“Why does it feel like you go over a lick or part of a solo, start slow, work on it over and over again and … put in a lot of time just for that one part … and still can’t nail it? How long does it take to get a lick or solo down and get your fingers to do what you want them to do?”
How to Play Hard Licks or Solos
‘Things get really frustrating because you have no idea on how to improve no matter what you try.’
It is absolutely critical to learn something slow at first and to ALWAYS use a metronome to track your progress. You are on the right track with practicing it slow, but there’s a big tip that most students haven’t heard about learning things that are faster or harder than they are able to play.
Usually what happens is you hit a ‘brick wall,’ a point where you may be practicing with diminishing returns or none at all. This is when things get really frustrating because you have no idea on how to improve no matter what you try.
Let’s use a simple lick that Zakk Wylde uses a lot …
We are going to use the trusty pentatonic scale in the key of E minor. We’ll just use the small E and B strings. Play the 15th fret on the E string followed by the 12th fret. Then play the same frets on the B string.
‘ALWAYS use a metronome to track your progress.’
Use alternate picking and repeat this four-note pattern over and over. Start at a slow tempo and play even eighth notes. Gradually increase the speed until things start to get shaky and hard … the ‘brick wall.’
Let’s say your goal tempo is to play it with eighth notes at 160 bpm. You start at 100 and once you get to about 130, things fall apart.
The solution is the big tip you’ve been waiting for …
The Secret to Increasing Your Speed
The solution is to force yourself to play it faster than 130, even if it’s not perfect. This may sound bad and messy but you need to push through it.
This is where a lot of people go wrong and just get stuck. Don’t get fixated on getting every note perfect every time. Put the metronome to 135 and grab on to the moment that you do it right, even if it’s only for one bar. As you do this more and more, you will play it clean for longer stretches of time.
‘The solution is to force yourself to play it faster … Don’t get fixated on getting every note perfect every time.’
Once you get comfortable with 135, realize that you have jumped over your previous speed and are now able to play it clean. Use this strategy to keep pushing yourself to play faster and faster.
After you have used this approach on one lick, you can apply it to others you are learning. You’ll get better with each one and playing at higher speeds will become more comfortable.
The whole concept is a lot like working out in the gym. If you want to lift more than you think you can handle, just try it. You just might have a good day when you try and end up achieving it. From there, you’ll know you’re capable and doubt won’t stand in your way anymore.