What to do when starting with speed isn't working? (Single escape motion)

I’ve been trying to develop a smooth, fast motion for about two and a half years using this method and it isn’t working for me.

From what I understand it’s usually the first step given to people trying to play fast. Set your pick grip and points of contact with the guitar, set your pickslant so you don’t get garage spikes, and use a compatible escape motion with that setup, then try to play fast, just trying to get it to the feel smooth without worrying too much about accuracy. If that doesn’t work, try it with a different setup until you get one to work.

I think I’ve given all of the major setups more than a fair try at this point with no success. Are there any other methods for learning to play fast that I can try? (Other than the old ‘start slow and work it up’ method, already lost a decade to that one.)

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Hi @Maboroshi, this is a very interesting / important question!

Just to recap, am I correct in the following summary?

  • your table-tapping test give “good” results (i.e. tempos typically associated with fast guitar playing)
  • You do have a couple of fast picking motions on the guitar, but they are a bit uncomfortable or can’t go on for long (e.g. you can do a short burst of tremolo notes but then your picking hand gets stuck / stops).
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Hi @Maboroshi

I didn’t read the whole other thread you linked but did watch some of your videos. A couple of points:

  1. in those videos you are playing fast - might be just 1 note - but it is fast
  2. what lick are you trying to expand to and get fast as well?
  3. how have you gone with single string licks like the Yngwie 6’s?
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That’s correct, table tap goes at about 230bpm and I can do very short bursts of notes with wrist and elbow, but it feels more like a spasm than a smooth motion.

@Interestedoz
Just trying to get a tremolo and single string licks working at the moment. The Yngwie 6’s are probably the single string lick I practice the most.

I just watched your clips and the tremolo stuff looks and sounds pretty quick; Is your single string Yngwie-esque stuff (6’s) as quick? Just curious.

Starting with speed didn’t work for me either. What seems to work for me is more finding a motion that doesn’t cause any tension and then paying attention to playing cleanly. I don’t really think about it that much and it changes depending on what kinda of things I’m playing.

What I do when playing 1s, 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s etc, on a single string or across strings, differs. So I have techniques for each thing and I mix it up so I’m not stuck doing any one thing too much and I try to develop musical ideas with the patterns. Arpeggios and motifs of repeating patterns help here rather than just playing straight up and down patterns which are not usually very musical.

I found that finding something I want to learn and play from someone I like, to which I want to learn something of their technique I want to incorporate into my own style helps too. This way I’m learning a piece of music that has the techniques I want to learn in them. It also keeps my ear from getting bored, which is important because you need to listen to what you’re doing too rather than just pure mechanical monotony.

These things have massively helped me build accuracy and speed. I think they go hand-in-hand.

Hey @Maboroshi , I forgot if we went over this already, but have you already tried to get comfortable with “intermediate “ speeds, like 140-150?

We know you don’t have a speed problem, so in a sense you already did the “start with speed” part of the homework.

Next step would be to make your pickstrokes more comfortable/controlled/consistent and sustainable over longer periods of time

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I can play a bit at ~150 but I’ve never been able to get comfortable with it.

A good question. One problem I have with starting with speed is that it assumes that you don’t have excessive tension or stress, or assumes that you will naturally deal with those as you progress. I used to play with an elbow motion — pretty quickly too — and caused some damage!

I admit that I may be misunderstanding something about the ctc starting with speed, but this is still my take.

I would suggest alternating between slow and fast, that is, set a tempo, and alternate between eighth notes and sixteenth notes, always keeping an eye on excess tension. I believe that rhythmic accuracy and volume accuracy are even more important than very speed, and will lead to increased speed if they are present. Do a little at a time, like 10 mins, then break for a while, then ten mins again, etc repeating a few times. Then spend a long time playing comfortably and evenly at a lower tempo, just to relax into to.

Cheers! Z

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I think a lot of people have a different take on what is meant by start with speed. My understanding on that , which may be wrong of course, is you start with speed just to find a motion that can be done fast, relatively easily, right away. Then you slow it down, work on hand sync etc etc. As opposed to trying to work up a motion that may not go fast, for example string hopping.
I certainly wouldn’t expect everything to work fast , right away. That would be too easy haha.

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I think it may be more precise (but less memorable) to say: “start by finding a motion that can go fast but also feels relatively easy” :slight_smile:

The idea of “starting with speed” is not to play fast 100% of the time, but to use speed every now and then as a diagnostic tool: a “wrong” motion can’t go fast, or maybe it can only go fast for a very short period of time, or maybe it’s fast but feels painful, etc.

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I still don’t understand how 150bpm 16th notes is intermediate lmao. I must be a beginner still.

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You should always be ready to be a beginner again.

In Zen, there’s a concept called “shoshin” or “beginner’s mind”. This refers to putting aside your preconceptions, habits, and approaching with the eagerness, openness, and willingness to experiment of a beginner.

Take time away from the guitar and work with an egg shaker or maraca. You can work on rhythm rudiments and wrist movements without the sometimes confusing geometry of the guitar, without pitches, and without significant weight on your body. This also pays huge dividends if you find yourself recording and need to lay down a scratch track.

I was talking to @bradejensen about how forums like this can have the same anchoring effect bodybuilding forums can, where you get some kind of playing dysmorphia. Everyone you see is playing fast and working on getting faster, but if you go out in the real world only 1 in 5000 players is playing clean alternate picking runs at 150 BPM

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As a former full time guitar teacher I can attest to this.

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This is a very good point.

It’s also very easy to forget what sounds “fast” to most listeners; 16ths at 150 bpm is 10 notes per second. Most listeners think the outro solos in Free Bird (~145bpm) and Sultans Of Swing (~152bpm) are “fast.” I’ve even heard both referred to as “too fast.”

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True - and the preferred style(s) of music of the listener is going to heavily influence what is fast to their ears. Someone may not play any instrument but enjoy Baroque, extreme metal, Hard Bop or Bluegrass (or faster EDM genres etc.) and would probably consider those examples to be at moderate pace. Someone who listens to slower Blues, alt rock, easy listening might think it’s too fast.

Definitely another anchoring effect at play, if you only listen to fast guitar music, you adjust your baseline for what is “fast”.

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One other think I’ve been thinking about lately - when I started getting serious about practice again about a year ago, I thought "well I won’t really care about getting as fast as the shred guys I wanted to emulate as a teenager - I really just want to write stuff like Ihsahn or Leprous. Overall the music is a lot of fun but it doesn’t have quite as much appeal as it did. "

It took about until December before I was heavily working on technique again and I’m 7-8 months into that and working on Jason Becker, Jeff Loomis, Yngwie and Paul Gilbert songs. So there certainly was some drift in ambition as I exposed myself more to those players again.

Good points @cmcgee11235 , I agree completely.

The honest truth is that there’s very little that sounds or feels fast to me anymore. I’ve been a “fast” guitarist since I was 14 years old. I’m 33 years old and I’m woopledybloop nonsense fast now.

I have to consiously remind myself that my perspective of what is “fast” is totally different from that a listener. I try to have means of deliberately limiting myself, so that I’m forced to engage meaningfully with the music, focusing on melody and rhythm, and not just filling space with a lot of notes.

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For me the pursuit of technique has always been more about freedom at the instrument than speed. Even at tempos I would consider myself able to play at, I’ve never been able to do it consistently, comfortably or musically.

My intent was to use speed as a diagnostic tool to weed out the less efficient, inconsistent movements and then work backwards from that comfortable, fast motion to a motion that’s comfortable at slower tempos (not necessarily the same motion for fast and slow tempos). That said I absolutely do want to play fast too. It would be immensely fulfilling to be able to play the songs I enjoy.

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