SKYROCKET Your Guitar Skills By… Playing Super-Slow (?!)

7 minutes read

Alright, so this one is something that a lot of you probably may have heard about. You gotta give it a full try for a WEEK this time before you are going to give it up though. It’s also something that takes a big amount of patience if you want to reap the full benefits. Not patience to see the results, because the results are almost instant, but patience to keep on doing it. Cause it can get boring and you’ll be like, “hey I CAN play it faster”, while that’s not reeealy the case…

This secret that I am talking about today is to PLAY SLOW. This is all it takes. Why such a “secret” then? Because most people hear about it but they are never disciplined enough to keep working at it, and they lose big time on one of the easiest ways to improve FAST on any instrument. Give me 7 minutes of your time to read this and I will convince you to be different and use this secret to your advantage!

* Originally posted April ’15, updated April ’17.

guitar 4
Playing slow will make it easier for your finger muscle memory to get all these complex chord shapes come out easily. And much more! So keep reading to find out. BTW – a quick quiz: can you tell which chord I’m pressing here?

So, if you want to:

  • Cut off months and years off your guitar improvement curve! Try for yourself and see the difference.
  • Feel much more in control of your fingers and watch them go exactly where you want them to go on the fretboard, especially when you play fast.
  • Develop your listening which is something we forget that is the main idea behind any kind of music and especially when playing lead and improvising.
  • Develop a wiser and broader thinking of music theory for your soloing abilities, and being able to play more meaningful and interesting phrases and solos. Because you will get used to practicing with enough time to think exactly about your next phrase.
  • Be able to easily learn and incorporate new “song seasoning” techniques that will make you develop your own unique style. Techniques such as arpeggiating, using walking bass lines, use of sus chords, effectively adding other notes to spice up the song, (such as the 6th, the 9th etc…). All of these techniques require accuracy that you can acquire very fast if you practice slow.

    The Slowhand practice technique (named by me after the legendary Eric Clapton album) will make you much better on ANY instrument you’ll practice it on! ©Bigstock

Yeah, this might sound like a paradox at first, but actually –

Music Maxim #53: In Order to Play Fast, You Have to First Practice Slow. Very Slow.

For a month or two, I felt like I was in a rut. I was doing my daily practice routine every day on the guitar but felt like the improvement I see is not as effective as it used to be, even though it seemed like I was gaining speed on my exercises which were indeed very fast. Later I found out after experimenting with a couple of different ideas, what was the missing piece.

Actually, most people know about this but they are just too impatient to stick at it and they just want to keep playing fast all the time. This is your opportunity to be wiser than the rest of the pack, use this to your advantage and see how your skills skyrocket to new levels, faster than anyone else you know!

If you prefer video over text, here’s the video version of this post from the Guitar Songs Masters YouTube channel:

The best comparison of it that I have read is this one that I found on the great jazz guitar website by Matt Warnock:

“Have you ever watched a baby learn to walk? They first learn to crawl, very slowly. Then they learn to walk very slowly, allowing their muscles to develop proper coordination and mechanics. Then, one day, once they’ve learned to walk, they just run. They don’t practice running, they just do it.”

Keep this in mind the next time you think about dumping the habit of playing slowly because of impatience. This Shit Works!™

A lot of people might say something like “yeah, I used to practice slow but now it is no longer beneficial to me because now I can fly through those same exercises”. Well, that’s great, but it just means that you need to move on to the next exercise which will be challenging enough for you to do while you are still playing very slow. Done exploiting the next one? move on! Here you can find a wide library of exercises for various levels of challenge.

guitar practice
Patience is key! I look rushed here. Not good…
Sounds Good, So Exactly What BPM And How Often Should I Practice Like This?

A good rule of thumb I use for how often to do that is to make sure that at least 20% of my practice time is dedicated to playing slow. It does not matter what exactly it is that you are working on right now, it could be:

– A new solo.

– A challenging song.

– A new spider exercise.

– A new chord shape and the transitions into it from other chords.

– A cool new riff you just learned.

– Whatever it is, just make sure that when you practice, even though it’s very tempting to practice at the original tempo and feel like you’re playing it on stage with The Eagles, you are shooting yourself in the leg when you do that. Instead, if you practice the solo very slow, at about 50-60 bpm, I guarantee you will cut off about 70% of the time it will take you to master that solo! If it’s a very tough part that you can’t nail with perfect technique and cleanliness on 50-60 bpm – do it even slower!

Another good rule of thumb for finding your best BPM to practice with is: as slow as you need to feel 110% in control of each finger’s movement in complete accuracy. This is very different for any part that you might choose to play – easy or challenging. You need to feel that you are perfectly in your comfort zone.

learn guitar theory (2)
Working on guitar theory and scales while playing slow and with patience will be rewarded tenfold. The music material will just sink more deeply into your brain.

It’s all about that little patience that pays itself off tenfold. It’s all about letting your finger’s muscles develop the “Muscle Memory” it takes to work in new levels of precision. What does Muscle Memory mean? It means that if you played it very slow and your fingers now “know” how to play that part with perfect technique – then it will be much easier to maintain that technique as you dial up the speed.

* When I say 50-60 bpm, make sure that you play 4th notes. Don’t play 8th notes! 8th notes, also called double notes, means playing two notes for every one beat of the metronome. Which means that when you are doing that, you are actually playing at 100bpm instead of 50bpm.

I recommend that you work with a metronome. A drum machine app is even better and will give you more motivation because it’s simply more fun and feels like you have a drummer with you. Something like Beats+ will do. However, you don’t have to use the metronomes 100% of the time, I know it can drive people crazy… So when you’re not using it, just pay attention to play at about the tempo we were talking about. Read here for more about the best guitar apps out there.


♣ Hippie Tippie: For practicing improvisation on songs, I recommend using apps that lets you slow down the song. Slow it down to 50 BPM, enjoy the comfort zone, and take your time to think exactly about the next phrase that you want to play! You will notice a huge improvement of your lead guitar skills very quickly.

Remember: A Little Patience Now Will Pay Itself Off Tenfold

If you find it hard to believe, just give it a trial period of one week, and see how 7 days from now you will start feeling new energies of control in your fingers thanks to your slow practicing.

It’s amazing.

Obviously, this works with any other instrument and not just the guitar. Please share your experience with the slow practicing in the comments. We’d love to hear.

I hoped I gave you some ideas. Have fun!

*Originally posted on January ’15.


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Alon Cooper

Alon Cooper

Hey! I'm Cooper, and I hope I can be a helpful friend on your musical journeys. I'm a music artist based in Austin & Amsterdam, playing venues with a band / solo, and trying to learn with the most inspiring musicians wherever I go. In the last 8 years I've lived in Australia, northern Europe, the US and more.

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The Guitar Campfire Songbook

I hope this list has given you some great ideas, and if you want to have another bunch of song ideas in a fancy PDF songbook form, then feel free to download the songbook in this link.

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