Guitar 101: How To Play Fast, Part 2

If you want to be a speed demon, you can’t start in the middle – if you missed part one of this lesson, go there now. This means you!

In part one of this column, we looked at various tricks and techniques to improve both your speed and dexterity.

Now that you have some cool ideas for creating your own single-string licks, let’s look at some easy-to-execute speed licks that use two adjacent strings.

FIGURE 8 is a Steve Morse-style ascending sextuplet run that climbs up the B and high E strings and finishes with a screaming bend. There are two good ways to play this lick: you can either pick every note for a machine gun-like staccato effect, or, for a "creamier," more legato sound, pick only the first and fourth notes of each sextuplet and use double hammer-ons to sound the remaining notes.

FIGURE 9 is a short, repeating pentatonic speed lick that uses alternate picking on two strings (two notes per string). Practice it slowly at first, keeping both hands as relaxed as possible while gradually increasing the tempo. For a "tighter," "chunkier" sound, mute the strings with your right-hand palm as you pick. This lick can also be used as a quick warm-up exercise for both hands.

Once you feel comfortable playing it at warp speed, try tackling FIGURE 10, a rhythmically driving pentatonic lick that flies up the neck on the first two strings and resolves with a high bend and shake. Notice how the same two-note-per-string picking pattern repeats every four notes as the left hand quickly shifts positions.

FIGURE 11 is a nightmarish lightning-fast lick that uses the same two-note-per-string alternate picking approach introduced in Figure 9.

The two-note-per-string alternate picking approach also works well for six-note patterns using three adjacent strings. FIGURE 12 is a blistering pentatonic lick that moves across the neck in a single box position. Eric Johnson and Zakk Wylde employ similar speed licks in many of their solos.

FIGURES 13-15 are short speed licks that sound cool when repeated over a series of chord changes, as in a 12-bar blues progression. Licks like these are great for building rhythmic and harmonic tension in a solo, as Lynyrd Skynyrd’s guitarists demonstrate so well in the classic "Free Bird" jam.

Stay tuned for part 3...

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Over the past 30 years, Jimmy Brown has built a reputation as one of the world's finest music educators, through his work as a transcriber and Senior Music Editor for Guitar World magazine and Lessons Editor for its sister publication, Guitar Player. In addition to these roles, Jimmy is also a busy working musician, performing regularly in the greater New York City area. Jimmy earned a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies and Performance and Music Management from William Paterson University in 1989. He is also an experienced private guitar teacher and an accomplished writer.