For years I worked on speed specific drills (two GREAT resources for this are Frank Gambale's Chopbuilders DVD and Troy Stetina's Speed Mechanics) also lots of metronome click filled scale patterns etc.
It worked pretty well up to a point, couple of them actually:
One, I hit a plateau and never seemed to move much beyond it.
Two, I was never really able to USE this speed in solos... When I tried they mostly sounded like: 'cut ... paste in fast part ... resume'. In other words, my speed was VERY situational.
So one day I stopped 100% working on drills. Instead I spent my time learning mostly songs along with familiarizing myself with the fretboard (note reading, arpeggios, circle of fourths drills, jazz standards). A funny thing happened - I BLEW past my previous speed thresholds ... and even cooler I was starting to phrase at higher speeds.
I can only assume that mentally as grew more sure-footed, there was less CPU spent working on the speed. I wasn't "trying" any more. Perhaps this led to an increased relaxation... Perhaps I was having more fun, I don't really know why. But it worked.
Change everything once in a while
Another element that had impact for sure was I changed my picking. Both the physical pick itself and how I hold it. I detailed this in one of these blog entries:
It's Irie Man
So it seems odd to say "don't worry about it" ... but it is kind of what helped me.
These days I MOSTLY just play, I make music all the time. Things like:
- Learn new songs weekly - ALL BY EAR
- Solo pieces improvised
- Creating my own backing tracks on a looper
(with odd chords and soloing over them)
- Learning jazz standards through the fake
(setting up loops and practice soloing through the changes)
- I regularly try to add new chord voicings
(Ted Greene's Chord Chemistry is awesome for this).
But ALL of it centers the focus around having fun and making music. AT ALL TIMES. I really don't worry about getting faster ... but still, faster I get.
So at the heart of all this is one word "RELAX"
Relax your approach
Relax your hands (light touch)
Relax and be patient, it will come.
Work HARD ... but RELAX... just get me a beer before you do : )