The Twelfth Fret ~ Since 1977 ~

Time Management

Time Management with Richard Smyth The Twelfth Fret

Time Management

Every now and then a student arrives for a lesson and complains that they cannot play up to the speed they would like. “Speed” meant literally; they can’t play fast. When they try, their lines sound sloppy and disjointed, with lots of unintentionally muted notes. They try over and over to increase the tempos and simplify their lines, but to no avail.

This is actually a symptom of a larger issue. It’s an issue of technique for sure, but not the way you might think.  For the purpose of this article, I’m going to deal with the player who just wants to play single note lines fast and clean.

If you are hearing sloppiness and muted notes, it means your hands are not connected. You are fingering the note (left hand) at a different time than you are picking the note (right hand). The difference is in milliseconds, but the result is hugely obvious.

I always ask if they use a metronome when they play, and that’s when they get that look on their face like they just smelled something really bad. (I used to think it was me, but I’ve since figured out it really is distasteful for most people to be reined in by a click) In actual fact, the metronome is your friend.  It will not only tell you when you are playing too slowly, it will tell you when you are playing too fast, which is more common amongst aspiring guitar players. I always use the metaphor of martial arts to explain this. You practice the moves in Tai Chi for example, very slowly. This is done to make the flaws in your technique become obvious. Once you eliminate flaws in slow movement, they remain eliminated in faster movement. If you play single lines very slowly on the guitar, calling yourself out on every flaw in technique as you play, the hands gradually learn to synchronize.

Here’s how it’s done:

  • Set your metronome to 60 bpm.

  • Play something familiar and simple (a scale that you know well)

  • Using alternate picking (down-up-down-up).

  • Try to NAIL the click.

You must hold yourself to a high standard here; you must nail the note on the click with no fret noise, no muting of notes, ALWAYS alternate picking, even when crossing strings.

  • When you’ve achieved consistency, move the metronome DOWN to 58, and repeat the above.

Just strong clean notes. When you can do this consistently (80% of the notes are flawless), then move the metronome DOWN to 58, and repeat the above. The slower you do this exercise, the more difficult it becomes.

Be sure to relax. Be aware of your breathing. The click is not a deadline to meet, it is a groove to relax into. When you learn to play in time , your lines become smooth and fluid , at any tempo.

Time Management  

When I first began doing this, I could only last a very few minutes before I began to get the feeling that I was going nuts. The more I stuck with it, the longer I could go, and eventually I actually started to enjoy it . If you make this part of your regular routine, the long term benefits are huge. Your playing will improve in ways you cannot imagine.


~ Richard Smyth, The Twelfth Fret Music School




The Twelfth Fret

Guitarists’ Pro Shop
2132 Danforth Avenue
Toronto, Ontario  M4C 1J9
○ Sales: +416•423•2132
○ Service: +416•423•1554