Secrets of the Guitar Masters: Developing Speed

For most guitarists speed playing is a mystery. When developing speed it can feel like it's some kind of talent bestowed only upon a few lucky ones: Paco De Lucia, Yngwie Malmsteen, John McLaughlin to name a few...

At some point almost every guitar player becomes fascinated with speed and virtuoso guitar playing. Initially, most players interested in gaining speed will be specifically frustrated with the struggle of attaining fast picking.

Accuracy is the goal when learning to play fast, but if you're not accurate and cannot attain lightning speed. (at least not without pull-offs and hammer-ons), there's a lot of work ahead for you.

To most guitarists, speed playing is a mystery. When developing it, speed can feel like some talent bestowed only upon a few lucky ones: Paco De Lucia, Yngwie Malmsteen, John McLaughlin to name a few. This is exactly why we need to explore these types of world class guitar players (speed players) and learn what they did and how they attained their speed. Through this, we will learnhow to move forward in developing out own speed abilities.

But before I get ahead of myself, let’s analyze the backgrounds of these legendary guitar speed-masters:

Paco De Lucia
Excerpt taken from Wikipedia: “His father introduced him to the guitar at a very young age and was extremely strict in his upbringing, forcing him to practice up to 12 hours a day, every day. At one point his father took him out of school to concentrate solely on his guitar development. Combined with natural talent, he soon excelled and in 1958, at age 11, he made his first public appearance on Radio Algeciras.”

It has been said that he was seven years of age when he started with this 12 hour military workout. Stop and think about what would happen to your guitar playing if you had a mentor and coach (in this case Paco's father) who pushed you to practice 12 hours a day EVERY DAY. No doubt you would also develop speed and agility! Every day means; Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday!That's a serious guitar workout for anyone.

As much as I admire Paco, it was not all natural talent – he practiced his backside off!

Yngwie Malmsteen
Yngwie Malmsteen started playing the guitar at the tender age of 10, (after he saw Hendrix’s smash and burn his guitar on TV – he thought it was the coolest thing he'd ever witnessed)

He even formed his first band called “Track on Earth” in the same year. He then proceeded to practice day and night making his guitar his best friend.

Here’s Yngwie’s remark on speed:

From his website:

Dear Yngwie:
I often get stuck inside a scale (e.g., Dorian, Lydian, Phrygian, etc.) and my fingers just go up and down that scale. So I wonder if you’ve got some hint about how to overcome this? Also, can you please tell me some exercise that will increase my speed?
- (David Almstrom, Gothenburg, Sweden)

Yngwie says:
“Both of these questions I get asked a lot of the time. The first one is difficult to answer, because it is really a question of creativity rather than skill. Anyone can learn the notes of the scales from a book or a teacher, but deciding what to do with them actually depends on what you hear in your head . . . your musical inspiration. I can’t teach anyone how to do that. All I can say is to play with your ears open–if you don’t like what you hear, try something else. About speed, I never used any specific exercises to build speed. For me, it took just playing for hours a day, becoming so familiar with the instrument that I didn’t have to think about where my fingers were going next . . . and maybe that answers the first question, too!”

John McLaughlin
McLaughlin was born in Doncaster, England. He is very intellectual distinguished gentleman and one of the world’s best guitarists /musicians.

One of the first guitar heroes who made a massive impression on the young McLaughlin was Django Reinhardt.

McLaughlin was impressed by this virtuoso Gypsy Jazz guitarist.

When John McLaughlin was around the age of 21 in London, he had fire in his eyes and carried his guitar with him wherever he went. He played guitar day and night burning with passion to become absolutely great and practiced 15-20 hours a day.

He used to jam at Ronnie Scott's, and the jam’s often went on into the early early hours of the morning. It’s a shame there’s no recordings of those days… it must have been absolutely incredible!

As you can tell, McLaughlin practiced and played day and night and really pushed himself to the edge. That's how he attained his level of guitar mastery.

What these masters have in common

The key and the secret to developing great technique in music is basically WORK YOUR BACKSIDE OFF day in and day out.

Look at all these maestros – they all did the same thing… practiced, practiced, practiced – day and night. They made it a love and passion and it consumed their life! (at least for a chink of their years). This extreme dedication is actually the only way to develop such a technique. Most great musicians including Franz Liszt, McLaughlin, Vai, Paganini had a period in their lives where they really went all out and practiced day and night.

So talent plays a role… but the good news is that no-one is born with a silver spoon in their mouths when it comes to learning to play guitar at an exceptional level. It’s long hours, dedication, passion and hard work that pays off over time.

I leave you with this all important thought from Yngwie Malmsteen:

"Anybody can learn to type write really fast, but not everybody can write a great book"

- A fantastic resource for building speed:
Jason Beckers' transcription of Pagannini’s 5th Caprice, (an absolute exercise in musical precision and complex harmony), is one of the best studies you could ever undertake to help you develop your ability for speed. Download it here

The best way to build your speed and technique:

Most of these maestros are absolutely unreachable. You cannot take a lesson with Malmsteen, McLaughlin or Paco De Lucia.

The best method for developing your speed and accuracy on the guitar is by signing up to my guitar programs website. Not only will you develop your chops, but the theory and musical knowledge you'll learn about the guitar will pay off in dividends over time.

You can review all of my programs by signing up for a FREE lifetime membership to the site.With a FREE membership you'll have access to the first video of every lesson plan, and you'll have full access to my popular "QwikLicks" series.

To give you an brief overview of what we will work on with respect to chops building:

- Right hand picking
- Left hand fretting
- Building speed
- Creating a technique logbook



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