Playing Fast

Posted: March 20, 2013 by phanson in Tips & Tricks

64th notes smallI was at Youtube the other day and came across a guitarist soloing over a jam track from my book Shred Guitar. He played very fast but was missing some important things. He was young, and with that speed, I bet he’ll grow into a great player. But, it got me thinking…

When you play fast you get the listener’s attention! Like an athlete hitting a baseball very far, or doing a flip off a diving board, we’re impressed with athletics in music too. But, as listeners, we crave rhythm and melody and generally we like our music clear and precise. If the notes are fast, but not intertwined with the music rhythmically and melodically, and if they are sloppy, we tire of it quickly.

Talk about fast playing; a few weeks back I was interviewing Herman Li, of the speed metal band Dragonforce for an upcoming Boss Tone Radio podcast. We got talking about Jason Becker’s Perpetual Burn album. (I am a huge fan of this album and so is Herman.) Herman told me when he was young he took the album to a guitar teacher and the teacher said: “This is crap, you should listen to some good stuff like The Police.” 

I can understand why an old-school guy might not understand Jason Becker’s playing because it’s so intense. But in Jason’s case his fast playing just weaves in and out rhythmically and melodically and it all fits together perfectly! If you haven’t heard Perpetual Burn, check it out, here’s a link to the title cut: Perpetual Burn.

I went to see Michael Schenker (MSG) a long time ago at the Country Club, the best bar in LA of yesteryear. The warm-up band had two guitar players who played fast, but their music wasn’t clean and precise and not very melodic. I guess the promoter thought the band would be a good match with MSG because of the shred factor, but the poor guys just died. No applause, as I recall, there was even some booing. The crowd was happy to see them leave the stage. 

Then Schenker came out playing melodically and intricately and the place went insane. Every note was perfect! What an amazing contrast. How could the first band sound so bad and MSG sound so good? They both came through the same house PA?

I remember teaching the Rock Performance class at Musicians Institute in Hollywood. About 15-20 bands would sign up, and then perform each Wednesday afternoon. Clean precise musicians would make the PA sound great, and sloppy players made it sound bad. Just like good players make an average guitar sound good, and average players make a good guitar sound average.

My point is, when soloing, make sure you’re playing with the music rhythmically and melodically. For rhythm, one easy trick is to tap your foot. If you’re playing fast, try to treat every single note with respect, play each note clean and in solid time! When practicing, it’s good to challenge yourself by playing fast, and of course you’ll get a little sloppy, that’s normal. Just make sure that at some point, you practice those same notes slow and perfect as well.

If you play fast all the time your brain can’t get a clear picture of what you are playing. It’s a blur that becomes an acceptable level of quality to your subconscious. Don’t accept that, give your subconscious a slow, perfect and clear picture too! 

The reverse is true also, if you always play perfect and never push yourself past the edge you won’t progress as fast. So while practicing go ahead, take some chances! Just try to stay under control when on stage… or maybe not, you make that call!

Burn On! 


  1. pikman says:

    Totally agree 110%.Young inexperienced players tend to burn through all their solos but it gets old real fast.Even Malmsteen slows it down now and again!Speed is great and exciting when used as a way to express yourself and at the right time in a solo.Great article Paul.

  2. nlayton777 says:

    Great article. Totally agree!

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