Building speed: Synchronization

Synchronization refers to how well the left and right hands are working together. As you fret a note, do you pick it at precisely the same time? Good synchronization between the hands is key to playing fast and articulate, especially in runs where every note is picked. How does one go about developing this?

First of all, it takes TIME! The guitar is an interesting instrument. And sometimes a deceiving one. Things sometimes appear difficult, when in fact, they are not so hard. On the other hand, things may actually be quite difficult to play, yet they donít appear especially so. Playing fast, picked runs with smooth synchronization is just one of those things that is harder than it looks.

So first, Iíll deflect the issue and suggest to you that picking every note is not always the best approach. In fact, it can make everything sound all the same if you pick everything all the time. I mean, itís really the hammers, pulls, slides, and string-bending approaches that give the guitar its nearly unlimited range variations and subtleties, making it--without question--the best instrument of all. My point, of course, is that fast, synchronized picking is a stylistic endeavor and not a necessity.

Still, itís a nice option to have. And many guitarists want it and want it bad. So Iíll pass on a few insights and let you know where you can find more.

First and foremost, practice at a wide range of speeds, not only fast. You see, at higher speeds, you are actually playing in a less synchronized fashion. And the faster you try to play, the worse your synchronization gets. Hold this idea in mind for a moment.

If you read the previous section (7. Building speed: The heart of the matter) -- and if you didn't, do so now because it bears directly on this issue -- you already know that "what you put in is what you get out." In other words, the exact way you play things gets established in your nervous/muscular system as a habit. Hold this idea for a moment, too.

Now combine those two ideas: What you put in is what you get out. And your synchronization is better at slow and moderate speeds. Therefore, practice more at slow and moderate speeds -- where you do have the best synchronization -- and that precise timing will become more and more entrenched as an aspect of your general playing technique. Amd when you then push your speed up, some of that accuracy will "stick."

Sound odd? Play slow to play fast? Well I know this works because I always noticed that my synchronization improved the most when I would sit down and start learning something -- maybe a Paganini Caprice, or Bach fugue, or Beethoven piano sonata -- and because Iím not a great sight reader, Iíd learn it very slowly, one section at a time. And because it was so complex, it would take me a long time of playing over and over at fairly slow tempos before I would succeed in memorizing a section. Then Iíd move on to another section. And another. Iím playing at a turtleís pace, but Iíd get totally lost in the music: the innate power of the notes even more obvious and compelling at the slower tempos. Then Iíd eventually start putting the sections together, and Iíd try it a little faster. Then add another section and speed it up again. After a few hours, Iíd have it up to a pretty good clip. When suddenly, Iíd come out of my Ďpractice tranceí and notice, quite by accident, that the notes seemed easier to play. The motions all felt a bit smaller and seemed to require less effort than when I started. And I realized that I could play just a little faster, without any extra effort. Everything sounded clearer. Synchronization had improved!

By playing slowly for a while, then bringing it up to speed, we refine the very nature of our playing. Because it takes so long, however, we may not see it except as a byproduct of playing music.

Based on my observations, however, I also develop several other approaches for honing synchronization directly, which I incorporated into Speed Mechanics for Lead Guitar. These ideas appear throughout the entire first section on "Mechanical Ability," and many are woven into the very structure of the lessons themselves. I could list about a dozen, but enough freeloading! If youíre really into speed and synchronization, pick up a copy of Speed Mechanics.

Bottom Line:

To hone your synchronization, pratice at a variety of speeds, not just fast. Why? For some good reasons that are too involved to summarize briefly. For more approaches, plus a horde of hair-raising exercises, get Speed Mechanics for Lead Guitar. "Itís all in there."
 

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