Like alternate tunings, slide, whammy bars, and tremolo effect pedals, there is a time and a place for every guitar technique known to man. Shredding guitar is no different.
Steve Vai recently conducted a Reddit Ask Me Anything forum, and one of the questions pertained to shredding. And Vai gave a very simple but powerful answer. There’s no real secret to playing fast. There are exercises, too many to mention, but there’s no “secret.” Practice. Practice scales, modes, arpeggios, string-skipping, tapping, etc. And then practice some more. Keep doing that for a couple of years and eventually you’ll be able to play at warp and/or lightning speed.
At some point in my relationship with the guitar, I decided that I wanted to play like Eddie Van Halen and Mr. Vai, who together set the template for modern day shredding. Of course, there were guys like Yngwie and Paul Gilbert who advanced the idea of playing 128th notes for hours on end. Anyway, that’s what I wanted to do, so that’s what I went about doing. You don’t hear a lot of guitar “teachers” say that, but it’s true. If you want to shred, shred. Figure it out.
As a self-taught young guitarist, I looked to guitar magazines for a great deal of my knowledge; and guitar magazines are loaded with shredding tips and exercises. It didn’t take but a single issue of Guitar Player to get started on my quest to play impossibly fast.
To explain it like you’re five years old, here’s what I did. First, I started slow. That’s probably the only big secret to shredding, and it’s something I’ve heard time and time again. Actually, it’s basically what Steve Vai said in his Reddit AMA. Meanwhile, I learned every scale and made an attempt to memorize every mode; but what I realized is that modes are redundant appendages. I didn’t need modes to know where I was on the fretboard in relation to the key.
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From there, I spent a couple of hours a day over the course of a year or so before I could do some of the things I wanted to do. And then I started a band with a bunch of guys from school. All of us had eclectic tastes in music, but we shared a desire to play an early style of indie rock that didn’t accommodate shredding. The first time I busted out some fretboard gymnastics, the rest of the band stopped playing. The bass player said, “Come on, man. We’re not Racer X. Lose the metal shit.” I mean, he had a very good point. We were playing cover songs by the Cure and R.E.M.
There is one nugget of wisdom I’ve learned over the years, particularly when it comes to playing fast, and that sometimes, it helps to see what a player is doing and how he or she is doing it, before sitting down with the tablature. Of course, listening is important, but I think I could have saved myself a lot of heartache if I had paid more attention to focusing on the visual aspect. There are a lot of things Eddie Van Halen does that sound almost impossible, but if you watch him play, it solves a huge piece of the puzzle.
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