Slow vs Fast Practice?

Hi guys, I’m new here but have watched all episodes of Troy’s cracking the code animated series.

I have recently been seeing more users posting that to gain speed, the licks should be practised fast as opposed to slowly building up with a metronome, and I had a few questions about this.

  • How does fast playing improve the speed you are able to play it, as opposed to slowly building it up?
  • If I was doing the Paul Gilbert lick I would understand how I would do that, but how many bursts of it should I do and how would only doing bursts help to play the lick in more than 1 smooth repetitions.
  • How would practising fast scale runs up all 6 strings work, If I attempt this everything falls apart very quickly. Is it a matter of doing maybe 6 note chunks at a time then stringing them together?

I’ve been trying to make big alternate picking gains for a couple of years now, which has slightly worked, but I can’t do anything that fast, or anything across more than one string. Even my one string stuff is slow!


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The approach “to play fast, one must practice fast,” is in general quite true. Obviously very contrarian to a bystander or a beginner, but some movements morph into a smoothness at proper tempo that is practically invisible at 50% tempo.

The only caveat is that I feel some are missing the left hand dexterity to really take advantage of the shortcut. When we first held a proper F bar chord for the first time, we remember how long that took. Similarly, “just strum away,” is not always applicable, even if it is correct.

However, the real benefit of practicing fast is that at near proper tempo, the technique itself keeps you on the beat- for example, the rest stroke is not just a technical tool but a rhythmical tool as well. In other words, the technique itself becomes sort of like a metronome.

One disadvantage of playing slow and building it up…is that learning is not really a linear process. If the technique is fundamentally flawed, then you won’t be able to progress beyond a certain measure, and if it were correct to begin with, why would one start at “0” and waste valuable time.

The other more crucial disadvantage of playing slow, is that one is bound to fall into a negative spiral of nailing slower attempts many times and nailing one good attempt, and moving on- thereby relegating everything to chance. In other words, because one has practiced this way, one has become really good at playing slow, and mentally he is still afraid to play fast.

The logic behind starting at least moderate-proper tempo is that most tempos are actually within reach of the average person’s motor movements. It just saves time to clean up the string noise rather than to start from scratch.

In short, it saves time and saves oneself from any subconscious mental issues.


Good stuff Peter, as always! :pray:


If you haven’t seen this video yet, one of our best things on the topic! —

I also suggest trying a search for things like speed and practice, many good discussions here on those and related topics :slight_smile:

Great reply from @Peter_C and brings home how there are really a lot of interconnected things here! I know we’ve seen cases where what at first glance is a question about picking speed problems actually turning out to be hand sync issues for example. Or sometimes just changing grip or motion seems to make your max speed feel a lot higher.

Also worth noting that “practice” can mean many things, and the “play it fast” advice here mainly pertains to learning motions, which is often a question more of figuring out the right technique and getting it happen consistently vs. actually increasing raw athletic max speed of your hand. And for learning a new motion it’s okay if things fall apart a bit at high speeds, the main thing is trying to get a feel for something that has potential and isn’t stringhoppping, which can be hard to tell when only playing slowly.

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I would say that any advice is an advice, not a rule. If someone says ‘use this and this method only’ he is wrong. Any method has it’s conditions and limitations.
For example for practicing legato you would definitely need to start slowly. Veeeery slowly. Because all that nuances like index finger muting, avoiding flying pinky etc are difficult to control at the beggining, even in medium tempo.
So, slow practice - for left hand, fast - for right hand?
Not so simple.
When I first tried to incorporate sweeping in my picking it was difficult. I mean, I was used to alternate picking, so for me natural flow was down-up-down-up-down-up… That 3nps approach D-U-D D-U-D D-U-D… was like breaking the internal rhythm. The only thing that worked for me was to play this stuff slowly, so that my hand could get used to an idea that there’s nothing wrong here, this broken rhythn is not a big deal, sh-sh, everything is fine…

Next was USX motion. Playing fast did not work since I already had fast motion that was NSX, so when I played really fast old habits took over. Slow parctice didn’t help much too. It was medium tempo where I could get some improvements.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s up to you what tempo to use. Though it would require some thinking on the current issue.

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Totally agreed on the legato and sweeping!! No problem letting it burn whilst alternate picking, but the left hand must be completely relaxed while performing legato and sweeping…and this includes proper wrist positioning while doing legato and sweeping too. Obviously the pick hand should be relaxed too, but I can burn most common alternate picked 3 NPS scale shapes at 180 BPMs cleanly at this point, but struggle to do so cleanly on legato and sweeping without excess noise. This could definitely just be me, but I feel it takes just a tad more pressure and correct wrist posture to get clean on legato and sweeping.

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