As a young lad (around 15) I was very fascinated with speed and virtuoso guitar playing. In fact, I am still fascinated, and to some degree, I have become a young virtuoso on the guitar myself. Initially, I was incredibly frustrated with my guitar speed. I could play fast, but not accurate and certainly not at lightning speed. (At least not without pull-offs and hammer-ons)
I entered a period of seeking… speed playing was a mystery to me… It was like some talent bestowed only on the few lucky ones: Paco De Lucia, Yngwie Malmsteen, John McLaughlin, to name a few…
But before I get ahead of myself, let’s analyse the past of these great guitar masters:
Paco De Lucia
Excerpt taken from Wikipedia: “His father introduced him to the guitar at a very young age and was extremely strict in his upbringing, forcing him to practice up to 12 hours a day, every day. At one point his father took him out of school to concentrate solely on his guitar development. Combined with natural talent, he soon excelled and in 1958, at age 11, he made his first public appearance on Radio Algeciras.”
It has been said that he was seven years of age when he started with this 12-hour military workout.
I want you to visualise what would happen to your guitar playing if you had a mentor and coach (in this case his father) who pushed you to practice 12 hours a day EVERY DAY. No doubt you will also develop speed and agility! Every day means Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday!!!
As much as I admire Paco, it was not all natural talent – he practised his backside off!
Yngwie Malmsteen started playing the guitar at the tender age of 10! (after he saw Hendrix’s smash and burn his guitar on TV – he thought it was cool!)
He even formed his first band called “Track on Earth” in the same year. He then proceeded to practice day and night, making his guitar his best friend!
Here’s Yngwie’s remark on speed:
I often get stuck inside a scale (e.g., Dorian, Lydian, Phrygian, etc.) and my fingers go up and down that scale. So I wonder if you’ve got some hint about how to overcome this? Also, can you please tell me some exercise that will increase my speed? (David Almstrom, Gothenburg, Sweden)
“Both of these questions I get asked a lot of the time. The first one is difficult to answer because it is really a question of creativity rather than skill. Anyone can learn the notes of the scales from a book or a teacher, but deciding what to do with them actually depends on what you hear in your head . . . your musical inspiration. I can’t teach anyone how to do that. All I can say is to play with your ears open–if you don’t like what you hear, try something else. About speed, I never used any specific exercises to build speed. For me, it took just playing for hours a day, becoming so familiar with the instrument that I didn’t have to think about where my fingers were going next . . . and maybe that answers the first question, too!”
McLaughlin was born in Doncaster, England. He is a very intellectual and distinguished gentleman and one of the world’s best guitarists and musician.
One of his first guitar heroes who made a huge impression on the young McLaughlin was Django Reinhardt.
He was very impressed by this virtuoso Gypsy Jazz guitarist.
The late Johnny Fourie (my guitar teacher when I was younger) told me that when John McLaughlin was around the age of 21 in London, he had fire in his eyes and carried his guitar with him wherever he went. He played guitar day and night burning with passion to become absolutely great and practised 15-20 hours a day.
He used to jam with Fourie at Ronny Scott, and jam’s often went on into the early hours of the morning. It’s a shame there are no recordings of those days… it must have been absolutely incredible!
Ladies and gentleman as you can see McLaughlin practice and played day and night and really pushed himself to the edge!
What these masters have in common
The key and the secret to developing great technique in music is basically WORK YOUR BACKSIDE OFF! in a sense!
Look at all these maestros – they all did the same thing… practised, practised, practised – day and night. They made it a love and passion, and it consumed their life! (at least for a moment) And this extreme dedication is actually the only way to develop such a technique. Most great musicians including Franz Liszt, McLaughlin, Vai, Paganini had a period in their lives where they really went all out and practised day and night.
So talent plays a role… but the good news is that no-one is born with a silver spoon in their mouths. It’s dedication, passion and hard work that pays off over time!
I leave you with this all-important thought from Yngwie Malmsteen:
Anybody can learn to type write really fast, but not everybody can write a great book
Online resources for building speed:
Yngwie Malmsteen’s transcription and explanation of Paganini’s 5th Caprice: (an absolute exercise in musical harmony as well)
I take the following from Yngwie’s lesson in the October 1999 issue of Guitar World (I vividly remember that lesson!)
The best way to build your speed and technique:
Most of these maestros are absolutely unreachable. You cannot take a lesson with Malmsteen, McLaughlin or Paco De Lucia.
I know the best methods for developing your speed on the guitar. Signing up to one, my guitar programs will pay off dividends over time.
You can view my programs here: https://www.londonguitarinstitute.co.uk/guitar-programs/
To give you an overview of what we will work on:
- Work on right-hand picking
- Work on left-hand fretting
- Building bursts of speed
- Creating a speed or technique logbook
I hope to see you in the class at the London Guitar Institute:
Media and Legal Notice: Most guitar images on this page were borrowed from Wikipedia (for educational demonstration)
Tags: Guitar discipline
, Guitar technique
, Guitar virtuosity