• Alex Bickers

How to play at speed, with accuracy

Updated: Aug 26, 2019

When you are learning bass or guitar and you start to get into the intermediate and advanced stages, you are inevitably going to come accross some pieces where there are fast, technicle parts that you won't be able to play straight away.

This can happen with any style or genre of music, whether it be fingerstyle funk bass, or thrash metal on guitar. A lot of new players will try to blag their way through the part and end up playing it badly. I know I did this a lot as a beginner too. The reasons a lot of them do this can vary. It could be the student is simply ignorant of the way they need to approach it, or they are just too lazy to really work on it. To most players it is often obvious to them that they are struggling with a part but might not yet have the discipline to work at it the right way.

I remember when I was a lot younger and newer to this, I would often try to learn various guitar solos or riffs that were too advanced for me, but I learned the notes and kind of ignorantly stumbled through it, believing I could sort of play it. When in fact I couldn't play it with conviction at all and was not aware of the standard that I should have been holding myself to.

Sometimes fast technicle parts can be really daunting and put the player off learning them at all. This still happens to me too! The point is, that you should never be fearful, and you should believe in yourself enough to give it a go. As long as you stick with it and stay disciplined, practicing it in the right way, it is entirely possible you will be able to play it like a pro within weeks or months.

The first step is to break down the part into manageable chunks. Depending on what it is, you might want to tackle it 1 bar at a time, or even 4 bars. Maybe it's a repeating riff that is looped throughout the song.

Once you have decided on the exact groupings you want, the next stage is to use a metronome. This is one of the most important tools, if not THE most important you will ever use in learning music.

Find out the orignal tempo, and turn that tempo down to a level that you can comfortably tackle the part. If it's at 170bpm, why not try 130? or even less? You will have to judge this by a song by song bassis.

Once you've done that. Just loop the part repeatedly at that tempo until you are comfortable with it. Once you have it down, memorised and you can play it with consistency without making a mistake. Every note must be perfect. Then is the time to turn up the bpm fractionally. Even as little as 4bpm. Do not do this until you can play at at the tempo you are already at. Being eager and nocking the tempo up early will not help and can only compound the mistakes you are making.

Eventually you will reach the desired goal of orignal tempo, but you must be patient. This process can take hours in one session, or even weeks in dozens of sessions. A lot of parts I have had to learn took this long, and I practised it at one fixed tempo each session. And not necessarily every session did I rehearse it. One day I might have been at 100bpm, the next 104, the next 108, and so on. And each day I had to warm up to my current tempo by briefly cycling back through every tempo I have visited previously.

As a note, it is generally better to practise things little and often, rather than large chunks in one go. Your brain absorbs the information easier and allows for muscle memory development, and it greatly reduces the risk of repeative strain injury.

So please BE CAREFUL about sustaining injury through playing the part over and over. Make sure you warm up and take regular breaks. This is extremely important and if not followed could set you back weeks or months if an injury is compounded. If you are having bass lessons or guitar lessons with me, I will guide you through this and help you set the realistic goals that will get you well on your way to being a pro!

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