Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Lets talk about building some speed

Just starting a dialog about what you guys favorite exercises, drills and what not for building speed are. I’ve been playing for a while. I work with the metronome (or tef files). I kind of feel like I’ve hit a plateu with speed. Some days I can play a touch faster but most times I get stuck and choppy around 170bpm

So what’s worked for you guys? Not looking for the get fast quick scheme just discussion on interesting drills and what not that have sped you up and kept the notes clean

I’ve tried playing it a little slower then speed up out of my comfort zone (say 190bpm) to make 180 seem “slower”.
Tried upping the metronome in smaller increments like 2-3 bpm

So what’s helped you guys get up in the 200bpm range?

Sounds like you are doing everything I do . you might try doing a scale pattern until you can do it in you sleep. and as fast as you can . I know it is boring but sometimes it takes boring to get to the fancy stuff. I can do about 180 tops and not every tune but we all suffer from that not being able to get up to speed . first you have to have the tune memorized so completely that you know where to go next and that takes time. Knowing where to go maybe four notes ahead would help. I do that with some but not all tunes. I noticed tunes like Billy in the low ground is easier to play faster because all the notes are straight down and back up . May be Ben could help with that, he has a speed building lesson. Good luck and keep at it, it will come to you some day .

It’s been my experience that the brain likes to learn information in small increments. And this is especially true when it comes to the brain/body connection. The human body can be taught to move at incredible speeds if you take the time to be precise and relax into the speed.

Metronomes work extremely well at tracking our progress and helping keep us honest during practice. Moving from your top speed of 170bpm to 175 can seem daunting until you practice to the point where 170 dead clean feels easy. So this is what I suggest to students who want to play at freakish speeds:

  1. Find your fastest, most accurate speed where you can play completely relaxed without ANY error (no dropped notes, no muted notes, no chopped notes). This may be quite slow, but even if it is at 100, upping the metronome 2bpm each week over a year will have you playing dead clean over 200bpm).
  2. Make a note of that speed and set that speed on your metronome.
  3. Daily practice should always be done from 20bpm lower than that speed up to that speed so that you are always relaxed and make 0 errors.
  4. After a week at that speed, change your metronome to 2bpm higher than the previous week.
  5. Again, practice so that there are no errors at all in your playing and that you are able to play completely relaxed.
  6. Repeat 3 to 5 till you reach a speed where you are beginning to tighten up and/or beginning to make mistakes.
  7. Drop back to a speed where you are again comfortable and continue steps 3 to 5.

On more thing. Most folks play with too much effort (too hard a grip). Touch technique will help you relax and speed up your playing.

Touch Technique

  1. Find a finger exercise you do daily (lets say you practice the major scale two octaves). Practice playing the exercise with your left hand fingers just touching the strings, but not pressing hard enough to actually sound a clear tone. In other words, the note should sound like a “thunk”. This sound is produced by just lightly touching the string enough to mute the note but not actually sound it.
  2. Practice your exercises (or scales) this way carefully so that no clear notes are heard.
  3. Relax
  4. Watch your left hand and notice that the fingers will tend to stay close to the fingerboard.
  5. Relax

Now practice your exercises (scales) as you normally would but keeping the lightest touch you can while still getting a clear tone. KEEP YOUR HANDS RELAXED!

There are lots of other things you can do, but these are a few that help most folks get some speed into their hands.

Take care,



Thanks drguitar: I was somewhat at a loss . and you nailed it good. That not only should help the one asking for help but any one who reads this . There is so much knowledge on this forum and I use it .

Drink lots of mountain dew? Just kidding. Doc nailed it in both parts… you have to stay loose. When you get tight, it goes south quickly.

Do you have a particular thing that is slowing you down? It could be the fretting hand/picking hand/coordination between the two/maybe even the brain. If you can identify the limiting factor, try to focus on that more than anything else. We humans like to do the things with which we are good, but to improve it helps more to do the things we don’t do well.

— Begin quote from "mreisz"

…We humans like to do the things with which we are good, but to improve it helps more to do the things we don’t do well.

— End quote

Isn’t that the truth!

I often tell my students, when you feel like you have hit a roadblock, look at your technique closely and find out what you do worst. Work on that problem until it is the best thing you do. Continue this process, and you will grow by leaps and bounds.

At the age of 57, I have decided to take some of my own medicine and get my fingers moving again. This topic has been long on my mind and it has been a long time since I worked on my speed (decades); I have gotten lazy in my middle/old age.

Here are a few other things that should help anyone looking to get some serious speed (and clarity) under their fingers.

  1. Your main job is to get both your hands working together with great precision (attack, rhythm, note legato/duration, tone.) Work much slower than you feel you need to work. You should literally be able to play your exercises/scales without any perceivable error. If you hear ANY error/mistake, even a slight blip in the tone of a note, start again SLOWER until perfection is achieved.
  2. Practice your exercises all over the fingerboard. The frets get tighter near the 12th fret and your hands need to be comfortable no matter where you play.
  3. Pay particular attention to the attack of each note. Often, when changing strings in a scale or riff, the first note played on the next string is attacked slightly louder that the last note played on the previous string. This is a big NO-NO. Practice so that even when changing strings, all notes are played with the same tone, attack and volume as all other notes.
  4. When working on speed, pick all notes. Do not use pull-offs and hammer-ons (even though bluegrass is full of these). Later, when you are working on a particular solo, you can add them in, but they have no place when working up your technical chops for sheer picking speed.
  5. Some folks prefer constant alternate picking and some prefer down or up picking the next string as you attack it (think of raking). Either technique can be used to great advantage, however pick one style and stick with it. Super speed in picking requires that you teach your brain what you want and how to produce it. It will take you much longer to amazing speeds if you keep changing the way you approach your right hand picking technique. Choose wisely grasshopper and stick with it.
  6. As I mentioned above, learn to play with completely relaxed hands. Make this your normal picking style and not the rarity. Touch Technique (mentioned above) will go a long way to helping you to keep your hands relaxed. If you feel yourself tightening up, try to mentally relax and in turn relax your hands while you are playing. If you tighten up during a practice session, take a break and gently stretch your fingers, wrists, hands and forearms. A simple stretch is to put your hands in a praying position, turn your palms to face away from you (keeping your finger tips of your left and right hands touching) and slow push your palms away from you (keeping your fingertips together). You should feel a good stretch from your forearms to your fingertips.

Finally, during the process of bringing speed and precision to your hands, you will often find that one or the other hand is lagging behind the abilities of the opposite hand. Develop exercises that work the slower hand more intensely. For example, if your right hand (pick hand) is feeling slow, then practice your scales and exercises double and triple picking each note your left hand plays. If your left hand is slower, then practice exercises that work your left hand precision harder; jumping strings, exercises with stretches, anything that is more complex for the left hand to do. work slowly, precisely, and relax while listening for perfect attack in each note played.

I have a lot of work to do… :blush:

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It’s all about keeping the right hand relaxed and loose. Unfortunately, that’s kind of a catch-22. Because at least for me, I never could tell that my left hand wasn’t loose. I don’t play fast yet, but I’m getting faster. What I do know is that if you can’t play rock-solid rhythm at a certain tempo (with all the fills and ornaments), there’s no point in trying to play melody at that speed.

Hey Folks, thanks

I’ve mainly been working on slowing down and RELAXING. Just keeping playing slow with the metronome and not worrying about speeding it up as much.

Only problem now is Banjo is taking some of my Guitar picking time :smiley:

You will find all kinds of speed building tips . but one that has kind of stuck in my mind is if you never try to play fast you will never play fast, after all if we are practicing what difference does it make if you mess up trying to play at 250 beats so play fast. Some of the really great players will tell you this is the way they learned to play fast . I have been working along these lines and I seem to be faster but it remains to be heard what I can do later on . just play fast in practice . one tip may not work for all but just maybe one can find one that works for them.

Hey Welder, IMO and only in MO for what it’s worth, I gave up on exercises years ago after I learned my basic scales, never do them anymore at all. The reason is two fold for me, when I sit down for a practice in the morning I always start with a tune I don’t know and am working on. I start at say 60bpm for a while then 70, 80, 90, etc. slowly building speed but Also learning a tune. To me the most valuable resource I have is a large library of songs built up this way over the past four years. I always have at least four in the works as the same time so it doesn’t get boring. While learning the tune you develop speed and technique at the same time.The only for sure thing about scales played for hours is a case of Carpo Tunnel.

Practice is the real speed builder learn the tune as well as you know the back of your hand . the better equipped you will be to adjust the speed ./ I did this on the old rock music. I learned the mechanics of it so well I could do it in my sleep/same with scales learn them first and the speed will come . do not be disheartened . it Will come. as you learn the notes to a tune you will become more fluid thus allowing the speed to increase.I really think to try and play right out of the gate is not the way to go at least for me. I have to know what the next note is at least three ahead some times more, on some I can think a few bars ahead.