The building speed question

Hi Troy
After watching the ‘start with speed ‘ video I was wondering how this applies to learning runs etc…
For example, when you did your old video of ‘Now you’re ships are burned ‘
I assume you started with practicing it slowly? Then eventually you got it up to speed?

Hi Ged!

I think @MartinHamiche sums things up quite nicely in this thread:

In short, moving slowly is for memorizing sequences of movements you already know how to do. Like fretting, for example. Moving fast (or at least medium fast) is for trying to figure out how to do a motion smoothly and correctly in a realistic way. This is what you do when you’ve never done something before and you’re not sure how to do it correctly. Fast is how you know if it’s correct.

As far as “Now Your Ships Are Burned”, I don’t have any recollection of “working it up to speed” in the way most people mean when they say that, i.e. like playing it slowly, then a little faster, then a little faster. I’m sure I had to work out the fingerings and memorize them though. And again, that’s not really a “speed” thing, per se.

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Hey thanks Troy
I’ll admit this all seems a bit alien to me after playing for about 20 years I always practiced slowly then over time speed became a by product of my muscle memory
Your approach seems really interesting to me though!
Especially I remember your old site videos and was stunned to see someone play Yngwie correctly and just as good !!!
Do you still have those old vids on this site ?

Troy’s material with cracking the code has definitely made me look at speed development very differently than I used to. Being a guitar teacher, I get to use my students as guinea pigs sometimes in regards to testing these methods out, and I can attest that they work. I had a 12 year old student bursting a down-down-up-pull sweep pattern at 16th notes at 210 BPM yesterday, after I told him to “mess around” with the general movements for a few weeks. He wasn’t clean, but the movement was there, it looked good, and he said it felt smooth and easy.

I agree slow playing is good for memorization. And I find this type of gradual build up with the metronome practice works for myself if I’m feeling a little rusty on some licks I haven’t done in a while. But overall, I think we need to start comparing learning movements on an instrument to the way one develops physical skills in a sport. I really like this idea of “going for smooth movements” and sort of roughing out the technique, like an artist that does a sketch before they lay down the fine details, or like gradually bringing an image into focus, instead of the typical weight lifting analogies that you see thrown around so often.

Also, one thing the gradual metronome buildup does help with is gaining control at a variety of tempos. I think this is one reason some players, such as Rusty Cooley, seem to have difficulty maintaining steady notes at slower-medium speeds. They only know how to “go fast”.

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I have to admit I am struggling with this concept of not practicing slowly

I know for example if I learn a solo I will have most of the picking stuff down after a few weeks

But this is cause I practice slowly only and then do a bit of click track work about 2 weeks in after I can play it comfortably but not up to tempo

Through time the speed comes as a by product of accuracy

I feel the slow practice programs my brain so I can get to grips with the movements - and through time (ususally weeks depends on difficulty) I can let rip as I am really familiar and Comfortable with the material

I know this isn’t in Line with the concepts here but it’s just I don’t get practicing fast with the right hand before getting really comfortable with the picking sequences

I know slow practice doesn’t always work but then everyone is individual and has their own desire and limits to their technique I feel

slow practice has its place, which is why almost every accomplished player recommends it.

Kiko sums it up pretty nicely, advising slow and fast practice

The problem is that a fast picking motion is not merely “slow picking done faster”, it’s a different motor skill. In fact, a common observation in “shred” instructional videos is that when the instructor “demonstrates something slowly”, his picking movement suddently looks very different from how it looks when he plays fast. The overriding point is that slower practice can only have value (for development of fast picking) if you already know what fast picking should feel and look like. There are many “low speed” motions that will allow you to be accurate at low speed, but will be impossible to “speed up” beyond a certain point. The recipe for speed here is: learn how to perform fast picking without fretting hand or string switching variables getting in the way first. Once you’ve found a way to perform that fast motion accurately in the simplest scenario, you can harness that fundamentally fast-friendly motion as you start to increase complexity of phrases you’re working on. And sure, there can be a place for slowing things down as you figure stuff out, but any of that slower practice will be better informed if you already have a foundation in what a fast-friendly picking motion feels and looks like.

Spending a lot of time “gradually building speed” without doing the primary work of “discovering a picking motion that can work at high speed” is a recipe for just deeply ingraining a picking technique that is going to break down at some tempo below what typical “shred” repertoire demands. Once you have a model of “effective fast picking” to check yourself against, you can refine your accuracy from both ends (complex phrases at medium tempo with an informed concept of how fast-friendly picking should feel and look; and fast simple phrases, expanding your “simple phrase” high speed technique onto increasingly complex phrases).


This 100%. For years and years my right hand sucked except for sweep arpeggios. I was relegated to a lot of tapping/legato phrases, and knowing what I do now, I completely believe it was the result of never really trying to “go for it” with my right hand and discovering a good fast movement mechanic. I’m also left handed, so I think not having my dominant hand at the strings might have made it harder for me to “discover” a good movement.

Its because even extremely inefficient picking can be played successfully at slow tempos, so unless you happen to be using the most efficient motion, you are training your picking hand to stick to the inefficient motions

I think the sticking point here is that starting fast with the picking is mainly for the purpose of finding the right motion and getting it habitual. Once you know how it is done, you can then learn to maintain the same motions at lower speeds - it becones the way you do it. Then the slow building of speed is more effective when trying to get better at a particular phrase. Just remember that learning a phrase and practicing it are two different things. I learn things slow and now try to practice them fast…

Thanks for the replies but are you referring to playing a tremolo on one string to discover your ‘efficient’ fast picking motion ?

In the first instance yes, a tremolo shows you whether the motion is good enough for fast playing. If it is, you then can progress to actual single string phrases - this is where you work on the synchronisation of both hands. At that point you may find that now it is you fretting hand that is the slower party and you will need to work on that to match the speed of the right hand. After that you can progress to moving across the strings.

I do practice slower at lower tempos and build up when working on synchronisation ONLY if my right hand and left hand can do it individually (with guaranteed use of efficient motions). I do learn new phrases at slow tempos mainly for the left hand and pick stroke directions, but I try and bump up the tempo when practicing to ensure that my motions are correct.

You also have to let your body feel what its like to play at speed, even if its sloppy as hell. Your body will start to refine it from the get go - your brain/nervous system is clever like that, but it needs the stimuli (the speed).

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while I fully understand the concept and idea behind “just play fast from the beginning”…I think it is a massive oversimplification. It is taking one idea and trying to extrapolate it to cover a whole complex process

I think we might be erring on the side of giving people the false idea that they will be shredding it up relatively quickly by just going for it.

An analogy might be juggling. Both juggling and shredding require 2 hand synch and neither require big muscles as they are mainly about coordination and learning patterns.

So how long does it take to learn to juggle 5 balls? A few days? A week? Is it like we seem to be suggesting for shredding that one can “just go ahead and do it”.

Nah, its going to me more in at least the several months range even for dedicated jugglers.

So what is the equivalent for shredding? is juggling 5 balls the hardest juggling skill? Nope, seems its pretty advanced but its just a step along the way. Whats the guitar equivalent? Maybe not a Chopin or Paganini piece but maybe a fast Paul Gilbert pattern?

Im pretty sure that complicated motor patterns cant be reached from scratch with the “just do it” method. Otherwise no one in this conversation would have any runs that challenge them. Can we all just start now and play any run within, say, one week from now? And most of us arent noobs

Im pretty sure its generally going to take some ping ponging back and forth between “slow” and “fast” practice to reach top speed on complex patterns. You aint gonna “just do it” on a Chopin piece.

I think the phrase “work it up speed” is itself a slight strawman argument. Its way more complex than that. Its more of a process of carefully honing in finer and finer coordination and control.

Everyone just loves to say stuff like “but you cant take a slow technique and just speed it up”. I totally agree. But by the same token I dont think one is going to “just do” a complex pattern in one or two tries.

“Slow” and “fast” are also pure strawmen. Its all relative. If one is trying to do the Paul Gilbert lick at, say, 130bpm, is he going to practice it at 50 bpm? No, that would be a bit silly. But he might well spend some time at, say, 100 to 110 bpm. From there he can try further refinements on his technique to see what might help him become even more efficient. For him, “slow” IS 90-100 bpm. A ‘slow’ speed for one player will be another players long term high end goal.

A beginner simply wont have the built up skill and control to even make a decent attempt at 100 to 110bpm in the above example. Its going to take him some time.

You cant just hit a rock once and think a statue of David will pop out. I wish I were wrong but the guitar stores are full of crappy sounding guitarists trying to play way faster than they can actually play.

We also cant get away from the fact that if u practice mistakes you get good…at making mistakes

Remember how hard it was to make that first D chord?

A beginner simply doesnt have the fine motor control to smoothly do complex patterns…no matter how hard he tries or how hard he wants to. He will reach those higher levels of skill only thru much dedicated practice. Same as us trying to reach higher and higher levels of speed and coordination


Very true…

Although this is true, in terms of finding and assimilating a mechanic that has the potential to reach the so called elite level (or any goal that the player sets up to that point) needs to avoid string hopping. Therefore, its fair to call any tempo where string hopping is effective enough to successfully operate as ‘slow’ and anything where string hopping can’t reach successfully operate as ‘fast’. There will of course be variance from player to player in terms of where that point is and I think this kind of applies more to the picking hand than the fretting hand (where it seems easier to maintain the same form and motion at all speeds).