The secret of speed

December 22nd, 2010

The secret of speed in guitar playing is not speed but finger independence.

Forget about ballistic movements, about explosiveness — that may work for other sports and the martial arts — but on the classical guitar, what you need is finger independence.

Think of it this way.

Try plucking four quarter notes at 152 with one finger, let’s say the ‘i’ finger, and you’ll find it’s not so hard to do. You can move that one finger quite comfortably at that tempo.

Now try playing a tremolo (four 32nd notes) at 152 with four fingers (p a m i) and you find it’s not so easy to do.

What’s changed? You’re still essentially playing each finger once at 152.

What’s changed is the added number of fingers involved. The fingers are interfering with one another as you play.

The problem comes down to finger independence.

When you have more fingers involved, each one of them will cause the others to  move with them as they pluck, a phenomenon called sympathetic motion.

The real secret of speed in guitar playing is to minimize this effect as you play.

Once you can produce a sympathetic-motion-free movement in your fingers, speed automatically occurs.

Some people will try to counter the effect of sympathetic motion by brute force.

I actually took lessons years ago with one of these people. His solution to counteract sympathetic motion is to get students to practice kicking out the other fingers in the opposite direction when plucking with one finger.

I’ll let you imagine the consequences of just such an unnatural exercise.

No, you can’t fight nature, you’ll have to work with it.

There’re two ways to reduce sympathetic motion naturally.

1. Move the fingers upward in circular motion. As soon as your finger clears the string, release all tension and allow it to move upward to re-position itself for the next stroke. This will produce a circular or oval shaped trajectory at your fingertips as you play.

2. Minimize the follow-through. After you’ve plucked the string, any movement after that is superfluous and unnecessary.

There’re other factors involved in achieving speed – such as looseness, lightness, fluidity (all basic components of virtuosity as described in the AOV). All these techniques and strategies are described in detail in the AOV for Guitar too.

But the crucial factor is still finger independence – allowing each finger to move freely and without interference from the other fingers.

4 Responses to “The secret of speed”

  1. Gift Says:

    Thanks for putting this topic up on the net, I have been playing guitar for quite a few years now but im still not happy with the speed that I am able to play 🙁 . The points that you mentioned about circular motion is something I would like to try (Ofcourse after seeing your videos, i believe everyone would like to give it a try). But the point is I\’m not able to visualize what you mean by Circular motion. I would appreciate if you could put up a video for about a minute of so. Thanks a lot

  2. Philip Hii Says:

    I’m planning to do several videos demonstrating some of the points I raised on this blog. Hope to get it done in the next few weeks.

    Circular motion is actually the natural way to play. If you have been playing normally, you probably shouldn’t have to worry about it. But if you’ve been playing strictly from the knuckle, then you’ll have to retrain the fingers to move in circular motion again.

    The trick is to immediately bring the finger upward as soon as you pluck, to bring it back to playing position again. This will create a circular trajectory at your fingertips — if you were to watch your fingertip, it should describe a circle rather than an arc (which is what you get if you play strictly from the knuckle).

    The point is to keep the finger moving continuously, with no stopping and starting. If you watch good players carefully, you’ll notice most of them play this way. Here’re two earlier posts with several youtube video links:

  3. Gift Says:

    Thanks you… I checked those videos yesterday. Looks different from the way i approach the guitar with the right hand :-). I got to start practicing this was and may be some day ill be able to play fast and get through tremolos aswell ha ha

    thanks a lot

  4. Philip Hii Says:

    There’s a lot of conflicting stuff out there. But in the end, it’s all about results. And I would say the results of those three players are pretty convincing.

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