If you've been following our conversations, you're probably thinking: "It's taken him long enough to get to this!" If you've stumbled across this post without visiting the philosophic approach to shred guitar and musicality, I highly suggest giving it a look (check it out here). If you're already current, let's continue on as we will explore how to increase your playing speed in 3 simple steps.
(1) Choose a suitable guitar pick:
This is an aspect of playing that is really determined by a player's preference. I have personally found that regular guitar picks a bit more difficult to do alternate picking with as the very tip of the pick tends to feel too big and cumbersome. For this reason, I have personally gravitated towards theDunlop Max Grip Jazz III Carbon Fiber picks, because their sharp point feel more maneuverable and precise (plus their carbon fiber design is much more durable, making them longer-lasting - in fact, I've used the same Jazz III pick for a year-and-a-half as a bit of an experiment to test their longevity.
Additionally, as Newton's second law of physics reminds us: force equals mass times acceleration (F = M x A) - okay, I admit to googling this equation beforehand to make this post sound more scientific than it is, but of course this law does apply to picking and speed. For example, because of the thickness of the pick, I've found it easier to play faster, as the strings yield more to the pick. However, there is another consideration when selecting a pick and that is tonality. One of the things that I find so interesting about Paul Gilbert's tone is the scratchiness of the pick itself. He tends to play with lighter picks (he's been known to use Dunlop Tortex Picks, ranging from 0.60mm - 0.73mm), although it makes the act of picking itself a little more challenging.
(2) Learn three-note-per-string (3NPS) scales:
3NPS scales are great for playing speed and efficiency, because you're not wasting effort in trying to switch to another string, as it allows you "roll" (for lack of a better term) to the third note by way of your pinky and/or ring finger(s). I've also found 3NPS helpful in being able to visualize where I can go on the fretboard while still remaining in the same key signature.
Another thing to consider is that, although 3NPS scales are comfortable for your fretting hand, it can be a little more difficult on your picking hand. Since alternate picking requires two motions (up and down), and 3NPS scales require three strokes (up/down/up), they are ill-matched, causing the pick stroke to reverse with every other string. For sake of clarity, let's look at the following example:
D,U,D/ U,D,U / D,U,D / U,D,U
U = Upstroke
D = Downstroke
/ = String change
*It is also important to note that this inconsistency in the picking can be circumvented with a bit of problem solving. For example, you can plan sequences in even numbers, making string changes more comfortable for the picking hand, as shown below.
D,U,D,U,D,U / D,U,D,U,D,U / D,U,D,U,D,U / D,U,D,U,D,U
/ String change
*Of course, it's not a requirement to pick every single note, in fact, it tends to tickle the earbuds more by using a combination of alternate-picking and legato (you can also play with just legato - just take a listen to Joe Satriani or Allan Holdsworth).
Of course, 3NPS scales isn't a requirement for playing fast, in fact, two-note-per-string scales can work just fine. And as you may have noticed, since playing 2NPS scales requires two strokes, it can pair up nicely with alternate picking, but can be a little more demanding on the fretting hand.
(3) Synchronize both hands:
One of the most important factors in fast shred-style playing is synchronizing between both hands, which becomes more difficult when you increase the amount of picked notes in a run, but is achievable with practice (and a bit of strategy - more on that in a later post).
To synch up both hands, I recommend using an exercise from Paul Gilbert, which is sometimes referred to "the picking lick."
Because the downstroke is so prevalent in the world of guitar, chances are that the upstroke motion will be underdeveloped, and may at first feel quite uncomfortable. Spend some quality time with a metronome and increase speed slowly - and remember: quality over quantity.
Left hand contingency plan:
Another important thing to consider is he strength of your fretting hand. If you're a right-handed player, chances are that your picking hand will be your dominant hand, and may require you to focus more on your fretting hand. If you happen to experience this issue in your own playing, no worries. All you'll need to do is focus on the fretting hand. Since legato requires using the fretting hand as the primary driver, the same exercise can be altered into a legato exercise, and is great for increasing your fretting hand's power and speed.
Again, using a metronome, start out slow, gradually working your way up to the desired speed. And trust me, if this old dog can learn new tricks after years of bad habits, anyone can.