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Musician Article:
Speed Guitar

By Angel Zamora, a guitar/music instructor
based in Mexico City. Visit his web site.

Click here for more CleverJoe articles

Speed Guitar:
Speed Vs. Speed

In my experience, most guitarists tend to fight against the difficulty of practicing new chops, phrases, licks, riffs, etc. for a simple reason - they want to play them as fast, and as soon as possible (often immediately after they read or learn them for the first time).

The problem with this approach is, if you don’t understand how those phrases exist in context, you’ll be losing the starting point to develop speed on those phrases.

Why? Because sometimes the writer of those phrases is thinking of several different things at the same time that will affect the speed at which he or she plays their music.

Like what?

  • The value of the notes
  • The tone of a certain string
  • The facility to play certain notes
  • The harmony
  • The tempo
  • The picking hand
  • The effects
  • Etc.
These points influence the writers to play in certain ways, and sometimes these ways are “obstacles.” I’m referring to “obstacles” as those things which are playable in a different way, but which have been made necessarily complicated by the composer just for the purpose of individual expression..

So now you'll have to understand how to separate these points in the chops, phrases, licks, etc. as: necessary “obstacles” or as unnecessary matter of expression. After doing this you’ll reach a better visualization of your desired speed, and your speed will develop at a much faster rate, because those obstacles could be played in a different way while also maintaining the expression or feeling .

Here are some points to bear in mind:

The value of the notes

It seems that many guitar players forget the value of the notes of a lick, phrase, etc. and just play the notes as fast as they can and just kill the original feeling. If you cover a song and you change the timing of a portion of the song, you have to improve or keep the feeling. Often when a band covers a song and the value of the notes of the solo change, most of the time the result is a bad version of the original.

The tone of a certain string

If you haven't noticed, the 1st and 6th string alone include all the notes possible in the range of a guitar with 6 strings in standard tuning.(in a guitar with at least 23 frets) So, why are there four other strings? Well, one reason is TONE, if you play the same note on a different string you’ll get a thinner or a thicker note (this means in physics terms that the frequencies of the waves are the same but the amplitude of the waves are different). Ok now, why is it important to choose a certain tone? Well, when you play a certain note on one of the strings, this string gives you certain feelings. For example, play the 19th fret of the 6th string and at the same time the 19th fret of the 1st string. Now play the 2nd string open and at the same time the 19th fret of the 1st string. You’ve played the same notes, but the feeling is different, and the difference of feeling will be more subtle when you choose closer strings to play the same notes.

The facility to play certain notes

Let’s take the last example again. Play the 19th fret of the 6th string, and at the same time the 19th fret of the 1st string. Now play the 2nd string open, and at the same time the 19th fret of the 1st string. You’ve played the same notes, but the facility to play them has changed.

So this is why writers choose certain strings to play certain notes, and you must understand that if you are going to play the same notes on different strings that you'll be changing the feeling. The change might be subtle, but many people can hear that subtlety.

Ok, now I’ve given you a very basic introduction to knowing why a chop, lick, phrase, riff, etc. is written in certain manner. With this knowledge you can start learning new chops faster, because now you know some important points to keep in mind. You’ll also be able to reach your goal with confidence by simply changing what is not important.

...And remember to always begin learning something new slowly!

See you next time!
Angel Zamora
Any comment is welcomed:
©2006 Angel Zamora All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

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