SPEED KILLS? NO, TENSION KILLS SPEED

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If you find yourself becoming more and more tense the faster you try to play, this tip is for you. Some time back I purchased a book by Adam Rafferty on developing speed as a player. It’s one of the best books on the subject I’ve seen out there. It’s called, “How To Develop Virtuoso Single Line Technique For Jazz Guitar.” Long title, short book that’s concise yet very effective and crammed full of valuable exercises. Following are some paraphrased excerpts from his book.

Go Easy On Yourself

You are not beating the instrument down. Find the balance between playing too hard and too soft. Know that by doing this routine regularly you are learning how to go with the instrument. Dizzy Gillespi once said, “Everything I play is easy. If it feels stiff, I discard it.”

If You Go Slowly and Accurately, You Will Surely Develop Speed.

If you try and do exercises too fast you will hurt yourself. I never ever practice with a metronome, but I play exercises as sixteenth notes around quarter note = 80 mm. Like an athlete, don’t even think about playing fast until you are warmed up. Stay loose, breath deep and relax.

The main idea here is not to practice at too fast a speed. Stay loose and relaxed, speed will come as a by-product.

Your body is smarter than you think - if you are feeling pain or tension, listen to it! If you try to achieve too much (mind over body) your body will say, “No way, buddy!” and you will pay. That is how people end up with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - ignoring pain or tension. You could put your playing out of commission for months due to injuring yourself!

Look at this as the start of a new routine for the rest of your life. 30-60 minutes a day in a relaxed non-acheiving manner will add up quickly in the upcoming weeks, months and years. It’s a small price to pay for gaining great technique on your guitar.

Give Your Full Concentration

This is not just physical - it’s mental, musical and spiritual. You can’t watch TV or talk to someone while you do this stuff.

Don’t Be Overwhelmed

It’s not about doing every exercise right away. It’s about putting in the time everyday with the right mental attitude. Even if you have only learned the first exercise in the book, play it 4 times consecutively and with a focused mind.


The above are only the first 4 steps outline in the book. I’ve worked these exercises the way Adam suggests and I must say that he’s onto something here. I’ve actually been practicing slowly and in the process my speed has increased! There’s a concept for you, to gain speed, slow down! There’s much more to the book and the concepts behind it. The main tip here is this…

to increase your speed, practice playing steady and relaxed and the speed will come!

I highly recommend Adam’s book. Be sure to check it out.