Shred Guitar – How fast is fast enough?
Taking on the belief that you have the potential to play anything that someone else can play is incredibly powerful. When you run into someone playing something that you haven’t already mastered, taking it as a personal challenge will lead to tremendous growth in your guitar abilities. The question comes down to, where do you draw the line? You have the potential to be the best guitarist who ever lived. However, the reality is that you will almost certainly never achieve that distinction. Why do I bring that up? To discourage you? On the contrary.
If your deepest motivation comes from working towards being the “best” player of all time, then I say go for it. Setting aside things like subjectivity, artistry, etc. there are ways to objectively measure aspects of guitar playing that make it possible to earn the title of “best” (at least in a specific area). But if your true motivations come from elsewhere, than anything related to the idea of being the “best in the world” is nothing more than a burden that will get in the way of your real purpose.
There can be no question that the “best guitarist who ever lived” is someone that nobody ever heard of. The reason is, that player sat at home and practiced their entire life away. If you really want to be impressed (and possibly discouraged), look up the Guiness Book of World Records record for guitar speed. It’s a testament to human determination and potential. Next, check out the video of this guitarist on YouTube and read the comments. You’ll find tons of fellow guitarists rationalizing away the achievement. They will say snarky things like “yeah, but what’s his best original song?” The only trouble is, you’ll also find comments like that on a video for a great original guitar song saying the exact opposite – “yeah, but how fast can they play?” So which is the right gauge to determine who is a great guitarist??? Well, the answer to that is: Both, either and neither.
If your goal as a guitarist is to be the fastest player on record, I say that’s fantastic and get to work! You absolutely have the potential to become the next Guinness Records title holder. But you have to ask yourself, is that really what you want to do as a guitarist? Will that process be rewarding?
I can tell you from personal experience (and I never even got remotely close to the Guinness Records speed) that in order to play cleanly at extreme speeds, it requires ungodly amounts of practice. The only trouble is, if you ever lapse on keeping up that practice, the speed goes away. I went through a phase some years ago now, where I took on any “challenge” that came my way. I wanted to get my chops to a much higher level in order to stand out as a musical artist. This was both extremely effective and rewarding and it took my playing to an entirely new level. I built tremendous momentum and I was having a blast, sometimes practicing 8 to 10 hours in a day. The trouble was, it eventually reached a point where I was practicing the guitar solely for these reasons. The amount of time required took away from the things I really was passionate about and I began losing interest in the guitar altogether.
This is the reason that I dropped songs like Paganini’s 5th Caprice from my performance repertoire. It just wasn’t fun for me to run through the composition every day. I knew that if I stopped practicing it, I would lose the ability to perform the composition at the highest level. This sort of extreme “maintenance practice” eventually became nothing more than a chore that threatened to kill the passion I had for the guitar. I’d pushed myself harder than my personal interest in it could sustain. And I never came close to being the “fastest.” I learned the hard way how important it is to strike a balance between interests, passions and goals.
I love the guitar and I love killer techniques and speed, but my deepest passions are in the music itself and composition. Plus there are many different aspects to the guitar to work on, many different styles to integrate and many different kinds of techniques to master. I got sick of putting all of my attention in one or two areas. Setting down my “need” to maintain the speed I had achieved was one of the best things I ever did for myself overall as both a musician and a guitarist.
You may very well be different than I am in that regard. Perhaps reaching that new level of speed each day is something that gives you the kind of rush that you need for motivation. If that’s true, you know where to spend your time. On the other hand, if you pursue those higher levels of speed and only find the process tedious and frustrating (even when reaching new heights), it’s time to reevaluate your priorities.
Updating and modifying your old goals to suit who you are today is not the same thing as giving up on them. Those goals got you to where you are now and they helped shape your current interests and understanding of the path that you should take. The greatest guitarists and musicians found their way to greatness from knowing and following their truest and deepest passions. Everyone has their own interests and motivations and their own reasons for pursuing the types of goals they do. You never want to have old goals with new, incompatible motivations.
The lesson to be learned is to always be aware of what it is you’re trying to do and why.
Taking on challenges is a great way to become a better player, but you never want those challenges to get in the way of where you’re really trying to go. In the end, it makes absolutely no difference whether you’re the fastest guitarist or not – unless that is one of your key motivations for playing the guitar. Instead, focus your attention where it counts towards getting you to where you want to go and don’t get bogged down by the faster players. There will always be faster players. Their achievements only challenge you if you allow them to.
I recommend seeking out and accepting the challenges that are useful to you while never allowing them to become distractions (or discouragement) from what you’re most passionate about. Obviously, the guitar is a lot more than a skill to learn. It’s an artform. It’s easy to get excited about mastering impressive and difficult techniques and lose sight of why you picked up the guitar to begin with. Remember that techniques emerged over time as more and more efficient ways to express feelings and ideas on the instrument. Now, none of this is to say that you shouldn’t continue to pursue mastery with new and difficult techniques. You absolutely should.
It’s important to always be growing and moving forward. But it’s also important to keep in mind that many of the guitarists that you idolize got to where they are by hybridizing their own unique interests and inspirations and ultimately, by following their own path.
There’s only one sure way for your achievement to be recognized – be the first at something.
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