How to play fast guitar solos

Learning how to play fast lead guitar solos, the kitchen sink and a mug.

I learnt something quite important the other day about playing guitar fast, when I accidentally bumped a mug that was standing on the kitchen sink.

You probably know what I’m talking about, like when you drop a plate or something like that and it doesn’t break, but instead does this funny wobble.

First it does this broad rocking motion, and then as it starts to settle it actually speeds up, with the vibration becoming faster and faster as the distance it moves from left to right becomes less and less.

Playing fast guitar solos means learning how to use less energy, or perhaps I should say it’s an economy of motion.

So anyway, there I was staring at this wobbly mug on the kitchen sink, and watching it come to a complete standstill I thought “Gee, I wonder how fast it’s going now?”

Here’s the basic principle behind playing fast guitar solos: The more energy you put into playing each note, the slower you’re going to be.

Here’s a list of things you can do to start playing guitar faster:

  • Hold the plectrum so that less is protruding, so only the very tip hits the strings.
  • Lower the strings on the guitar till they’re as close to the fretboard as they can go. If you get too much fret buzz then take it to a luthier (Guitar builder) and ask for a fret leveling.
  • If you only know the pentatonic scale, then learn the major scale because there are more notes per string for each scale pattern.
  • Learn to relax when playing guitar. Sometimes people tense up on the guitar when it’s important to substitute strength for speed. It’s a mistake to think that to play lead guitar solos faster you must apply more finger pressure.
  • Practice your scales slowly with a metronome and gradually increase the speed. This is what Steve Vai recommends, and he’s not doing too badly with it.
  • For faster picking, remember to keep your fingers stiff and let your arm do most of the work. When I pick very fast my entire arm becomes rigid and most of the motion is generated by my upper arm muscle (weird huh).
  • Know your scales really well. If your mind is full of doubt, your fingers won’t put out.

A finger exercise I used to practice fast picking.

This is a finger pattern I devised myself, about 31 years ago, to practice fast picking as well as give me something that was easy to play fast and still usable.

Here’s a picture of it, with the finger numbers included. This is what it should look like from your point of view, with the thickest string being at the bottom of the picture.

Fast guitar solo pattern to practice alternate picking









The way to practice playing fast with this pattern is to use alternate picking. In other words down up down on the 6th string, then up down up on the 5th string and so on. It doesn’t matter which direction you start with, as long as the next pick is in the opposite direction.

You should play from the lowest note to the highest as well as back again from the highest note to the lowest.

Although this is not technically speaking an actual guitar scale, the above pattern will work nicely over an E minor and an A major, as well as an E, A, D and G power chord.

Just remember to play fast guitar solos when using this pattern, cos it may not work out so nicely with the passing notes (the ones with the 2nd finger).

Last but not least, keep practicing till you break the speed barrier. It may seem like you’re making no progress the one day, and then the next thing you know you’re flying across the fretboard with style and finesse.


  1. Ryan says:

    Great article, but I have to disagree with lowering the strings on your guitar. Not just because of potential string buzz, but because the tone tends to suffer. I have found that raising the action on a guitar improves the tone, and I’m not the only one with such opinions. It might feel great to be able to just tap the strings to make a note sound, but it’s not worth it in my opinion; better to find a middle ground.

    As I said though, it’s a great article. I just disagree with that one thing.

    • I Find that when a decent fret levelling and crowning has been done on the guitar, a loss of tone from lowering the strings is negligible if not non existent. Most newer electric guitarists seem to expect that the frets on their guitar will be perfect, which is rarely the case. Their might be some merit in practicing with a slightly higher action but I personally have some guitars where the action is super low and the only difference a higher action makes is that it’s less comfortable to play at speed. Definitely no loss of tone there. The guitars I have where the fret work isn’t that great I generally play with a slightly raised action to compensate. There you can hear the difference. Another factor in the equation is that if you’re playing on a neck that’s the right thickness and scale length your hands are happy with, you’ll play better as well as faster, even with a higher action.

    • Perhaps you should look at how you’re holding your hand and adjust your technique so your fingers are as perpendicular to the fretboard as possible. You might also want to invest in a guitar with a wider neck profile. What guitar are you playing?

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