Guitar 101: How To Play Fast, Part 3

If you want to be a speed demon, you can’t start in the middle – if you missed parts one and two of this lesson, then head here for part one and here for part two. This means you!

We’ve been through 15 figures of speed-creating licks. If you’ve made it this far, you should be ready for our final sprint to the finish line – pun definitely intended. So warm your fingers up and let’s go.

Another relatively easy way to play fast is to use sweep picking, a technique in which the pick is dragged or "raked" across the strings, playing only one note per string. Sweep picking can be very useful for playing open-voiced arpeggios, as in FIGURE 16, and weird wide-interval licks, as in FIGURE 17, quickly and with minimal effort.

When sweep-picking, be sure to mute each string with the left hand immediately after picking it to prevent the notes from ringing together and sounding like a strummed chord. The best results are obtained by sweeping fretboard shapes that don’t require any barring with the left hand, which enables you to fret each note with a different fingertip. FIGURE 18 is a stock Yngwie Malmsteen-style minor arpeggio sweep that uses a hammer-on/pull-off combination on the 1st string to add a nice legato touch to an otherwise staccato lick.

Another often useful device for playing fast is hybrid picking, a technique whereby you use your pick and fingers to pluck different strings. FIGURE 19 is a cool, easy-to-execute hybrid picking lick similar to one Eric Johnson plays in "Cliffs Of Dover." FIGURE 20 is a series of triplet arpeggios that employ a repeating roll pattern in the manner of a banjo player.

I hope these licks have given you some food for thought when it comes to getting around the fretboard quickly and easily. Experiment with them and try to come up with your own speed licks. For those who are still hungry for juicy licks, chew on FIGURES 21-23. Keep in mind that there’s nothing wrong with working out licks or patterns in advance, as long as you use them tastefully.

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Jimmy Brown

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.