Precision Versus Speed in development of speed


Maybe it isn’t reiterated enough, and is why my progress is slower than I would like, but I keep finding that my drive for precision has always held me back from my development of speed. If I lower my standard for precision some, and wallow in that awful, messy place of speed without precision for a while, it is there I begin to actually develop speed and the precision follows.

In other words, precision never enhances speed, but speed, once developed, can be harnessed with precision.

In the inimitable words of Yngwie J. Malmsteen (the J so as not to confuse him with all the other Yngwie Malmsteens), “If you want to play fast, you’ve got to play fast.”


Every single thing that I’ve learned to play fast on the guitar came from a pretty annoying period of playing it sloppy. The area where people get into trouble is thinking they can be somewhat sloppy and tense. Martin Miller talks about this in his popular video on speed; he says if you tense up you’re engraining false technique, and he’s very correct about this.

However, you can’t do a motion perfectly if your body doesn’t even know how to do the movement yet, and periods of experimentation with loose technique is, as far as I know, the only way to get there. Think about it like this: If on the first day of practice you were doing 3NPS alternate picking with the exact motions that Paul Gilbert used, you would be playing as fast as Paul Gilbert on day one. So in a general sense that is why “start painfully slow and speed up” is literally some of the shittiest advice you can give for the technical aspects of guitar playing, because it assumes all motions at all speeds are exactly the same. Sure, faster motions are often just sped up and Troy has talked about this, but pick depth and slight changes in the hand and arm are very visible once speed increases, so it’s a fool’s errand to think there are zero changes in technique at say, 60 BPM 16th notes, versus 200 BPM 16th notes. Even if the physical changes were zero, the mental shift in perspective would suggest practicing at those two speeds are worlds apart.

Basically, what you need is to get a basic gist of the motion. Over time the pattern is something like this:

Experimentation -> Failure -> Failure -> Click -> Failure -> Click -> Click -> Failure -> Click -> Click -> Click -> Desired Performance

The movement clicks at some point, and from there further smoothness gets you insane speed.

Proponents of metronome practice, on the other hand, often miss the forest for the trees and trade smoothness for bumping up that metronome. just. one. more. notch. Not only that, they add another variable to the equation which is human judgment in deciding whether or not to increase the metronome speed. The funny part is the body already does this, and this is a fact in neuroscience: The cerebellum assumes that any sequential input within a timeframe (no research to indicate what this might be) is to be played as fast humanly possible by the person playing it. Every time you perform a repetition the brain is essentially thinking “How I can make this faster?” You can look up Dr. Frank Wilson for more information on this. Really, you need to play at medium and fast speeds that are often uncomfortable and sound not so great. You just cannot get there otherwise by trying to be perfect all the time.


Y also said “Slow is controlled, controlled is relaxed, relaxed is fast, so slow is fast”*

You can’t always take what players say at face value.

*edit: I can’t find where this was though, so maybe I hallucinated it or it was some kind of fever dream I had while sweatily repeating the 6 note pattern


Found it.


Interesting. I wonder what a poll would reveal?

I know S Lane among others has said similar, but then there are those who claim to never practise sloppy. Steve Vai, for example, said never go beyond the speed where it breaks up.

I am too attempting to increase speed (is anyone on here not doing that? :thinking: ) so I will give this a go. Would you suggest bursts/cycling with top clean speed/or some other practice regime?


Don’t you think there are other variables that determine how fast a guitarist can become? How about talent?


I don’t think talent exists. You have players who are more interested/obsessed and better at mechanical problem solving on their own than others.


I think talent, as well as ergonomic advantage, both play a role. Hard work can compensate for a lack of one or both, but if all effort is equal, the player with the ergonomic or natural talent advantage will excel quicker and will likely reach greater heights of technical prowess.

And I don’t mean to start an argument about ergonomics, but it’s simply a fact. People with longer fingers have a distinct advantage in that the guitar, in it’s most common incarnation, is meant for players with longer than average fingers.

There’s a reason why Valley Arts 7/8ths guitars were created and were so popular during the heyday of shred guitar playing, and it isn’t because ergonomics aren’t a determining factor of developing technical prowess.


The point at which physical ergonomics and talent noticably contribute towards a disparity in technical skill is practically irrelevant.

If you can’t shred like malmsteem, it’s not because of a lack of talent - that’s for sure. Naturally, if you aspire to be the fastest shredding human in the entire world, that’s a different matter. But who has that ambition? Doesn’t sound like a musical journey to me :smiley:


It’s similar to bouncing a basketball. If you bounce slow you’ll adapt to the forces and speed required to keep it controlled.
If you want to bounce it fast, you have to put in more force to the ball, and then control it as it bounces back at a higher speed.
At first your rhythm will be off due to your body not being adapted to those forces, but over time you’ll control the rebound better due to muscles, nervous system adapting.

You have to go through that uncontrolled period to adapt.


I used to think so, but given a working brain and functioning limbs I don’t think it’s really possible to be “talented” with moving a small piece of plastic or nylon or whatever across steel strings. Coming up with groundbreaking music and the associated creativity? Sure, there are some things that can’t be taught, but learning how to play extraordinarily fast on the guitar is not one of those.


Sure, having a “working brain and functioning limbs” is a prerequisite, but do you believe everyone’s mental and physical capacities, including their potential capacities, are equal?


If we are talking about breaking the world record in guitar speed picking then you are right, not everyone can do it, like not everyone can outrun Usain Bolt or jump higher than Lebron James, even if they train their whole lives. The human body has indeed some barriers and every individual has it’s own limit. For example I’m 6.1ft and my legs are made off glass, I could never outperform Lebron James even if I practiced 15h per day my whole life.

But anyone with enough drive, patience and guidance can play in Malmsteen’s speed or Jeff Loomis’.

Some people might do it faster and smoother than others, but anyone can get there, if they practice enough and correctly. Correctly is a debatable term though because everyone is different and has different needs. That’s why a good guitar tutor is critical in that process.


I wasn’t talking about breaking a world record, but if you accept the fact that most people will never outrun Usain Bolt or jump higher than Lebron James, why would you think that anyone with enough drive, patience and guidance can at least acquire a spot on their Olympic track team or play in the NBA? After all that is the elite level in those fields just like Malmsteen is at the elite level in his field. Malmsteen actually set the bar for metal or neoclassical guitar technique. There wasn’t another player in his genre that could do what he could do when he made his debut.

Granted, speed isn’t the only component of what he does, just like jumping isn’t the only thing LeBron James does. The point is they are both areas in which each guy had an inordinate amount of talent, which along with the rest of their talents enabled each to reach the top of his profession.


I agree with what you’re saying, but to an extend. If you type “Yngwie Malmsteen cover” on YouTube you will find many people covering his songs, from little Asian girls to professional guitar players. In terms of speed many people have reached Yngwie’s level, what no one has done yet is to play that style with the touch Yngwie has, especially in vibrato and bending.

Yngwie has perfect pitch, something that definitely helped his development and it’s a 1 in 10.000 people gift. Yes, perfect pitch can’t be taught and no matter the hours you put in, it will never be “perfect”. That has an effect on how you bend notes, how you apply vibrato, etc. Yngwie can have really bad performances but his vibrato and bending will never sound out of tune. That’s talent and that’s where I agree with you.

For the rest, I think that if you put enough hours in like Yngwie did and you practice in a way that helps you break personal barriers, then you can get there. How many people can do that? Very few, because of working/studying hours, other commitments and of course lack of personal drive. Yngwie was an absolute madman, he called himself an obsessed freak many times in the past. That is uncommon, can’t be taught and made Yngwie and others special.


That’s a bit of a loaded question because IQ points exist and obviously we are all of differing intelligence levels, that much we know.

But yes, I still think the average person is capable of learning to absolutely rip on the guitar. And when I say average person I’m also including the typical defeatist “I’ll never learn to play fast!!!” sort of person you might see in YouTube comments or wherever. Physical handicaps can be worked around to create amazingly fast music, Django being arguably the most famous of all time.

I’d agree with @BillHoudini above. The mental aspects of guitar playing and the commitment time is under-appreciated. You really do have to work for it, but nailing Yngwie’s exact nuances aside and just generally referring to the ability to play something fast… If you tell yourself you can’t do at least one thing on this instrument to a virtuosic level of performance (170 BPM++ 16th notes or equivalent, around there) well then, you’re right. But if you don’t, you can get there even if you fail 1,000,000 times prior to getting it, which I might even argue is a prerequisite for getting there, anyways.


Speed is such a tiny proportion of virtuosity, it’s easy to get fixated on speed when you can’t do it, but once you’ve either cracked the code or been shown how to do so, it’s all vocabulary, listening and nuance from there on down the other side of the mountain.


The thing that made me curious is as long as we agree that people have differing mental and physical capacities and potentials, and that they differ greatly, then why wouldn’t you think that would have an effect on how difficult it’s going to be to reach, say an Yngwie Malmsteen level of speed, or if a particular person is going to even have the talent (potential) to reach it at all?


I don’t think that because there’s no reason to. There’s nothing to indicate (scientific studies or otherwise) that mental and physical capacities are at all related to speed potential on the guitar for the average person.

Most people invent stories for why they shouldn’t sit down and practice. “I’m just not talented enough” is the biggest one for guitar.


Because Yngwie level speed is nothing like as close to the limits of actual physical movement as, say, Usain Bolt’s running speed is.

Sure it’s a coordination challenge but if you can tie shoelaces you’ve probably got enough control over your fingers to get there.