly much. Typical advice is

  1. Find a fast smooth motion on one string
  2. Start added some left movement and make sure hand sync is good
  3. Move these patterns across the strings

I feel like I’ve got that and I’m ‘almost-normal-fast’ and would like to get ‘normal-fast’ and I just want to make sure I’m not wasting time. I’ve been wasting time for 25 years now lol! The past 6 months since joining up have been amazingly eye-opening and I’d like to just make sure my approach is legit moving forward.

Thanks in advance for any advice, friends!

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When I hot my first motion ot qas around 150 bpm. …it’s moved up to 180 with me just getting more comfortable and confident to just push it. I feel the only way to pmay at 200 is to keep trying to play at 200 and let it be sloppy or uncontrolled. The control comes with time.


Thanks for the response! I guess my main thing is I feel like I’m in the territory of where I can’t yet move my hands that fast. I don’t think I can move my hands any faster today than I could 10 years ago, it’s just that my movements are much more efficient now and I’m not string hopping. I could never play this exercise any faster than 160 - 170 because I was DSX (and possibly double trapped) so the string changes were killing me. I could definitely legato the whole thing, or stay on one string and move the shape around. Now I’m able to change the strings pretty easily with USX. I can move my hands at 190 (sort of). Pretty clean if I do the speed bursts. If I try to play the whole thing at that speed it just falls apart. Should I just roll with this till it magically works?

This might be an interesting read for you.

Cool, I didn’t know there was a name for this, but I have actually been incorporating that concept into the bursts. Gradually adding strings in the chromatic pattern, broken by short pauses. Again I feel like that’s a way I could push myself to play faster, just curious what others think or what they’ve experienced. I’m sure at the end of the day the ultimate answer will be that I should do a variety of things haha.

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The forward chaining thing works very well for me.

If a section of music can be broken into chunks that you can do separately but not together, I start by adding the first note of chunk 2 at the end of chunk 1 until it feels natural. Then I add the second note of chunk 2 (or the rest of the chunk, if it works immediately). I do this for each pair of consecutive chunks until I can play each pair reliably. Then I try chaining them all together.

For what it’s worth, when I practice with bursts, I always include an additional note beyond the end of the chunk as prep for chaining. I almost never practice bursts of a single chunk without an extra crossover note at the end.


This, I had not thought of but I immediately see the value. Thanks!

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Bursts and ‘letting it fall apart’ are really useful strategies. It’s hard to play past what you think your abilities are because it sounds bad…and that’s hard to take when you get to the level of wanting to shred…but…that’s practice - trying to play what you can’t. I’ve had some success I’m happy with since going for it and just ‘trusting the process’ while paying attention to mechanics when I feel I need to. Thanks CtC!

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What follows is just from my personal experience, probably of limited pedagogical value - but here it is :slight_smile:

TLDR: for fast things I usually warmup at 80% speed and then try immediately the 100% version (assuming of course that the piece is memorised). Too many intermediate steps would just make me tired by the time I get to the goal tempo.

I don’t think I ever recorded something nice - sounding with 200bpm 16th notes. The best fast thing I did was Petrucci’s Erotomania solo (attached below), where the final lick is roughly equivalent to 16th notes at 190-195 bpm. But I think I was not strictly playing these notes “on the grid”.

Anyway, that speed is out of my comfort zone on most days. The way I did it was to “warmup” by playing the solo at 80% speed or so for a couple of times, then I immediately went to 100% speed and recorded a dozen of takes. I think in the end I used takes #9 and #10, and after take #12 or so I was exhausted.

I don’t know how JP can play this thing in the middle of an entire setlist (although, to be fair he does not play this solo that cleanly live - forgive me oh great JP!)


Thanks @tommo, @Thegent and @induction for your thoughtful responses. I’ve gotten exactly what I need - some great approaches to taking what I’ve got and building speed. I have some good options to work with that will hopefully all provide different methods of speed increase.

Just to confirm, no one here thinks speed bursts are a useless or (worse) harmful method to giving my playing a kick, correct?

First of all, @tommo your solo cover is freaking awesome!

Regarding how JP does any of what he does…I think people get good at what they do a lot of. Also, from my extensive (though distant) experience of playing live, when you play things in front of people it is much more challenging than sitting alone. JP’s day job demands this. It really fosters growth being on the road and playing at that level night after night. I read an interview with Al Di Meola, probably in Guitar World, where he spoke of the touring he did with Paco and John. He mentioned something about by the end of it all of their “chops being up”, as in improved, from the experience of the tour. The elite professionals have the advantage of this exposure that I as a hobbyist won’t ever get. Well…I did try to go down that path and it was not for me. Glad my musical failure led to a career of a successful web developer with a great family to support :slight_smile:

He is awesome and one of my favorites too, but he isn’t a deity :slight_smile: We should be allowed to criticize some lol! After all, we are his adoring public. I think we’ve earned the liberty.

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I don’t have a well-formed opinion about bursts, but I wouldn’t personally do them in the exercisey-way.

I’d rather practice something where the bursts are required by the music itself - dunno, something like a lick/riff that combines 16th notes with short chunks of 16th note triplets in between - and that also sounds cool and makes musical sense :slight_smile:

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Bursts are good thing to check whether something will work or not. I use it to check frets fingering mostly. But I also use it if I have some doubts, like whether I should use sweeping here or go full alternate picking.

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Got it, thanks. You don’t feel they help building additional speed though? So far I’ve got a vote sort-of-against that concept from @tommo. Depending on the general consensus I may or may not add bits of it to my practicing.

Ha I put this in the wrong thread by mistake earlier. It belongs here. Here’s my latest and hopefully last question:

I guess to expand a little on my initial theory, if speed is really a neuromuscular thing, wouldn’t speed bursts be effective at training the nervous system to fire faster? Also, given the fact that I can play in bursts fairly accurately, I won’t need to then go back and clean up the slop, because I’ll have already programmed it in. Especially if I approach it with the forward chaining approach mentioned earlier by @induction, where my bursts would get progressively longer.

Since you are asking for it…:grin:
I think there is one particular danger to speed bursts.
You can easily fool yourself into thinkingyou are playing faster than you actually are.
If you just repeat a chunk 2-3 times, you might anticipate the very first beat, while you are ending a little late on the last beat.
These timing issue are imperceptible at higher speeds with short chunks, if you repeat the chunks more often, your being too slow eventually becomes recognizable. This is why I don’t practice speed bursts anymore. I recommend to check the waveforms against the grid of your DAW to be sure that you are actually playing as fast as you think you are.

Here’s a vote in favor. Even after I can play the full lick, if I want to to speed it up, I’ll often burst the individual chunks. I find it very effective in combination with looping the chunks. For each chunk, I burst it to get it faster, then loop it at the higher speed to habitualize it.

I do this because I notice that it works for me. (i.e. I can play a given lick or burst faster within a few minutes, not months.) The approach that works for you may be different. I recommend you try lots of approaches, and keep the ones that work.

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That’s a really good point, and a great idea about checking in the DAW. I retired my home studio years ago. Maybe if I resurrect it, I’ll give that a go.

To counter your point about starting too soon, finishing too late, I think that cool forward chaining idea @induction suggested could mitigate (though not fully prevent I guess) against it. If I’m always including at least one note from the next bit and giving it the same attention of where I’m lining it up, I’d think it would keep me more honest.

I fully agree without being aware of the pitfall, it could cause issues and I did ask for possible ill-intended side effects so I heartily thank you for bringing this up!

Right. I think it seems like it could help me, so I’m gonna give it a try, more seriously than the little bit I’ve played around with it so far. I’ll of course consider the replies of others. I think there are probably many truths at play here a variety will be nice.

That is only my personal experience with it, a lot of people seem to be using this with good results. I was always wondering about
If and how this works.

Right. I guess like all things, mileage may vary. I think it’s really good you were able to recognize it causing issues and abandon ship.