Playing “Fast” – Should I Be Concerned?

Question by Michael
(Woodbridge, VA)


Wonder how many others out there feel like I do. I am a country/delta blues finger picker venturing into jazz to expand my musical vocabulary.

I have been playing for 23 years (I am 46 years old) and for the life of me I still can’t play “fast”. Very rarely can I ever play a tune at the tempo most other “professionals” can, even in my chosen idiom of finger picking blues.

My very first instructor, a jazz guitarist, used to tell me, “Don’t be concerned with playing fast or shredding. Play as slow as you have to and concentrate on being accurate. This is much more important. Many fast players are not that accurate and if you slow them down on a tune you would see and hear their mistakes and note that their technique is lacking. Most truly great players practice slowly and accurately.”

It is still hard to understand this because there is still this little voice in me saying “wow, he’s only been playing for 5 years and can play incredibly fast, and I can’t play one-quarter that speed.”

What do you tell your students regarding playing “fast”? Thanks again for the great web site!

M-A’s Answer:

Hello Michael,

Thanks for this great question! I have decided to answer in a video, because it’s simpler for me to speak these things out than to write them out with the keyboard. (-:

Here you go:

Problem seeing the video? Watch it straight on Youtube here:

I hope this helps,


Marc-Andre Seguin
“Improve Your Jazz Guitar Playing with a REAL Teacher”


Old Comments for Playing “Fast” – Should I Be Concerned?

Jan 12, 2014
Playing Fast?
by: Anonymous

Playing fast is impressive. It looks and sounds good (I.e., it sounds good when it’s accurate.)

Playing slow can also be impressive. After you finish your solo, and your audience treats you to a moment of silence; followed by enthusiastic applause, you’ve impressed them. That usually happens after a slow, dreamy number, like ‘I fall In Love Too Easily.’ You can play that great standard in many different moods and rhythms, but never fast! Guaranteed to please too!

Aug 31, 2012
Practising “fast” runs – thank you
by: Amelia

Hi Marc-A
Thanks for another great answer.
I’ve been doing these exercises mainly as a technique exercise for speed and articulation.
I hadn’t thought about pre-singing these exercises. Most of the time I even forget to sing while I play.
Thanks for the kool suggestion of pre-singing.

After reading your response, I have decided to be less pre-occupied with speed. I have difficulty thinking in terms of a 120 bpm pulse (let alone melody !) when I encounter a new song.
I think the only reason I have the ability to pre-sing the technique exercise at 120 bpm is that I practise the same 2 bars for one month.

Thanks for reminding us of the importance of hearing everything first. This is so much more important than finger pattern/ speed/ technique exercises.


Aug 31, 2012
Answer to Amelia
by: Marc-Andre Seguin (admin)


It depends. Are you getting something out of it? … or is it purely mechanical execution of this/these exercises.

May I suggest that you do a specific Hal Galper exercise, just as a test? Here:

-Decide on the exercise you’re going to use, if it’s long, use just the first 2 bars. (or even 1 bar)

-Before playing anything, decide on the tempo …

-Then ‘sing in your mind’ the part of exercise you chose. It has be be ‘perfect’ in your mind: crystal clear notes played in time.

-Then play what you just sung in your mind, perfectly, in time.

-Increase the tempo a little and repeat: hear in you mind first (perfectly) then play it (perfectly)

-Repeat many times … at some point you will feel that you cannot execute it perfectly ‘in your mind first’ … and that is your maximum speed on the instrument. As simple as that! (-:

The technique is really in the ears. If you want to pushup you technical (physical) boundaries, you have to push your hearing first! If you cannot hear it perfectly (at tempo), the fingers WON’T EVER execute the ideas. Neat uh?

I hope this helps,

See Forward Motion by Hal Galper (the few last chapters explain this technique for ‘programming’ your ears and fingers).

Aug 31, 2012
How useful are daily speed exercises ?
by: Amelia

This is real food for thought Marc-A !
I’ve looked at this video and I’ve listened to your dropbox audio on speed. Each day for the 2.5 years I’ve been learning jazz piano, I’ve been doing a speed exercise for 10 minutes e.g. a Hanon or a run. I’ve only reached 120 bpm for these exercises, and my improv speed is only 88 bpm.
Should I still be doing this ?

Aug 30, 2012
Thanks Marc for the Video!
by: Michael


Thanks so much for the video answer to my question, Makes perfect sense and gives me direction on where to focus my energy. Keep up the great work.

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