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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…