Instrument Technique Guide

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Guitar Technicalities
A Guide to Effortless Playing


I've been wanting to write a book or some sort of guide about learning guitar technique. It's a very specific area of playing the instrument and not that important to many people. Most individuals can make their way to a level where they are satisfied with their playing and just keep on cruisin'. However, I always liked the difficult stuff and wanted to learn to play it. And it was a huge struggle to me. I simply didn't know what to do and spent hundreds of hours trying things that simply didn't work.

That isn't to say that this book wouldn't help everyone no matter the skill level playing whatever instrument they happen to be familiar with. It's just that guitar is what made me get here. There used to be a time when I thought: "No matter how hard I try, I will never be able to play this." Today I feel like: "If I put a specific amount of time in practicing, I can master anything." This is a practical guide to help people to break through that barrier. All you need is a few simple methods.

Why here? I think these forums are a perfect place to jot down notes about this stuff, because eventually it will be erased. I read the yep's guide to mixing that someone posted here and thought a forum might be an excellent idea (hey, I'm writing, aren't I?) Also, there might be individuals here who are struggling with the same stuff and can help me to really get to the bottom of what I'm trying to explain by asking tough questions. Here's for hoping! I don't mean to keep this very structured. It will most likely be a huge text dump that I structure together at a later date.

How did I get where I wanted to go?

I did need help. But it was mostly research. And not always on music forums! This is a solid foundation to learning a relaxed way of performing with any instrument without having to put hundreds of hours in it. Of course, the more time you use, the more you learn, but in my opinion, learning the physical aspects of playing shouldn't be a journey that takes years and years. You just gotta know how to approach each challenge and it'll be a piece of cake.

The Internet is full of guides that will teach you very unpractical ways to learn how to play, and in my experience, they just don't work. If anyone learned how to play by hitting +1bpm on their metronome while doing their rudiments, I assure you, it was a happy accident.

I'm not the technically most advanced guitar player on Earth, but that's just a matter of priorities. The point is: I could be. And so can you. It's just that without proper tools, the journey is going to be impossible. And this guide is all about teaching you the tools. When I discovered how to learn anything, I gradually lost the interest in trying to learn everything. It's weird how you sometimes just try to obtain the unobtainable. I'm a lazy guy, so I just wanted the quickest possible way from point A to point B and was ready to do all the research necessary to find that way. Others, "the hard workers" (just the thought gives me the jibblies), can be content in just doing their daily routine and trusting that there will be a prize at the end. But will there? This is an experience I'm completely void of.

It is odd that this information doesn't seem to be more readily available. It's like everyone decided to start following the guy who spoke in the most convincing tone of voice. And some people, such as my teenage years' idol John Petrucci, still teach you ways to practice that in my experience just lead nowhere. It is bizarre.

Most music technique books start with a disclaimer: "Don't expect this to turn you into a master immediately. Perfecting anything takes years and years." I'm telling you that you should expect results immediately. And by immediately I mean the first ten minutes of doing things my way. If you don't, then you're doing it wrong. Plain and simple. There is truth to the idea that mastery requires a lot of practice. But if you're completely stuck in a rut, then that doesn't make a very satisfying music experience. When you do things right, you will go forward. Fast.

Who are you and why should I listen to you?

I'm just a nobody that used to play a lot of guitar and figured a way to get where he wanted with the minimum amount of effort. You shouldn't listen to me. If you know a better way, I'm begging you to just do that. There's nothing more useless that fixing something that already works. I'm here to offer a relatively different perspective. I've heard people asking things like: "How did Shawn Lane practice?" because his regimen was considered to be somewhat eccentric. But when I read snippets of what he had described about his method, it all made a lot of sense to me. I'm not saying that I do things exactly as he did, but to me it sounded like it could work just fine. I've also heard people like Guthrie Govan echo things that I've discovered to be true. And he is one of the most technically capable guitarists I can think of.

It all boils down to personal experience. I'm not here trying to parrot you things that I read somewhere else. This is purely stuff that I have found useful in my own life. If something doesn't work, I get frustrated and don't do it anymore. I also won't tell anyone else to do it, either.

And what comes to personal experiences, I've been on this planet long enough to know that what works for someone, might not work for someone else. You start to think that everyone is living the exact same experience as you are, but that's not even remotely true. So, will I guarantee that this works for you? No. And this is because of multiple reasons, many of which will sound relatively offensive, but that doesn't make them any less legitimate.

1) Maybe you just don't get what I'm trying to explain. And I'm not saying that's not at least up to a point my responsibility. But if you're doing it wrong, then expect no results.

2) Maybe you don't want to get what I'm trying to explain. Maybe you already think that you know how to play your instrument and just try to apply my info to your subjective experience. That doesn't fly. My stuff isn't meant as an appendix but rather as a replacement. Come with an empty mind and discover a new way of playing.

3) Maybe due to the way you are physically or mentally shaped, you are just unable to understand what I'm trying to explain. I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with you, but I'm not ruling out the idea that we are just from two different worlds and you were never meant to perform the way I was. It's a possibility.

Is there even any point in trying to endure any more of this exercise in apparent futility?

I've been a guitar instructor for five years. That's not a huge amount of time, but enough that I discovered a few things. One of which is going to sound very sexist.

1) When I got my pupils to really listen to what I had to say, the change was immediately apparent.

2) Most pupils don't want to listen to you. They expect that they can do what they always did, but because they pay you 20 bucks a week, they'll just get filled with mysterious instrument-playing-skills over a duration of the semester. They don't realize that they're only paying me to tell them how to do things correctly. And when I do, they skip over it, thinking that by just sitting in the classroom they're already getting better. Don't be this person. Listen.

3) Female students are in general a lot more willing to listen than male students. Of course, there are exceptions (i.e. female students who don't listen), but after a few years the difference was clear as day to me. I don't know why! I just know my experiences. (And there is always a chance that I just misread them.) And I was (hopefully just was) the same way when I was a 14-year-old kid. So proud to have my own guitar and being able to stumble through a few songs. Maybe it's pride. Maybe it's thinking that I know better than anyone else. And the faster you get rid of that idea, the faster you start to really progress.

4) It was my job as a guitar instructor to jackhammer through the constant noise of the pupil fiddling with the electric guitar and the glassy eyes staring to something unmanifested at the corner of the room after they'd been tuning out everything the "real" teachers at their school had been bombarding towards them all day long. If you feel like "the pupil" whenever you pick up your instrument, then remember these words and snap out of it for even a little while. The idea is not to sprint through this material. It is to understand whatever you are reading at any given moment. If you don't, then ask. Stupid is the one who doesn't ask.


Like I mentioned, I really believe that, with the help of everything I've learned, I could be the most techincally advanced player on the planet if I really pursued it. And while that might sound like just a bunch of talk (feel free to take it as such), I genuinely just lost interest in it over time. Playing guitar was never a fiery passion to me and I think you need that in order to get really far with it. I've never discovered any activity that just dwarfed everything next to it. Instead, I'm just interested in everything. I wanted to play the piano, the bass, the drums, the flute... and that's just on the music side of things. I also do digital painting, writing, programming, and so on.

People who excel in one thing generally discover that one thing at some point of their life and never even want to do anything else. My theory is that somehow, they were manufactured to perfectly resonate with the exact inputs and outputs of that specific activity. They are "in the zone" when they're doing what they're doing. Would this type of guide even be for them? I don't know. I've probably only ever met one person like that. And he was a programmer. He might go on programming for 48 hours straight and then miss a meeting because he just didn't wake up in Thursday. That is the kind of passion I just don't have for any one thing. I've tried it, but my mind starts to wander. I get restless. It's not for me.

You don't have to be a person who is only interested in playing guitar to become a great guitar player. But you also must realize, that if you play 20 hours a week and the other person plays 50 hours a week, he's going to have the edge when it comes to fulfilling your destiny as the most technical guitar player of all time. Maybe some goals weren't meant for everyone. But is there something you can do that the other guy can't? Build on that. I'm a game designer and that allows me to utilize all my skills.

And we come back to priorities. I could force myself to practice 50 hours a week. Probably. I could probably do that. I would be miserable, but I would be getting good at playing guitar. What I needed to ask myself was: "Do I want to be miserable and excellent at playing guitar or do I want to search for another way?" I even abandoned playing guitar for good for about a year or so, but ultimately, I realized that it's just a part of who I am. I play guitar... and I do a myriad of other things. And the variety keeps me happy. And this is very subjective. I think I would always advice people to take the path that makes them happy. It might change at times, but whatever. That's life.

That being said, there's a certain amount of work you always need to do in order to make change that sticks, but more about that later.

Interesting. So I've got a lot of thoughts on this (being a music educator with a side interest in neuroscience and learning styles and such). I'll start with a s story. When I was an undergrad there was this guy who played trumpet, like me. Every morning he would do warm ups for 2 hours. He did them correctly. I don't know how many hours he spent through the rest of the day practicing ensemble music and repertoire. He practiced more than anyone else (including our professors) and he was not getting better. In fact he was getting a little worse. And his trumpet professor kept telling him "you must not be practicing enough." Clearly he was practicing enough (and our professor was being an idiot), and I listened to him warm up... his technique was fine. He just wasn't practicing smart. He was doing everything right but that and it was hurting him.

I think this book that you're talking about is very important. I mean there are some books out there on practice, but not enough, and learning and brain research are changing so quickly that we really need to reexamine the way that we practice, but before you make the claims that you're making I think you need to take a step back. You've done research and that's good, and it sounds like you've synthesized a lot of that information into a system that worked for you. How many people have you taught it to? I think the next step (after this one that you're doing on the forum) is to test this system out on people. Show them what you know and see if they have the same results. Teach it to people who play different instruments. Give them time to work with it and get feedback from them. I might actually try teaching the method in person. Give group classes or clinics or something like that. Explain that you are researching the practice method. Have a survey that they should take one week, one month, and several months after the class. It doesn't have to be long or complicated.

Can you share some of your research topics? You talk about relaxed practice, so I'm guessing maybe some Alexander technique?

@katpiercemusic: You have a valid point and I understand you're coming from a more scientific background with this.

By "research" I meant literally just going through random forum posts and sometimes by luck stumbling across bits of information that made the difference. I don't have any sources. I don't know any techniques by name. I'm not a researcher. I don't want to do brain research. That's not what this is all about. This is a guide based on personal experience. I want to test this system on people and perhaps there is a way to make that happen. It's not scientific, and if that is off-putting to someone, then yes, I feel it is important to make it clear so that these people won't feel cheated in the worst case scenario. But that's all this is ever going to be. I feel that it's important to share this information with people.

It's good that you brought all of that up, because I must be very careful with stuff like that. What comes to claims, I might tone them down a bit. I suppose that sometimes people aren't ready to learn, no matter how much they want to. And I don't know if I'm that great of a teacher. So, I can't guarantee that it works because I have no idea if the people are even going to understand what I'm trying to explain. And that tells more about me than about them. But I'm going to try because I think this stuff is valuable.

Also, this is very different from how people are used to working. It sort of goes against human nature. I think there's going to be a lot of resistance. It would be amazing to find a group that would like to try this out completely objectively, but where would I find a group like that? The more days I spend on this Earth, the more I seem to come across people with their prejudices and agendas. Even with good intentions I can already hear in my head an instructor going: "Ok, let's try this new thing, it sounds kinda interesting but I'm not really sure how it's supposed to work..." and then just look at the student who is completely lost and feeling like she's being scammed out of her money.

These are my prejudices.

It doesn't work if you just try to add it to whatever you're already teaching. It's not a nice side dish. Grasping all the different aspects of my approach might take some time, but when you start applying them, you start to see changes. I've seen it with my own eyes more than a few times.

And when it comes to prejudices, more than a few times I've tried to explain these concepts to a person and have them roll their eyes and mutter something like "whatever dude..."

But I understand your concerns. Gives me something to think about.

Warming Up

This is the most boring part about being a guitarist (well, if you don't count tuning). But if I don't talk about it now, when? Let's imagine that this is a book and the reader (I'm just imagining myself) is really gung ho about getting into shape playing-wise. He picks up the book and reads the first ten pages and never touches the book again. At least you didn't start doing anything without the warm-ups. Granted, it's probably not as dangerous as getting into weight-lifting without warming up. Playing guitar, when done right, isn't supposed to require much strength or stress you out. Getting muscles warm can prevent soft tissue injuries, but when are you going to use them anyway?

Ok, fine! What is warming up then? I don't think it really has anything to do with anything being warm when it comes to playing an instrument. But it can prevent injuries, so it's not a complete waste of time. It has to do with being able to perform stuff in a relaxed fashion.

Now, let's get into the brain science part of the guide. I'm not an expert, but this is my understanding of it. When human beings (that's you) sleep, the brain resets. Boot up. C:\> win.exe. That's more or less harmless, but when you pick up your guitar in the morning, your muscles might have a hard time trying to figure out what they're supposed to be doing. So they compensate by tensing up. This, I believe, is remnant from the caveman time when under threat you either tense up or die. And our brain interprets things like "playing something wrong" as a threat. You get tense and it show in your playing.

In something a bit less hyperactive music, being tense isn't the end of the world, although it is still very much perceivable. This is also the reason why many beginners get lead to the wrong path. What they play sounds right so they conclude that this is the way to play. But no. Not only does this practice prevent you from playing anything more advanced, it can also be dangerous, if you try. Tense up your muscles and try to move them around really fast for extended periods of time. If you're lucky, you don't hurt yourself. It won't sound pretty, either.

The point of warming up is to remind your muscles how to do various things while keeping them relaxed. The best warm-ups go through a vast variety of different fingerings, positions, and movements. Anything you might want to play. They are done slow to ensure that the muscles are super relaxed and that the moves are still performed as accurately as possible.

Unlike in music arrangement, tension is the enemy. Unfortunately, not many people know how to play without it. Tensing up ensures that you hit the right notes. It's not all bad, right? It just makes the wrists hurt and you haven't quite figured out how to do things really fast while being tense. Spolers: you can't.

Doing warm-ups correctly is the first step in getting better. And the key is to banish all tension from your muscles. There are a lot of great warm-up regimens out there. Pick one that you like. Just keep the key in your mind every second of it.

If you don't know what relaxed feels like, try this. Hang your arm by your side. Straight down and just let it hang. If you were holding a pick, it would drop at this point. Take a deep, slow breath. You can even hang your head. Go absolutely limp. This is relaxed. Focus on your arms. They shouldn't feel much more tense while you are playing. Just apply the minimum amount that you require to hold your plectrum. You don't hit notes by tensing up anymore.

There is always room for a fresh approach to technique. In fact I would welcome it for the reasons mentioned above, and because technique is something I never seem to have enough of.


Stringed instruments like guitar are weird in that they actually require some strength to play efficiently. While something like piano or flute pretty much react to the lightest touch, with guitar you need to physically squeeze the strings against the fingerboard. Most of this work can be lifted simply by using the correct technique i.e. positioning the hand in a way that you can apply pressure in the most efficient way possible and in a spot where they require the minimum amount of contact with the frets to produce a clear sound. By clear I mean not muffled, muted, or buzzing. Do your warm-ups do maximize to efficiency.

Even so, there are two techniques in the contemporary guitar playing that still require developing some strength. These are...
1) Chords
2) Legato

Chords are easily the most fundamental part of playing guitar and they can be a bit intensive. As a guitar instructor, it was a constant challenge trying to come up with songs that could be played with the beginner chords i.e. ones that require the least amount of strength. Everyone who has touched a guitar knows these ones. They're the open chords and in some cases the simple three tone chords on the higher strings. However, once you advance past this point, the struggle starts. Some of the more exotic fingerings can be tricky, because you’re expected to apply pressure to the strings while you are stretching your fingers to different directions. But the real challenge are the barre chords where you use your index finger as a temporary capo.

Barre chords can prove to be a challenge even for advanced players, especially with an acoustic western type steel-string guitar (cheap models typically also increase the difficulty). I always say, if there's only one thing you can practice, practice chords. It's the most universally and uniformally useful practice you'll ever get. With barre chords you just need strength, plain and simple. You gotta practice them until your hand is exhausted (it shouldn't hurt, though!) and then do it again after a brief break. This ensures that you can throw these monsters out there with ease no matter the circumstances.

Proper technique helps here, too, and one thing I've noticed not many beginners figure out is that you don't have to lay down your index finger so that the tip is perfectly on the 6th string. Poke it off the neck a little bit. The finger isn't perfectly flat, so it makes sense trying to find a position where the tough parts align perfectly with the underlying strings. This way, you'll more easily get a pure tone out of your efforts.

Remember, if your hand starts to hurt (besides the skin at your fingertips) you need a break. Playing isn't meant to hurt and that means that practicing isn't meant to hurt, either. There's a difference to pushing your muscles to the point of exhaustion and being in pain. Know the difference and be smart about it.

EDIT: I'll just talk about legato here.

Legato on guitar is a wonderful technique, but beginners typically have difficulties in performing vast amounts of it with clarity of tone. Again, I would say this is at least 70% of improper technique, but there is also an element of strength that is missing.

Strictly speaking, legato (Italian for "tied together") means playing so that there are no pauses between notes. When you pluck a string with e.g. a plectrum, this constitutes as a small pause. I am mostly speaking about hammer-ons and pull-offs here, but there are other ways to play legato, such as slides and tapping. Some people think that legato is played with guitar when you don't possess the proper picking technique, but honestly, the difference is just a smoother, more fluid sound.

The reason legato requires strength, is because in order to descend to a lower tone, you're required to pluck the string by pulling it with the finger that is currently on. On single note this is rarely an issue. However, trills and other types of longer passages can prove to be very challenging if you don't have the stamina for it. Every motion requires just a little bit of strength, but it adds up. Additionally, you might have to use different fingers, so each of them must be strengthened individually. There are 1001 exercises for this stuff out there so I'm not going to bore you with my own variations, but just be prepared for some really repetitive work.


This is the part of the process that is the most hazy to me. But I still feel like it needs to be mentioned, just in case. Maybe someone can help me out here. Stretching my wrists, fingers, and thumbs was a ritual I always did after and sometimes in the middle of every practice session. Later, when I didn't play as religiously, I also neglected a good part of the stretching. I've often had wrist problems but I can't decisively correlate these two together. Does stretching help? Maybe. I can't be sure. This is something I'd urge for you to find more information elsewhere. Just thought I'd mention it lest I skipped something important.


I'm a big fan of proper posture. I have collectible posture cards and posture posters littering my bedroom walls. I even eat posture morning cereal. That being said, I rarely have a good posture while I'm playing. I just know my life would be better if I did. I've worked on it over the years out of necessity and there are certain compromises I only rarely ever do. As a result, my back and shoulders aren't in constant pain anymore, which is a huge bonus. But if you find me playing the guitar while I'm lying on the couch with my head hanging over the edge, you know it's just because of the inevitable angst of my everyday life.

One thing that I fought against forever and ever and just had decided that it was a complete waste of time is the use of strap. Even when you're sitting. The strap will always keep the guitar on the right height and let's your muscles be relaxed instead of constantly trying to hold on to the instrument lest it fell to the floor. With the strap you can just let it all hang while you read the newspaper or whatever. It has been the single biggest thing eliminating pain in my life. Now I use it always. If I have to pick up the guitar to record one chord, I throw the strap over my head. No compromises.

Another big thing is learning to lean the forearm of your picking hand against the body of the guitar. That way, you don't need to keep your shoulder muscles tense in order to keep your picking hand in the right position. This means skin against wood. No long-sleeved shirts because there's no friction there. As a curiosity, painted guitar tops keep your hand in one place the best. Experiment. The important thing is to concentrate on the goal: being able to have your shoulder completely, and I do mean completely, relaxed.

Other, not completely obvious points, some beginning guitarists try to keep the neck of the guitar completely perpendicular to where they're facing, when in fact the easy way to play is to push the head of the neck forward. If I have trouble forming some chord on the fingerboard, I just rotate the guitar clockwise (I am right-handed). If it means that the guitar is pointing to the same way I'm facing, so be it. Give your fret hand some room.

If that's not enough, try moving the guitar on the other leg, bringing it closer to the classical position. This also gives you better reach to the higher frets, especially if you have some extra pounds around your waist like me. A couple of caveats. This is not absolutely necessary to be able to play anything. It's just a trick you can do if you want some room quickly. Also, since we're talking about posture, I wouldn't recommend the classical position for long periods of time without a foot rest, because it will put some pressure on your back and shoulder. Just keep that in mind.


"Repetition is the mother of all learning."

Scheduling, in my opinion, is one of the most important parts of learning. I had heard that repetition phrase hundreds of times while I was in elementary school. I thought it was just one of those die hard phrases old people are expected to use. I was a very head-in-clouds type of child. It wasn't until maybe when I was 25 that I understood what it really meant. (At least I think I do.)

Often I would ask my students if they had practiced during the previous week at home. And often the answer would be something like: "Oh, I sure did! I practiced a whole hour last Thursday." Which is fine and all, but if you're trying to learn something, it's not exactly the most efficient way. I would argue, that practicing ten minutes every day of the week is better than practicing one hour just once. Why? Repetition is the mother of all learning. This is how I imagine most aspiring guitarists would understand that phrase: While you're sitting on the couch watching TV, pick up your guitar and keep repeating the same thing over and over and eventually you'll learn it. And while that can happen (another happy accident), it's a huge waste of time and in the worst case scenario can teach you some bad habits that can take some real digging to get rid of later on.

Your brain, as I understand it (I guess we're back to brain science), is a lot like a network of roads of different sizes. When you travel to some new place, you might form a weak trail. The more you use the trail, the more defined it gets, until one day, there's a fully realized freeway. But there's the trick. You need to use the path for it to get reinforced. And what does you brain do during the night? It reboots. If you really want to learn something that is like the second nature to you, you gotta learn it well every day for a week. Perfect it the first day, then perfect it again the second day, and so on. You won't get anywhere if you don't stick at it. Repetition is the mother of all learning.

And that is where scheduling comes in. If I just tell myself that "Ok, I learned this thing today, I'm going to do it every day for a week", it's never going to happen. Maybe I'll do it the next day but that's it. You absolutely need to schedule your free time to be able to pull this magic trick off.

1) Take a piece of paper.
2) Take a pen (this one is important).
3) Write down something like: "Mon, Tue, Wed..." etc.
4) Mark next to each day a specific time when you're going to practice whatever you want to practice. If you have ten minutes after you've eaten dinner and before Miami Vice or whatever comes on, then write down "5:48 P.M."
5) If you didn't do any of that... I'm not kidding, go and do it now!
6) Tell everyone that needs to know about it and stick to your schedule.

This will ensure that you get enough repetition. Ten minutes a day might not get you super far, but at least you are learning something that you actually can use. Perfect the same piece of music every day for a week and you can pull it off whenever you need.

The Method

My way of practicing has three parts, one of which I have already talked about a little bit.

1) Relaxation
2) Visualization
3) Letting go

I'm planning on diving into each of these segments in great detail later on, but I suppose giving a short overview might help to conceptualize the whole thing as you move forward with this guide. It is a bit difficult to know where to start with this stuff so I'll just start in the middle and put the parts in order later.

Relaxation is a relative concept. It's not either on or off. I equate skill to how relaxed you are able to play. In other words, the less energy your muscles need to use in order to perform any given movement, the more skillful you are in that movement. I'm not talking about relaxed as in not giving a crap, smoking a joint on the sofa. I'm talking about giving two extra craps, very deliberately making sure that the muscles in your hands and arms are as loose as possible. Some of the things you're expected to play might require a bit of inventiveness, but that's not entirely bad thing.

Visualization is the most impressive, very concrete technique I've probably ever used... and nobody seems to utilize it. It's insane. We all know the basic jist of it, but it sounds kinda crazy, so why even bother trying it, right? Isn't it something like you imagine a perfect performance and then by some magic you can pull if off? No. The magic part is complete bullshit. What you do with the imagined situation is that you study it. Yes, in your mind. If you can imagine a perfect way to do something, you can mimic it. And the most accurate way to mimic something is to focus on how doing it feels. I'm not talking about emotions. I'm talking about physical sensations. If you close your eyes and curl your finger, you can sense how it feels, because the different parts of the finger are sending impulses to the brain telling it how the movement feels. The trick with visualization is imagining how a perfect performance feels. And then doing it yourself.

Finally, letting go. If you can believe it, visualization and perfect relaxation of muscles requires a metric ton of focus. I can't even focus like that for extended periods of time. It's exhausting. So, I keep breaks. But there is another enemy to focus: your rambling thoughts. And most importantly, your self-doubting thoughts. You start with an expectation to fail, recall all the times when you didn't make it, and then go on doing things exactly the way you always did. Because you're not focusing. Your focus is in your thoughts. What do you do? You let go. You let go of any outcomes, goals, and aspirations. Interestingly, you don't manifest the world around you with your thoughts. So, it doesn't matter if you don't hold in your head the want to master some little solo. You can still achieve it. So, again, you let go of the end result. If you succeed, fine. If you fail, fine. That's not why you are practicing. You practice because you just enjoy doing what you do. And now you're not concentrating on these completely inconsequential thoughts but rather focusing on every movement of your hand. Is it relaxed? How does it feel? There's a sense of clarity.

I read the first few installments. Just wanted you to know that I'll be reading the rest.

@Ianuarius, this is really good stuff! Great info and your writing is top-drawer! You should post this as a blog or maybe an e-book. I dunno if there is any money to be made these days since so much is available on the internet but this is good!

@johnstaples Thanks. I've been done a lot of thinking since kat's post and I don't think this is ever going to be anything you can purchase. Maybe a free ebook. That way I don't have to worry about it being something I have to have solid, scientific proof about. At that point it's just a book about personal experiences that you're free to disregard if you feel like it. Money back guarantee.


Let's get into this thing a bit more. As a guitar instructor, I met a wide spectrum of people wanting to learn the craft. For whatever reason, many of them were teenage boys wanting to play those fast Metallica solos. And it's great! You hear something that really amps you up and you want to do it yourself. I salute you. However, the thing with guitar is that playing fast isn't just a matter of doing whatever you're already doing faster. There is a technique to it and it's pretty hard to figure out by yourself. A logical mind tries to follow a path. "I got here by doing this so how do I get further from where I already am?" You don't.

Learning to play a new instrument isn't a relaxed experience. You want results, so you force your way there. "No matter what it takes, I'm going to play these 8 notes in sequence!" And so finally you learn the intro to Paranoid. But have you really learned it? Sure, you play it another 500 times during the next ten years and you get a bit more relaxed about it because of all the other things you've learned to do, but is your playing even then effortless?

Playing fast isn't the be-all-end-all of music but it is regarded as a pretty decent standard of skill. A better standard of skill is effortlessness. It comes from devoting your time to the practice of looseness and relaxed motion. Interestingly, it also leads straight to speed. The more effortless your motion, the faster you can perform it.

Going fast is hard. It's not like anything you've done before. It's a new way of approaching your playing. Consider walking. Pretty basic stuf. One foot steps up, moves forward, comes down, then the other foot steps up, and so on. You can probably walk pretty fast, but there's a limit to it. When you try to walk super fast, you start to tense up and eventually have to give up, hopefully not because you injured yourself. You can repeat this exercise any number of times and you might even get a bit better. But at the end of the day, you're still there wondering how those other guys can move so fast on their feet.

I'm of course talking about running. A different technique for those maniacs, who don't wait for one foot to come down before they lift the other one, hurrying to their graves. Playing fast is very similar to this analogue. You gotta compromise. Give up the control for a greater ease of movement.

More on this later. I gotta go get some sleep.

Btw. Is there a better word for "relaxation"? I feel kinda silly using it.

Relaxation cont.

Have you ever played air guitar? If you haven't (maybe you're Eric Clapton) now it's time to try it. Put on one of those songs with that really awesome guitar solo that you would like to be able to play. Then jam over it with just your hands. Really get into it, like you've played this one for 200 times already. You're just showing the audience what's what.

This is how playing guitar should feel. Not air guitar, real guitar. If you're ever in doubt, you can double check your relaxation level by switching to air guitar for a moment.

Again, by "feel" and "relaxation" I'm not talking about emotions. I'm talking about your muscles. How relaxed or tense are your muscles? What kind of impulses do they send to your brain as you move them?

With real guitar, the muscle tension comes from trying to hit the right strings and the right frets all at the right times. But with air guitar, there's no guitar! The trying is taken out of the equation, which means that your muscles are completely relaxed. You're not aiming for a specific fret, so you can just let your fingers fly. The lack of tension allows them to move incredibly quickly.

So, you might be thinking: "That's all fine and good, but I can't play anything with my guitar like that." Yeah, you're probably right. "Then, how can I make everything I've ever learned to play to be more relaxed?" Ok, this is going to sting a bit... but you can't. If you can't already play without tensing up, then in my opinion, you are playing wrong.

Here's a little rant about right and wrong. In the past ten years or so, I've heard some talk about never telling the kids that they did something wrong. If your answer to 2+2 is 5, it's not wrong... it's just... uh... different right. How we got in to this mess is by treating the symptoms. Somebody figured out that kids got really upset when they got an answer wrong, so the best solution was to just have no wrong answers. Ironically, that's the wrong answer. Why are the kids upset? Being wrong is natural. It's the first step in learning. The problem is that they get graded based on how much they learn and shamed if they weren't good enough. It's hard not to get upset, when your self-worth is on the line. But getting through to the person, that their result was wrong, is ab·so·lute·ly crucial. It's nothing to be ashamed of. That's the point when you abandon your old idea and start searching for the right answer. And that is valuable. So, with that in mind...

Allow Yourself Suck

You need to realize a new way of playing. That means starting from the beginning. Understand, that you never learned how to play. You've just been "faking it 'til you make it". But the "making it" part is never coming. You're trying to run by walking really fast.

Go slow. It's going to be difficult because you're already such a veteran with the guitar. But I assume you wouldn't be reading this if you were exactly where you wanted to be with your technique. So, I invite you to explore the possibility that perhaps you don't know better. Perhaps the right course of action is to listen and go slow. In fact, imagine that this is the first day you ever touched your guitar and are just beginning your journey.

The good news is that the progress is going to be a lot faster than... in your previous life. You are only starting from zero with your technique. All those chord progressions and fingerings are still in your head, and that's not a small data dump. And even then, when you practice correctly, the results are going to come a lot faster.

What you have to embrace right now is the fact that you suck with the guitar. Of course you do. You've never really played it before. It's like that scene in the Matrix, where Neo goes: "Why do my eyes hurt?" and Morpheus replies: "You've never used them before." So, when you start to stumble your way through basic chords, just allow yourself to suck. It takes time to build muscle memory. That trail you are travelling is yet weak. You require repetition to become strong.

@Ianuarius just a quick follow up...I don't think you should worry about having scientific proof of anything! There are tons of books sold that have no proof whatsoever (at least that is how it is in the USA!) Your information seems well thought out and practical and useful and your writing is very good. Def as good or better than books I have paid money for!!!

Relaxed Chords

This section of the guide is more specifically written for guitarists since it describes ways that I've discovered to practice basic techniques without any unnecessary tension. Things are going to get a bit fuzzy, because I have yet to go into more detail about the rest of the things required for the full method. But there's really no sense in doing that first, either. Maybe just read the whole thing and then get on with your practicing (although trying things out shouldn't hurt). Perhaps I'll figure a way to arrange all this better later.

Ok, long story short. This is how I suggest you practice your chords. Maybe you'd like to start with something easy, like open E minor, but in the long run it doesn't matter which chord, they're all the same. First check that you can take the chord properly in the current position by placing the fingers on their places on the fretboard. Also, notice how the fingers feel as you hold them there. Get accustomed to constantly inspecting the state of your hand muscles.

1) Straighten all four fret hand fingers.
2) Snap them down as fast as you can.
3) (optional) Strum the appropriate strings exactly when the fingers hit the strings.
4) Examine.
5) Repeat.

By straightening your fingers you get enough space between the strings and the fingertips to make this exercise useful. You need to be able to throw the fingers in their correct places. When you start to pause before the strings and move your fingers around, you're missing the point. All of that adds tension to the technique. You're not trying to learn that. You're trying to learn an effortless way of executing these chords.

It's like throwing a basketball. You aim, you judge the requirements based on previous experience, you uncoil your body, and with a pushing motion shoot the ball towards the basket. After this point it's out of your hands. You've done all you could. The ball either goes to the basket or doesn't. But there's no way for you to go hold it for a moment, correct the course a bit, and then let it continue to the basket. (Maybe there will be in the future?) Of course, you could just hold the ball, run to the basket, and with the help of some sort of ladder, drop it in. It would be against the rules, but try to focus on the physical act. The fact of the matter is that throwing the ball is a lot faster and requires a lot less work than carrying it.

With a guitar chord, you straighten your fingers, you make your assessments, and you throw. When they start to curl, it's out of your hands... so to speak. They may land on the right spots, they might not. That's the risk you have to take. That is the compromise to achieve real effortlessness. You have to sacrifice control. You make your judgment when you throw the fingers, not when they're about to land. That's real skill. The idea is to steer away from the habit where you would position the fingers right on top of the strings and then just press them down. It's really strained and slow way to do it. Stop playing it so safe. When you learn to "throw the chords", you can pretty much do it from anywhere. I don't know what the cerebral process behind it is, but somehow it just works that way.

More specifics later.

@johnstaples Thanks. Smile

I suppose you have a point. I have to think about it. It's not like this is close to being finished.

Relaxed Chords cont.

You are going to get this wrong a lot. If you get the chord perfectly after a couple of tries, you're doing it wrong. You're performing the movement too slow or stopping before the strings. The motion itself is supposed to be as fast as snapping your fingers. You absolutely have to get it right with the initial throw in order to get the right result. Concentrate on how you want the throw to feel physically. In my experience, that is the fastest way to get it right.

Here's how I would expect things to go in the very best case scenario, and I do not mean that sarcastically. This is what happens to me every time I practice something new, even today. You throw the fingers on the fretboard, and none of them are in the right place. You tried to execute the Em chord. For some reason all the four fingers are on the fretboard. For some reason your index finger is on the G string. Why is this? It's a new chord (presumably). You have no idea what the motion is supposed to be like. It was a test throw to reveal what sort of corrections you should make with your throw.

This brings us to step number 4 in the practice cycle, "Examine". I told you this would take a lot of focus. This is a step many guitarists seem to skip entirely. Even with this method, you will be completely lost if you don't do this. Many times I would tell one of my pupils to practice a chord he had difficulties with, and he would just start ramming the fingers on and off the strings once per second. Don't do that. Go slow. If you do a ton of repetition that is wrong, then you are still strengthening the pathways in your brain. I don't think you want "playing the chord wrong" to be your go-to freeway. Strive for perfection. Don't do the motion, unless in your head you are certain that you want to do it exactly this way.

Now, I'm exaggerating a little bit, because a little amount of wrong repetition is of course not that dangerous. The key is focus. As you get very familiar with this approach (after maybe 60 hours or so), you might find a way that suits you better. Perhaps you can just keep repeating the motion while constantly focusing on how you are altering it in minor ways. But you have to focus. I sometimes do this with some simple stuff, but with things that are more foreign to me, I still pause and take my time. You'll be able to make the judgment in time. When I say that you need to get familiar with the approach, I mean it. When in doubt, just go slow. There's nothing wrong with going slow. I can sometimes take a full minute just sitting there, thinking how I'm going to execute the throw. This will still be a faster way to results than the more popular machine gun repetition cycle.

When you finally do get it right, you need the repetition to solidify the move in your brain. You're in the right neighborhood, but you'll still get it wrong a few times. The motion is very specific. You have to hone your understanding of what you can and cannot do with it; find to boundaries. If you didn't catch that, this isn't the time to switch to the once-a-second mode. It's the time to focus even more. You know how the throw felt in your hand, you have it in your mind. So, do it again. And again. When you do make an error, it doesn't mean that you were going the wrong way. It means the way the motion felt had a bad part the brain couldn't differentiate with. Does it belong in the movement or not? Now, you know the move even more specifically. Before you execute it, you make sure that it doesn't feel like that one part of the throw that made it go wrong.

Once you get the chord right ten times in a row, it's very good. Time to do it again tomorrow. Just don't rush it. Go slow. You have to pretty much learn the thing all over again the next day. And the day after that. Do it every day for a week and you're solid. If you skip corners, you'll know what to expect.

Relaxed Chords cont.

One more thing I wanted to get a bit more into are the alterations you have to do based on your observations. Many of them are quite straight forward, like move the hand up, forward, move the finger a bit closer, etc. However, there are some specific, and quite typical situations, where I found a very specific approach was desired.

Let's take something like the open G major chord. One variation requires that your middle finger is on the 6th string, while the ring finger is on the first string. If for an example, your throw lands all your fingers on the lower strings, you can't simply try to move the ring finger downwards with the next throw. That rationale will move the rest of the fingers with it. What you need to do is curl the ring finger more while keeping the middle finger straight. This will automatically land them closer to their correct locations.

How about a basic index-ring-pinky power chord? You might find out that the ring finger drops too low on the fretboard, maybe even in the diminished 5th position. You need to get it higher, closer to the pinky, but if you just try moving it with the next throw, the index finger moves with it. Here, you need to stretch both the ring finger and the index finger away from eachother. Not in any particular direction, just a longer gap. It's things like this you need to figure out when you must keep your hand completely relaxed.

Relaxed Note Sequences

Have you ever watched a live performance by your guitar hero and wondered how that solo looks just like second nature to her? The answer to this mystery is that it's the only way to play it. You have to be completely relaxed. You have to have every note coming from muscle memory. Even if it's an improvised performance, he's doing it like a rap. You can't rap without knowing the language. If you just go: "xllrfffmff hkrrn kfoo faa brrrrrr..." you're going to get boo'd off the stage. With guitar, you also have to develop a vocabulary of sorts. When you improvise, the words and phrases come from the muscle memory (i.e. how the brain recalls the movement of the muscles). Similarly to a vocabulary, the more words you learn, the easier it gets to pronounce the new ones. You're relating everything you learned previously to the new stuff.

Let's take something simple, like a basic A-B-C on the D string (that's frets 7-9-10). I'm not going to tell you what fingers to use, because ultimately it doesn't matter. However, I've found training my pinky quite useful, because it seems to open up more possibilities. Just hit the frets in sequence (without plectrum for starter). If you're anything like every beginner I've ever met, you'll move each finger individually to press down the string. This is fine for a few notes, but your poor, tiny finger muscles get tired very easily. So, if you want to play longer passages, they tap out after a few seconds. You could train the individual finger muscles (in fact, there are some crazily inventive products for exactly this purpose), but it's still a lot of wasted energy. Additionally, moving individual fingers in long sequences is a management nightmare. They get mixed up so easily.

Producing linear sequences like A-B-C with your fingers is quite simple. Of course, there are other types of sequence that could prove to be more difficult even with the right technique, but let's start from the beginning. What I want you to do is to learn to execute these three notes with one motion, instead of three. The finger muscles are excellent for micro control and slight adjustments, but I suggest you start using the bigger muscles for the big moves. Specifically, the wrist and the forearm.

Try throwing the fingers on the freboard like you're picking a chord on one string. They line up very nicely. If you want to have them come down sequentially, you can just rotate your forearm. First rotate it 90 degrees counter-clockwise (for the right-handed people) and then slap the fingers on the fretboard in a revolving motion. One move, three notes. And no tension to speak of. Don't press the string down with your finger muscles, use the whole hand. And go slow.

When I say "go slow", I don't mean that keep the motion slow. The motion needs to be snappy. Snap your fingers. Or if you're too cool for that, just imagine it. That's how these three notes are played. The slow part is anything in-between every motion. See where your fingers landed. Don't be in a hurry to lift them up. Analyze. Then make a plan and try again. This is how you progress. Don't worry about playing things wrong. You need that. There's a limited number of wrong steps you need to make in order to get to the right one. Each one of them must be taken carefully, but each one of them must be taken. You're on the stairway. Don't stop just because this step looks uncannily similar to the previous one.

I just wanted to post that I'll be reading thought this - I read text very slowly, vision is going, so it will take me a while - but I am gonna read through it all. good for you for writing it down. You should head over to Camp NaNoWriMo and get credit for all your writing this month. Then once you've got it done, enlist the help of an editor and self publish it online - You got something to say and people should hear it.

@Tasha Parker Gibbs I'm probably going to do something else in Nanowrimo. Biggrin If I can be arsed. Anyway, it's not much of a novel. 15 pages so far. An editor is a must, though. Preferably someone who plays guitar.

Slow Motion

Once you have solidified the idea of doing singular, continuous movements, you can slow them down, if you wish. There's a very important distinction here that I need to make. Slowing down doesn't mean that just hold your hand in place or fiddle with your fingers as you perform the motion. It still needs to be one continuous motion from start to finish. You can just do it in slow motion. And this can be very difficult to grasp. Slow motion isn't the same as playing slow. Slow motion means taking the fast motion and slowing it down, no matter what the motion happens to be like. If you've ever seen a sports broadcast of some description, you know what I'm talking about. A tense situation on the ice ends in the hockey player scoring a goal. After that the motion is displayed on the TV screen in slow motion. If the player was told to shoot a goal slowly, I doubt he would move the same way as in the instant replay. And that's the difference. You have to move the same way as in the replay. Like somebody recorded a video of you playing your lick fast and then showed it to you in slow motion.

What makes this difficult is that you still have to keep your hands as relaxed as possible. You're not imitating the way the movement looks but the way you apply energy. Let's take a simple example. You try to pick one of your strings as fast as possible. Where do you apply energy? When you start to move the pick up and when you start to move the pick down. Interestingly, very different movements. It's like controlling something at the end of a long, droopy fishing pole. The downward motion is handled partly by gravity, but you still use energy to shove it down like a shovel into the dirt. The upward motion on the other hand is a weird jerk where the pick follows the movement like on a delay. Anyway, you then start to apply these energies to your hand in slow motion. The difference to a perfect slow motion representation is that in order to really make your hand look like it's moving in slow motion is to tense it up and imitate the trajectory 100%. But that is counter-productive. Relaxation is what you want. So, just apply the upwards energy and the hand will pop upwards slightly faster than it would in an instant replay. You can still keep the overall motion quite sluggish, but it has to be tension-free.

If you try the one string example above, you might discover that your picking technique changes when you switch from fast motion to slow motion. This is quite natural, because slower motion allows for more articulation i.e. better control for the force application. When you pick the string fast, your pick might be completely perpendicular to the string the whole time. But when you switch to the slower motion, you start to rotate the pick, to make the motion a bit more wave-like. This is something you have to avoid in slow motion, because you're essentially practicing two different techniques. You have to keep the motion as close to the original as possible. This is true no matter what you're trying to practice.

Picking Technique

Since we haven't talked too much about picking until now, let's dive in a little bit (i.e. not a full dive, just slightly). I don't know if guitarists argua about whether you should pick with your wrist or your forearm. I don't hang too much in those circles. I somehow very hazily recall there being some discussion about something like one technique leads to pain and destruction and the other is the correct one. I can't imagine there being much of a difference when your whole extremity is relaxed. Perhaps, with some technique, people can't help but getting tense. What I'm saying is that keep your muscles relaxed. If you find out that playing something is simply impossible, change your technique. But keep your muscles relaxed. There's always a way. Below are some of my preferences.

I seem to always pick mostly with my forearm. Anything above the wrist is just meat hanging on for dear life. It's like a flag. If you're holding a hand flag and you want the flag (your hand) to go down, you move the stick (forearm) down and the flag follows. And if you want the flag to go up, you move the stick up. But it's not controlled directly. You don't move the flag, you move the stick. The wrist allows for some nifty micro control while the forearm movement keeps the whole motion relaxed. Moving the hand with just the wrist feels somehow really restricted (or wristrected) to me. By moving the forearm, you can quite easily jump from any string to another and back again. Granted, the larger muscles aren't as easy to fine control as the smaller ones, but we'll figure it out later.

If you want to see how I move my arm, uh, here's a video I made in 2014 because someone in FAWM was requesting solos for their students.

If it seems like I'm doing most of the motion with my wrist, but that's not entirely correct. I'm keeping my wrist loose, which causes it to pop up and down as I move my forearm. The forearm movement is quite clearly visible throughout the thing. However, with the upward motions it helps to get the wrist involved a little bit because of the gravity. Overall, I'd say it's a combined effort, but the addition of wrist to the motion happens pretty much automatically. If I use my practice time sticking to the forearm, then I can get to the relaxed results more easily.

I actually have more to write about the picking stuff, but I think I'll be doing it later. Time to go get some sleep.

Picking Technique cont.

Palm muting is one of those techniques so tightly adopted by rock/metal guitarists that you barely even notice it's not really their child (it's the jaw). Anyway, if you intend to learn one of those intense palm muting songs like Master of Puppets or something, then yes, you're going to have to build up some stamina, and yes, you need the correct technique. I mentioned in a different context earlier, that there's a difference between exhaustion and pain. Similarly, there's a difference between playing tensely and your arm getting tense because of the build-up over time. Even if you lift 1.0 lbs. weights, you're going to get tired eventually. But the less work you do with the motion, the less exhausted the muscles are going to get.

I mentioned Master of Puppets specifically, because it's a pretty intense song in the rhythm department. You're required to downstroke every single power chord to get that badass "chok! chok! chok!" sound. I'm not a huge Metallica guy, but that song takes a marathon player. When you're required to hold the palm of your hand in one spot, the technique must change a bit. Here's what I do. I rotate my forearm around its axis to do the downstroke. If you're having a hard time to imagine the rotation, try this:

Hold your hand level in front of you so that the palm is pointing downwards. Then, rotate it 90 degrees so that it's in the "handshake" position. Then rotate it back again. Now, pick up your pick and do the same thing again while holding it. This is how I do the strokes while palm-muting. You can get it pretty tension-free if you do it right. Minimize the amount of work and you minimize the stamina requirements.

Just picking one string, even really fast, is quite simple. Most everyone gets into trouble, when trying to move quickly from one string to another e.g. when ascending a scale. We can get more into this later, but one thing I found interesting, was sometimes when you're playing between two strings, it's beneficial trying to think that you're picking the space in-between the strings instead of the strings themselves. Let's have an example. Something that guitarists try to shy away from. Picking back and forth between D and G strings. But hold on, I didn't tell the good part yet. You have to pick the D string upwards and the G string downwards. For some reason this feels really unnatural. When you inverse the picking motions, it makes a lot more sense. There's more space for maneuvers and you're like patting the stings on the head. But when you're in-between the strings, it's just a disaster waiting to happen.

Not so fast. This is what I was talking about just a moment ago. When you're in-between strings, mentally concentrate on picking the empty space. Imagine that the empty space between the strings is an invisible string and you have to pick that one. For some reason, when you concentrate on the individual real strings, your brain goes into exaggeration mode and the movement falls apart. But when you concentrate on the empty space, things just start to fall in place a lot faster. This way has an additional benefit, if you enjoy fast licks. The pick has to physically move a shorter distance, so if you want to play it faster, you can. A trip from New York to Paris takes longer than a trip from New York to Philadelphia.

I think next time we're going to switch it up to my favorite topic, visualization. Possibly more about this subject later if I happen to think of something I missed.

Maybe the guide could be called "Guitar Technicalities"?


- South Park

Visualization is my favorite of the tools required for the complete method because it seems to make the most difference. Relaxation is a prerequisite. You can't do anything properly without it. But, it doesn't really make you learn anything faster, either. You just have to have it. Visualization on the other is like downloading information into your brain (maybe I'll skip the Matrix analogy this time). When I started to use visualization, it amazed me. I know this sounds like a lot of hype, but I'm really only describing my experiences, like promised. Could be that it comes to me very easily because I'm a very visually oriented person. But I've seen it work on others, too. You can't know unless you try.

You can pretty much conjure up anything you want with your imagination... inside your thoughts. But that's good enough! Think about that super cool solo that one guitarist plays. Can you imagine it? Can you slow it down? Can you slow it down a lot... like a slow motion replay? Can you zoom in to the fretboard hand? Can you really focus on how the fingers are moving? You might realize, that you don't really remember how the guitarist played the thing, but you're still getting a clear image. Funny thing is, it doesn't matter. Your brain (again with the pseudo brain science) gathers up all your experiences and fills in the blanks to the best of its ability. That's one of the things brains are best at. Making connections and filling in the blanks. It doesn't always get things right, but still, it's deceptively good at it.

What's left for you to do then? Your job is to examine the image in your thoughts. Slow it down as much as you have to. Time and speed don't matter. What matters is how the movement feels in your muscles. See that guitarist playing that solo in your mind and imagine what those moves must feel like. Does he play it tensely or loosely? Is he relaxed? What are the finger trajectories like? How does the hand turn? How much does he move the individual fingers? How is he able to pull this movement off? He's not super human.

Physically, you can play anything that any other guitarist has ever played, right now. Unless the movement somehow requires an insane amount of strength that you don't yet possess. But usually they don't. Playing fast doesn't typically require strength. It just requires coordination. Look at any guitarist playing a really fast progression. They don't look tensed up. They don't look like they're pressing really hard or using a lot of strength. They just let their fingers fly. It's the only way to do it. If you can perform the thing in air-guitar-mode, you can do it on your guitar.

You don't have to look at live videos of these people playing. That's what the idea with visualization is. You can just imagine it. And it will more than likely be right. Your brain knows how your body is able to move. You've been doing it for quite a while. When it comes to fine-tuning movement, you might have to adjust a few things your brain is telling you. But when it comes down to figuring out if some sort of movement is possible, your brain can make a plan for you in a second.

Then why haven't you succeeded yet? It's a sum of multiple things.

1) When you start to learn guitar, you concentrate on being able to reproduce singular movements. Later on you try to chain these individual movements together. When you try to do something fast, you need a different technique. You need to focus on the bigger picture, not on individual notes or individual moves.
2) You haven't tried doing things relaxed. You think you have to tense up to be able to produce individual notes. How would you then even be able to do longer runs ultra fast?
3) We tend to imagine things that have already been instead of things that could be. When you try to perform a fast lick, you concentrate on how you used to play and try to make it happen like that. Instead, you should concentrate on imagining a new way. A way that is actually possible to execute.

More later.

More About Strength

Playing fast requires coordination. If you tense up while doing fast licks, you don't have the coordination. You're forcing it to happen. But you don't get anywhere with that approach. What I often do, while learning complicated patterns etc. is that I learn them separately with both hands. When I concentrate that I can hit the right frets, I just skip the picking hand completely. Hammer-on everything. If you hit them right, you'll hear the notes, even on an unplugged electric guitar.

Hammer-ons don't require strength. They require speed. The faster you get the finger from up position to down position, the harder the impact is going to be, resulting in a louder sound. You don't need to press hard in order to get a loud sound. It really isn't about you muscle strength. Think about hitting a baseball. It really doesn't matter how much you tense up your huge muscles when you hit the ball. It might even make hitting it more difficult. Or think about swinging a real hammer. If you just place the hammer on the nail and press it with all your strength, you more than likely will not get anywhere. You need a fast and an accurate swing. That's where the real power is. If you lack the coordination, then you might hit your own finger. But with time and practice, you'll learn what kind of motion you need to make in order to hit the nail every time. Same with the guitar.

As an interesting side note (this doesn't really have anything to do with anything), when you hammer-on frets on an unplugged guitar, you're going to hear two different notes. This is because the impact results in the string vibrating. Usually, when you pick the string, that sound is going to be the loudest. But when you hit the string with just your fretboard hand, you're going to cause two equally loud vibrations. One on the body side of the hand and one on the headstock side of the hand. Usually, the headstock side of the string is going to make an off-tune sound that gets higher when you play the lower frets and lower when you play the higher frets. It may get distracting. Just focus on the real tones.

So, as I practice the fretboard hand, I just hammer-on every note. If I have to descent on a string, I raise the upper finger and hammer-on the next. If you're accustomed to always do pull-offs with hammer-ons, don't do that. Keep it loose. Keep hammering.

Visualization cont.

Visualization is one of those things that really take time, but it's worth it. It's the most direct way I know of to teach your brain how to do something. You just have to do it right.

When you are familiar with this approach, you can just imagine yourself when you're trying to visualize some move. The danger there is that you start to think how you normally play the thing. You know what I mean? You visualize yourself playing the section very timidly, pressing hard, having this awful feeling in your stomach, and then at the end doing the whole thing wrong. There's a sense of frustration and annoyance to that. It's like your old self-image that has thrown on the viking cap and is heading for the invasion trip. It's a good idea to just visualize some great guitar player instead. Someone you know that can play this stuff with no sweat. Then you are concentrating on the ease of it all. When you play great things, it's supposed to feel easy. But it's also a bit of a crapshoot. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don't. Even some of the greats like Guthrie Govan sometimes play things wrong. And they're upfront about it. When you do things at that caliber, it's like 50% luck. All you can do is make sure the percentage isn't higher.

Now, you could develop a level of familiarity where you might be able to do some specific thing right every time. I don't think it would be a good use of your time, but whatever. It's theoretically possible. But the key word here is familiarity. You would have to do those things so much that it doesn't make much sense anymore. There are things in life that you can do without a fail, such as walking or running. But those things don't require precise coordination. You just need to move one limb forward at a time. With a complex guitar passage, we're talking about relatively large muscles developing a very fine-tuned familiarity with really small movements. I would say it's maybe possible, but not really worth it. I would much rather spend my time learning new things, even if it means that I can't perform everything 100% correctly every time. How far you want to go is really up to you. That's what defines you as a guitarist.

What is possible?

That is an interesting question. I don't think I should talk too much about what I think sounds good, because as we have witnessed in the era of YouTube, phenomenal guitar feats have their passionate audience. There are always going to be physical limits. 100 metres world record is 9.58 seconds. Is there ever going to be a person whose muscles can work hard enough to get it below 9 seconds? 8 seconds? Who knows. But if there is a way something can be done, you can find it by visualizing it. Visualize yourself already doing the thing. And not with pain and agony. With ease. Let your brain tell you how it would do the movement. Don't hold on to your experiences. Just watch. Let your body tell you its experiences. Then examine the picture in your mind. What specifically happens in it. How does it feel? How are your muscles moving? If your limbs can humanly move that fast, then this is the way to do it. Go crazy.

Visualizing Relaxed Chords

Let's go through some of the techniques by visualizing them. You want to learn how to play some wonky chord effortlessly. You may close your eyes if you feel like it helps.

Picture your favorite guitar player playing the chord. She doesn't really have to know how to play it, you just need to believe that she could. The guitarist is waving her hand to the audience or something and then BAM, she just snaps it on the fretboard and it's the right chord just the right way. It doesn't look difficult. It doesn't look straining. It doesn't look like she's even giving it a second thought. She just does it automatically. All the fingers fall in place as if she was just grabbing the neck with her hand. No need for wiggle, no need for adjustments, no buzzing, no muted strings -- just like a crocodile snapping its jaw and everything ringing out crystal clear.

How is that achieved? You can imagine it, right? It's totally doable. And it doesn't mean that it has to be really awkward at first and that you gradually build up the familiarity with it. Actually, it's quite the opposite. You have to start with being relaxed. If you try to do it any other way, you'll learn it wrong. You just have to concentrate on the feeling. Take as long as you have to with this. I can sometimes sit in place without playing anything for 60 seconds because I'm concentrating on that image. Funny thing is, it's still faster than trying to learn it by repeating the chord wrong over and over again.

When you've got a plan, throw the fingers on the fretboard. This is a test shot. You're seeing what happens. You won't get it right the first time. If you did, then you're not concentrating. You're tensing up the hand and forcing the outcome. This is not how you learn. You do the test shot to see what you got right and what you didn't get at all. Maybe none of the fingers are even remotely in the right place. Focus on the visualization again and compare it to your previous move. What things are different? What are you going to try next? This is all part of the process. This is it. If you want to learn, this is all you do. There is no next step. You have to concentrate on the picture, do a move, see what went wrong, and find a way to alter the move you did.

Why does it go wrong? Because every move with guitar is a very intricate process. You have to have so many muscles working in tandem in order to drop your fingers on really tiny pieces of real estate, that it is just impossible to get it all right the first time. But you concentrate on the feeling and keep all the muscles as loose as cold hot dogs. You need a little bit of pressure to keep the strings down, but don't get crazy. When you get a clear sound, that's enough.

Clear Sound

Speaking of clear sound, there's a clear best way to place fingers on the strings and this is what you should always strive for. Difficulty wise, it really doesn't make a difference, because you have to visualize the fingers on the guitar in some position anyway.

First of all, how is the sound on a guitar produced? This is fairly basic knowledge, but for the sake of thoroughness, let's go over it. When you pluck a string, it vibrates. The vibration causes changes in air pressure and our ears pick up those changes as sounds (microphones are designed to mimic this very behavior). Depending on the length of the piece of string that is vibrating, the tone of the sound alters. Longer vibrating piece of string produces a lower sound and shorter vibrating piece of string produces a higher sound. Guitar is (usually) a fretted instrument. That means that every note is very much locked into one place by the frets placed on the fingerboard. There is no ambiguity as to if you got the right tone or if it's a few cents off etc. Your finger presses the string against the metal fret and stops it from vibrating any lower to that point. You are essentially altering the vibrating string length on-the-fly by changing which fret you are pressing the string against.

What can cause buzzing of muffled sounds? If we rule out the design of the guitar and just assume that it's perfect, then the way you press your fingers on the fretboard plays a big part in the clarity of the sound. Remember, the idea is that you must press the string tightly against the metal fret. It's easy to assume that you're pressing the string against the wood, because that's where your finger is. But if you examine the string from a side view, you notice that it's actually in air under your finger.

In order to get the string as tightly against the fret as necessary, one easy fix is to just get the finger closer to the fret. This is simple physics. If you've got a pen, press it down against a table from one end and simultaneously try to lift the other end with the other hand. It's loose. This will cause buzzing. If you move the pressing hand to the other end of the pen and now try to lift it, it's not so easy.

Another thing to pay attention to is what part of the finger you use to press the string down. Fingers are not symmetrical or equal on each side. The bottom side of you finger (the one with the fingerprints) has a lot of soft meat on it. Using that part is like using one of those kids' squeeky hammers to drive in nails. The steely part is where the bone is -- the fingertips. When you use the very tips of your fingers, you don't have to use so much strength to press the strings down. It makes all the difference.