Speed is a needed skill for any guitarist and if yes what is the minimum level to be achieved?

I play guitar since many years but in the last 10 years I become more serious about it so I enrolled in many courses in music school in Roma, Paris and I even achieved a BA Hons in Creative guitar performance in Falmouth University in UK.

I did some compositions and I started doing gigs mostly alone using my backing tracks.

So I should be happy about myself and I am until a certain point but as you all know we need to be true with ourselves and I have to admit I still need a lot of improvement particularly in my technique and in my accuracy.

I think that I need to improve my speed (and accuracy) both in picking and legato but the question is till what level?

The answer depends on your style: you have to be able to play sixteenth notes with fluency for any track you are playing over, otherwise you will be limited. Sextuplet should be the target speed in Classic music and Neo-Classic, Metal-Rock and some kind of Fusion not necessarily in Pop, Jazz and Blues.

Of course the higher the sky but we have also to consider our priorities and our taste and focus on what we really need.

So my basic simple question is: what is the minimum speed a professional guitarist should achieve? In other terms what speed do you think BB King, Albert Collins, Steven Wilson (guitarist of Porcupine tree that I love) or whoever not associated with virtuosity, would be able to achieve?

I know it could be a very stupid question but even if I am reaching soon 51 (so I should be mature and focus on what makes you more musical) I do feel that I am limited in playing and until I will not reach my speed goal (that is not clear to myself…) I will keep feeling limited.

So my question is what is the minimum speed I have to reach for not feeling anymore limited?


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This is a difficult question to answer, because outside of classical music, there is no standard guitar repertoire.

If we were talking about a concert instrument, violin, cello, flute, trumpet, french horn, etc., I’d say the minimum would be that which would allow you to perform in an orchestral setting with the typical repertoire. Here’s a good list by instrument and position of pieces you are expected to be able to perform at auditions for orchestral seats:


Having gone through formal music education, you’re probably familiar with some of this.

Outside of classical music, this is entirely dependent upon the genre you are into and the demands of that kind of music. I would probably argue that more facility is better than less, even if you don’t use it.


I think you kind of answered your own question here. There are more guitar players who achieved commercial and artistic success that are not “associated with virtuosity”, than the super virtuosos that guitarists look to as role models.

I love Shawn Lane, but I also recognize that his “elite technical wizard” music is not something a popular audience has ever cared about during his life nor posthumously.

BB King, on the other hand, could barely play a scale if you asked him to, but was hugely popular among musicians and audiences.

So I don’t think SPEED is the defining thing that makes a “Professional” performer. Real pros have a skillset in common: they perform confidently on stage, know a lot of rep that can be called on at short notice, they communicate well with audiences and musicians, and they’re ready for the gig at all times. That’s how you get paid!


Thank you very interesting answers…

Absolutely true!!

According to people who played with him and knew him personally, this was not the case by a long shot.

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I’ve also seen him name notes on the fretboard in demo clips.

It was either Kenny Wayne Shepard or Stevie Ray Vaughan that said in an interview that B.B. knew chords that he had never seen before. He could comp like a seasoned jazz musician.

I think what LuckyMojo meant was that BB King wasn’t the kind of guitarist that plays scales at speed, he was for sure playing great musical ideas… I think nobody can question the great musicality and capabilities of BB King. but for sure he was not a virtuoso, so my question is: to be able to be so musical and expressive did he worked also on speed in order tp be more free in expressing whatever idea without being limited or he didn’t care about speed and focused on other skillsets?

Hi! Others have shared some good answers so far, but also just wanted to note the question of speed comes up a lot here on the forum, and if you try a search for queries like “fast” or “speed” I think you’ll probably find some interesting related discussions!

Most similar one to your question I think would be: What are we calling “fast” — while there’s no single answer, and as you note, depends a lot on style and your specific musical goals, in aggregate the perspectives here should at least give a good ballpark crowdsourced definition of what most people consider “fast”

Point of order: B B King was definitely a virtuoso, please update your definitions accordingly.

Thank you Brendan this is the kind of answer I was looking for! I did a search but I was not good as you… definitely I have to improve my search capability as well! :smile:

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I really hope you are joking, when you say “please update your definitions accordingly” … :confused:

I’m often joking but this is not one of those times.

On reflection, what I could be persuaded to accept is that “virtuoso” is a technical term applying only to classical musicians and as such by definition no player of the electric guitar counts, nor any jazz or blues musician on any instrument.

But then we need a different word for all outstanding practitioners of those genres/electric guitar players, and whatever word we pick for that, B B King is one.

I would simply call him an extraordinary Musician that in my humble opinion is much more than being simply a virtuoso…but you may not agree and this is fine with me… we are free to think whatever we want until this is harmless to other people or to the environment! :wink:

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Here’s B B King discussing his picking technique.

You could approach this question differently and ask what it is you lose tonally from playing quickly.

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Very good point! :smile:
I have this instructional but I didn’t remember about this cool discussion… " I can’t play that fast, so I rather have the hard pick… and I compensate the slowness…" incredible great man, BB King!

I know that 16ths at 180 bpm really tickles my ears (picking or legato). I would say this is a benchmark in 2020 to able to pull off…at least for 1-2 bars.

I’d say that speed is relative to the music YOU play. If you are struggling with parts, then you need to work on getting them up to speed. There is no magic # of BPM’s that allows you to consider you “have arrived”. I am invested in the CTC material and techniques it explains but am not at all interested in the technical sounding exercises that many are calling music. I just want command over the stuff I like to play. Ok add 7bpm to that…! :upside_down_face:

Simple answer - as fast as you need/want to and no faster.

Also, it is better to play something really well at 20% slower than sped up slop.