Are you having trouble playing cleanly? Here’s why ….

Practice your techniques slowly and build up speed. With slow practice and accuracy, speed will follow.

Does this statement, or one of a similar nature sound familiar to you? I'm sure it does, because this statement is told to all musicians who seek to build speed up quickly. Many times players will play runs, licks, and melodies too fast without really learning the movements necessary to play cleanly. As a result, their playing and techniques become unclean, and the musician becomes frustrated.

So if slow practice is a good way to learn new techniques…Why do so many musicians and players choose not follow this advice??

The answer:

The musician wishes to be creative too soon, before fully mastering basic concepts or applications of a technique.

Before I go on, I should clarify what exactly creativity is from a general perspective. Creativity is using strong prior knowledge of a subject in order to express a desired feeling or outcome. So when a musician does not fully master a basic concept for a technique, that person does not yet have a true idea of how that technique should be used creatively.

Learning new things for guitar is fun and exciting, but when our playing does not turn out how we want, it can be a little discouraging. At one point or another as guitarists, we all hear some awesome new lick or technique, and say to ourselves: “Wow, I want to play like that!” We then immediately go to pick up our guitar and start playing. Soon after, we find out that we are unable to play that technique at the same level as the guitarist from whom we heard it. After the initial let down of not be able to play exactly how we want, we may have a plethora of possible negative phrases popping into our heads such as: “Why is this so hard?” “Why can’t I/ I’ll never be as good as that guy!” or the absolute worst- “I can’t do this!”

The person playing the awesome lick that you listen to has already mastered the basic knowledge required to be able to play that lick at a high level of play. So of course, if you have not built the same foundation of basic ideas as that player, you will not be able to duplicate the same lick very easily. It’s critical that in times like this when you are learning something new or unfamiliar to remember that very basic concepts are what provide the foundation for future and more advanced concepts. Without a good grasp on basic principles, there will be no foundation, and nothing from which to draw creativity.

Now, I know that as you listen to your favorite players, you may not know exactly which licks are made of basic or advanced concepts. That is OK. It is not so much important whether or not a lick is basic or advanced, but rather, whether or not you can play that lick cleanly and accurately. As a side note however, a good way to learn the difference between basic and advanced application is to try to learn as much as you can about one single technique. By doing so, you will begin to understand the effort it takes to truly understand a technique, and what processes it takes to reach a high level of play.

In order to properly build your foundation for playing any lick, it is essential to practice very slowly (Yes, very). Here is why:

When your muscles are first memorizing patterns and movements on the guitar for a specific technique, you are imbedding those processes into your brain. Have you ever heard the old saying “Practice makes perfect?” Well, that phrase is almost right. Here is a much better way to see it: “Practice makes permanent.” The way you practice early on while playing basic ideas that make up a technique will make the foundation for the way you play more advanced licks for that technique. So, if you rush through and play sloppy, your muscles will memorize movements in an uncoordinated manner, and that will lead to unclean play. Later, if you’d like to play more clean, it will only make the whole process longer and harder, because you will have to go against and correct all of the little habits you made while you were focusing and rushing through your practice. By practicing slowly in a controlled manner, you strengthen the foundation for the future of your technique while at the same time taking the quickest route to clean play.

As you have read so far, there is no quick fix to becoming an incredibly skilled player. However, it's important to remember that patience and perseverance will always overcome attempts to find a quick result. So when you first go to tackle a technique, idea, or concept; harness your excitement to learn, and advance by doing your best to master the basics.

Ysrafel is a professional guitarist, musician, and composer who has written articles for many websites to help thousands of guitarists all over the world, and has created an e-book series titled “The Electric Guitar Technique Master Series.” He is currently working on various musical projects including his upcoming guitar instrumental album which will contain several different styles such as progressive metal, electronic/dance, and latin. To stay current with all of Ysrafel’s events, visit his site at, and sign up for his free newsletter which contains very useful guitar playing information and advice.

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Great article from a great guitar player, very helpful. Thank you!

Good article! Im interested in hearing the new instrumental alblum.

Excellent article! If every person would read this before attempting to play an instrument, we would have much more fine musicians!

Expert advice! I've been working at unlearning poor practice habits and sloppy technique. It's very difficult to not want to rush things!

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