How to Do Guitar Exercises That Build Speed and Open up the Fretboard

blog Oct 22, 2018

Technique exercises, and why they are so effective…

 

Being able to play what you want at the speed you want is an issue that ALL guitar players have struggled with for years.

What is the point of learning all of these chord and scale patterns if you can’t play them well.

Getting the ideas from your mind to both your fretting and picking hands is easier said than done.

 

Guitar technique exercises are a wonderful way to…

  • Improve hand-eye coordination and rhythm.
  • Build picking and fretting hand speed.
  • Help you warm up your hands and wrists.
  • Better judge the distances from string to string
  • Get used to moving around the guitar in areas that you are not used to playing on the neck.

When I first started playing guitar I was fortunate enough to have had several great teachers.

 

 I was lucky!

Each of my teachers had their own style of teaching.

One was into teaching songs. Another was all about music theory. Another focused on teaching scales and chords.

But, there was one thing they all had in common: They all had their own version of technique exercises on the guitar.

I really enjoyed these exercises. It was very easy to see my progress improve on these over time.

My speed improved and my rhythm was clearer and sharper.

 

I was starting to struggle.

 

When I progressed into playing in bands, I paid less and less attention to these exercises and more attention to the songs I was playing for an audience.

It took a while to realize it…

…but I was starting to struggle. The new songs I was learning were increasingly more difficult to play.

Getting back into daily technique exercises was the answer I was looking for. They gave me the speed and coordination I needed to keep up with the new material.

 

So what are guitar technique exercises?

 

Technique exercises are small patterns that utilize different muscles in your hands.

They are not melodic and are not intended to be used in songs (although I hear patterns in lots of songs that could have come from these exercises).

They are usually named by a series of numbers that stand for the fret you play and the fretting finger used for that note.

 

 

Here is an example of a simple technique exercise

 

The first exercise I give to beginning students at Play Guitar Academy is:

 

1,2

 

1,2 is a simple exercise that only uses your first and second finger of your fretting hand. It also only uses the first and second fret of the guitar.

 

Here is how you play it

      

  1. Put your first finger at the first fret of the low E string.
  2. Now pick that note.
  3. Next, while leaving your first finger where it is, add the second finger to the second fret.
  4. Now play that note.

What do you do next

 

Repeat the whole thing on the next string (A string). 

Keep repeating this all of the way across the strings until you get to the high E string.

If you are feeling comfortable, work your way back repeating the process from the high E string to the low E string.

For my explanation and examples of technique exercises take a look at my upcoming youtube video.

 

How do you use the pick?

 

When first starting technique exercises…

…use down/up picking.                  

 

For example:

When you play your first note on the low E string (at the first fret), pick that note with a down stroke.

Then, when you play the next note (on the second fret), use an up stroke.

Down up picking is the foundation of great picking technique.

 

Pick up a metronome

 

If you don’t practice with a metronome, now is a great time to start. Using a metronome is essential to building solid rhythm and speed on your instrument!

A metronome is a device or program that provides a click at what ever tempo you choose.

It gives you a perfect tempo and most importantly a number (beats per minute) for each tempo that you choose.

When you play along to a metronome as part of your practice routine, you are not only getting better at the notes, chords and songs that you are practicing, but you are building a strong sense of timing and rhythm that’s essential to becoming a well rounded musician.

 

There are several online metronomes and apps that are provided for free.

 

I like to have a physical metronome that stays in the place I practice the most.

 

Having a real metronome that doesn’t need to be run from a computer or tablet is my favorite way to go!

Sometimes I only have a few minutes to practice. It’s great to just head over to my practice area and start playing, without having to start the computer or find my tablet.

There are two types of metronomes you can buy:  Digital and Mechanical.

  • Digital ones are affordable and are small and very portable.
  •  Mechanical metronomes, although they aren’t the newest technology, get the job done and have several other advantages.

Digital metronomes

 

Digital metronomes are a great way to keep in time and sometimes keep in tune as well.

Not only do you get perfect timing and tempo selection, but most have other features built in as well.

Some have tap tempo, which is great for setting the timing of your song on the fly. Just tap a button to the speed you want to practice and the metronome sets itself to that speed.

Others have things like instrument tuners and drum loops included.

 

(This post contains affiliate links that help my readers find the best tools for learning the guitar. It also helps me because I receive compensation for my time and expenses.)

Here is my reccomendation for a good digital metronome :

Korg TM50K Instrument Tuner and Metronome at Amazon

 

Mechanical metronomes

 

Personally, I enjoy practicing the most with one of those old timey pyramid looking metronomes that sound like a clock.

They have an arm with a weight at the end that swings back and forth to the beat. I find having the visual of the arm swinging back and forth helps me stay on time.

Also, it’s great that you don’t ever need to buy batteries. Just wind it up before you practice and you are good to go!

 

Here is my recommendation of a mechanical metronome:

Tempi Metronome for Musicians at Amazon

 

 

How fast do you play it

 

At first…

…set your metronome to a slow speed. Try your technique exercise at that tempo.

How did it feel? Was it easy to play at that speed, or was it challenging.

 

Adjust the speed of the metronome until you find a comfortable tempo that is not too fast or too slow.

 

Very important! Write the number for that speed (bpm) down!

This is your starting number and for the next few days, practice your technique exercises at that number.

After a few days, increase the speed up a bit. Maybe one or two bpm higher. Write this new number down.

Practice at this speed for a few days until you are ready to move up a bit. A few days later try to increase again.

This is the way we will build speed on the instrument.

 

Small changes over time lead to big results!

 

What do you do when the exercise becomes easy?

 

There are several things you can do when you have mastered each exercise. Here are a few ideas to keep things interesting:

  • Increase the speed.
  • Play the exercise at a different area of the guitar
  • Try playing the exercise up one fret after each pass
  • Try starting from the high E string instead of the Low E string
  • Move on to a more challenging exercise

 

How do I incorporate them in my practice routine?

 

Technique exercises are a great warm-up!

I would play these for 5 to 10 minutes at the beginning of your practice routine.

If you can, try to establish a sensible daily practice routine. The advantages of a moderate repeating daily routine is always better than a sporadic marathon practice session.

Keep an eye out for my upcoming ideas on the most effective practice routines! I’ll post links here when they come available.

 

What if my hands hurt?

 

Stop!

 

Give your self some rest. Guitar is not a “play through the pain” type sport. The hand and wrist have a lot of small muscles that should not be stressed.

If you are having wrist or hand pain, a few days off of your practice routine could do you a world of good.

 

What are some other exercises?

 

We have only talked about the most basic technique exercise 1,2.

Each week you should move on to a new exercise. Once you have done 1,2 each day for one week, try moving on to the next.

Here are some more exercises to use over the next several weeks:

  • 1,3
  • 1,4
  • 2,1
  • 3,1
  • 4,1
  • 1,2,3,4

What are some examples of advanced technique exercises?

 

What is great about these exercises is that they never end.

There is always something on the guitar to challenge you no matter what level you are.

Here are two examples of more challenging technique exercises:

 

The diagonal 1,2,3,4 exercise

 

This is a variation of a popular exercise that Joe Satriani shared years ago. It deals with playing the excercise across four strings at a time.

This uses 1,2,3,4 across the strings, starting on the E, A and D strings. It then finishes with the the theme on the G and B strings. Starting on those strings will not let you finish the 4 per string theme. Starting on the G string it just uses 3 notes and on the B it uses 2 notes (while finally finishing up with 1 on the E string.

Try picking this exercise with both Down/Up picking and Sweep picking. This exercise is super fun and is always challenging!

 

 

The string skipping 1,2,3,4 exercise

 

This exercise splits the simple 1,2,3,4 technique exercise in half.

The first two notes are played on the low E string. Then we skip a string and play the last two notes on the D string.

Continue this pattern (as shown below) starting on the A string, D string and G string.

Once you have that down, reverse the process.

Play the pattern starting on the G string and work your way back, starting on the D, A and finally low E string to finish.

 

Where can I find more Technique Exercises?

 

I have a planned technique regimen for my students at Play Guitar Academy that can take you from right where you are and continue all the way to advanced player. If you would like to know more about my online lessons visit:

https://playguitaracademy.com/

 

There are several really good books that have great ideas for technique exercises.

 

I love getting new practicing ideas from books. There are a lot of books that can help you with technique exercises.

Check out “The Guitar Finger Gym” and “Technique Exercises for Guitar” for a bunch of ideas for new exercises on the guitar

I have links to these pages on Amazon below:

The Guitar Finger Gym at Amazon

Technique Exercises for Guitar: Lessons and Licks for Improving YOur Speed, Power & Clarity at Amazon

 

Technique exercises are a wonderful part of any guitarists practice routine (no matter what stage player you are).

 

I have gained so much from them over the years. I consider them an essential building block on our journey to mastering the guitar!

 

Have you ever used technique exercises in your practice routine? If so, did you notice improvement in your playing?

 

Let me know in the comments below. I would love to hear your experience with technque exercises!

If you haven’t used these wonderful sequences yet, Give them a try.

I’m positive you will see remarkable improvement in your playing in a very short time.

Make sure you check out my podcast about technique exercises here: https://www.playguitarpodcast.com/004-technique-exercises/ 

 

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