The 5 Worst Mistakes Guitarists Make When Trying to Play Fast & Clean

by | Sep 12, 2019 | Uncategorized

Playing fast is something a lot of guitarists would like to accomplish but there are a few things that hold them back. With different advice from different musicians, it can be tough to know what you need to focus on. Luckily, speed isn’t all that complicated.

Investing 10 minutes of focused practice every day can truly bring you some amazing results over time (yes, you don’t need to practice soul-draining scales for 10 hours a day). In this post, we’ll explore all the common problems that you are more than likely facing and how to effortlessly fix those problems.

1. Your Playing is Too Fast

This may not sound right but this is hands down one of the biggest problems for many guitarists when learning to play fast. When learning exercises such as arpeggios, you must start playing as slow as necessary even if you are only doing one note every two seconds.

You may notice when you are doing alternate-picking exercises, you don’t get as much unmuted string noise compared to playing arpeggios. The reason behind this is that alternate picking is much simpler and much easier to mute the string you’re playing. Keep in mind though, you won’t be hitting the notes accurately.

The problem with playing too fast when you are starting is that your hands are not in sync with each other causing your playing to sound sloppy. If you are hitting one string when your fretting finger is on another string then you will start to get string ringing and unwanted noise in general.

2. Your Picking Technique is Way Off

When attempting to play alternate-picking fast, it’s important that you’re economical in the way that you strike your pick. If you’re doing big picking motions when hitting the strings, then this is likely where you’re falling flat.

The wider the range of motion, the more time that it takes to hit the string and get more hits in-between. To solve this issue, you need to start playing slowly as mentioned above. Start at a speed that you’re comfortable with and then focus on your picking hand to observe how wide each strike is when you hit the string.

Chances are that you will find big movements in-between each pick, try to move your hand slowly up and down with minimal movement. If you’re curious about what sort of exercises to do, then playing the chromatic scale up and down the neck is a good place to start.

3. You’re Lifting Your Fingers on the Fretboard Too Much

This problem ties together with your picking technique. When doing guitar exercises, such as running the chromatic scale, pay attention to your fretting hand.

Are you lifting your fingers off the fretboard when going to the next fret?

If so, then try to release them without your fingers going too high off the fretboard. Start by picking a fret then lifting off your fingers gradually and repeat the process.

Ideally, you want to combine small picking motions with your fingers, making sure that your fingers are hardly lifting off the fretboard. Practice one at a time to get a hang of it then combine both exercises.

4. You’re Using the Wrong Guitar Pick

With hundreds to choose from, it can be difficult to find the right pick for your style. If you’re using a standard guitar pick, such as a Jim Dunlop Tortex pick, then you will have a hard time trying to play fast.

As recommended by other guitar players, you should get a pick that is small and has a sharp edge. One of the best options on the market is the Jim Dunlop Jazz III. When you attack with a standard size guitar pick, the pick needs more time to cross over from the current string to the next string.

If the pick is sharp and small, it will reach to the end of the string much faster. Change your pick over and you will notice the difference immediately. You won’t be a guitar god, but the difference will be significant.

You might find larger picks are better for strumming as there is more room, and speed isn’t much of a concern. At the end of the day find out what works for you but do consider the Jazz III.

5. You’re Not Using a Metronome

The metronome is quite an overlooked tool for learning to play fast but more importantly, clean. A metronome serves as your personal goal tracker. By practicing at a certain bpm, you will know exactly at what speed you can play a section perfectly clean before it gets messy.

For example, you might find that your playing gets messy when you go to 80 bpm. In this case, you can reduce it to 75 bpm and nail the section before you move on to a higher speed. A metronome comes with many other benefits such as preparing you for live performances, giving you a good sense of timing and helping to keep your guitar playing sounding tight.


It’s recommended that you combine all the tips in this post as it’s what will help you reach your end goal of playing fast. Practice one at a time until you are comfortable with it and then combine everything and practice slowly.

Above all, remember that there is no rush when it comes to learning the guitar, it’s a journey and you should be having fun. Not all practice will be fun, but trying to rush the process and trying to achieve success faster will lead to frustration and will ruin the fun that you should be having.