Get Used to Winning: If You Want to Play the Guitar Fast, Stay Slow

Because I didn’t take lessons (a big mistake) I always wondered, if my goal is to increase my speed, then should I stay slow, or gradually increase my speed?  And when am I playing well enough to notch up the tempo?

This line of thinking comes from equating guitar playing to weight lifting.  If you want to lift more, you have to challenge your body by lifting heavy weights.  Similarly, I thought, if I want to play fast, I do it by increasing my speed.

Well — it’s not working that way.

A better way, I’m discovering, is to stay slow.  As in, SUPER slow.  Break a lick down to every single note, and pay attention to the tiniest details — how you fret, where you fret, your picking angle, picking position, picking dynamics.  Still, run a metronome and play in rhythm.  Aim for absolute accuracy down to the most minute detail.  Perfection is unattainable but try anyway.

This helps me to train my hands better, with the best habits possible.  Keep practicing slow regularly.

Then once in a while, stop the metronome and see how familiar your hands have become with those particular moves.  When they get used to moving that way, you can increase your speed without losing accuracy, even though you haven’t been practicing fast.

Why is this?  It’s because we’re trying to form new habits for our playing hands.

Consider habits like grooves on a dirt road.  At first, it’s not there — so your wheels don’t really go over the exact same places on the road.  But as you keep driving over the road, grooves form, and they get deeper and deeper — so that even when you’re driving rather fast, your wheels still fall into the groove and they don’t come off.

When you practice slowly, you’re digging that groove on the road, where it’s the perfect place to travel.  Make your body play perfectly, and make it a habit.  Think of it this way.  Every single note you play correctly, is a win.  You’re trying to win more notes, and build a habit of winning.  When your grooves are firmly dug, then you can go fast or slow, and your wheels stay firmly grounded in the grooves.

Wow, that concept has larger implications that I can see apply to many other areas in life.  A well-lived life is one that’s filled with good habits that are consciously developed.

Why not start with our guitar?  Let’s get used to winning, all the time.  And we’ll be winners.

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