Beyond Shredding

Beyond Shredding: Think as Fast as You Play 

Playing single note passages on the guitar rapidly doesn’t really take much work, but learning to think and hear fast can take a lifetime.

Infinite Speed 

We have jets that can break the speed of sound. And a space shuttle can travel many times that — thousands of miles per hour. But when you think about it, the quickest a person could travel between two points is to be in both places at once. Same on the guitar. If you can play two notes at once you’ve already got infinite speed. The trick is to put that to work for you. To play fast isn’t enough of course; one must be able to play a series of notes in an even tempo and in time. Notes played in time often seem faster than those that aren’t steady. 

A word about developing speed and proficiency with double picking. 

Try taking a mode and taking a very small melodic passage out of it — say, 1 2 3. Play slowly and steadily. Stay Relaxed. Hit the string with the pick down on the 1, up on the 2, down on the 3, up on the 2. Keep repeating it until it’s smooth and flows naturally. Don’t try to get fast. The speed will come. 

After you get the hang of playing small groups of notes, you can gradually increase them in length, to 4 or 5 note groups starting on the 1 oof a mode, the 2 of a mode, and so on. And then on to longer groups, of course. 

Think Fast 

After having practiced the modes and melodic patterns for a while it becomes easy for the guitarist to play strings of notes — riffs — without thinking too much about what they’re playing. Playing without thinking is not a good habit. It cna lead to your improvisation being sterile, without direction. Here are a few exercises to open up your playing, open up your mind, and keeping your ideas fresh and flowing. 


A great way to develop your ear as well as your musical “voice” (not your singing voice, but rather, how you express yourself with your instrument), sing each note as you play it. Doing this will improve your phrasing and make it more natural. It will also keep your mind attuned to how what you’re about to play will sound. The “Starting Point, Ending Point” Rut Lets say you’ve played a four note melodic pattern thousands of times on the guitar. You could play it in your sleep. Now, if you know you’re playing the right mode to match the chords changes of the tune you’re jamming on, and you’ve picked a starting point and an ending point you can put your brain on automatic pilot for the duration of that “run,” and then play another in the same fashion, and on and on. Just don’t do it. It becomes too easy to let your mind wander from what’s important: playing meaningful, expressive music. Try this, as a way to keep yourself from falling into a rut when practicing.Start out nice and slow. Practice improvising in a continual stream of notes at first, 8 or 16 notes to a measure. Set these restrictions on the notes you play:

  • Play no more than 3 notes in the same direction (ascending or descending).
  • Play no more than 3 consecutive notes. Skip a note or more in the mode. For example, avoid passages like 1 2 3 4 5. Instead, play 1 2 4 or 1 2 5.

As an added challenge, try doing both at the same time — skipping notes, playing larger intervals, and changing direction. Playing Over Changes Challenge yourself by switching modes during improvisation. Try staying in the same position, switching between C Ionian and C Aeolian, for example, playing a continuous stream of 8 notes in each mode before changing. Try to hear in your mind how the differences in the modes will affect their sound as you play them. I hope these thoughts and ideas prove very helpful to you.