What guitar exercises do you recommend?

What guitar exercises do you recommend?

Recommended Guitar Exercises

I’m often asked by guitar players what exercises are best to practice with. But, believe it or not, I don’t regularly do exercises. I’m not a big fan of them and I rarely recommend them as a teacher. Instead, I play songs and tell my students to do the same.

The types of exercises that are usually prescribed for developing finger strength and coordination aren’t very helpful because they don’t prepare you for things that you would actually play in real music. For example, have you ever seen the exercise where you use one finger per fret and play across the fretboard? You know, something like this:


------------------------------------------------1-2-3-4
--------------------------------------1-2-3-4----------
----------------------------1-2-3-4--------------------
------------------1-2-3-4------------------------------
---------1-2-3-4---------------------------------------
1-2-3-4------------------------------------------------

In my personal opinion, this is worthless and a waste of time. You’ll never play a song or riff that does this. This isn’t even a scale or passage that occurs in music. So why put time into it? Why not focus on playing something that actually occurs in music like common scale patterns, licks and phrases?

I use parts of songs as exercises or something that sounds like a part of a song. This works better because as I get the “exercise” down I’m actually producing something musical. What kinds of songs do I recommend? See all the guitar theory songs I have posted for free on YouTube. Those song parts make great exercises for developing finger strength and coordination plus they add to your vocabulary of useful guitar licks and phrases.

What about those spring-loaded, exercise devices like the Gripmaster that are marketed to guitarists for developing finger strength and dexterity? They’re good for strengthening and warming up your hands, but in order to develop guitar playing skills you need to spend time… playing guitar! While finger exercise devices can stimulate your finger muscles, they can’t develop guitar playing skills because that’s something that can only be accomplished with a guitar in hand.

Think about it… if other types of finger activities can make you a better guitarist, then people who sit down and type at a keyboard for 8 hours a day ought to be able to pick up a guitar and play circles around us. Or the same with people who play Guitar Hero all the time. But we all know that these activities don’t replace actual guitar playing. I think the same is true for non-musical exercises and exercise devices.

There are no gimmicks that will accelerate your guitar playing progress–you need to put time into playing real guitar and real music!

“Nothing helps you build your left-hand fretting strength better or faster than simply playing guitar.” -Mark Phillips and Jon Chapell, Guitar For Dummies

To learn exercises that aim to improve your picking accuracy, speed, and comfort, see my program, Guitar Picking Mechanics. It focuses on skills needed to play popular styles of music and includes passages from familiar songs.

Comments ( 6 )

  • Kurt

    That’s an interesting take on these kinds of exercises. I have to admit to practicing these kinds of exercises for many hours trying to build up dexterity, finger independence and speed. I can now play these exercises pretty fluidly, so I think there is some value to them, but I’m no closer to being able to play real music, so their real value is debatable. I probably would have been better off to have invested the time learning songs instead.

  • Yep, that’s part of my point, Kurt. At the end of the day, what do you want to have down an exercise or a song?

  • Dave Robinson

    Hi Desi
    I practice scales pretty regular. And I play over 150 songs in my band set. And I know most of them pretty well, some with my eyes closed. But still on doing solos I can’t avoid making mistakes in the solos. Not a lot thankfully, but take No woman no cry I or Eagles Peaceful easy feeling. Sometimes it just flows easy but then sometimes I’m Mr banana fingers. Any suggestions? I’m pretty old at 65, but I don’t see BB ever having a problem!!

  • Dave Robinson

    Same with my tennis and pool playing I have a problem with consistancy

  • I found this article interesting. Personally I do like those kinds of exercises but I think that people often overdo it. As you mentioned, sitting there playing boring patterns for hours is completely worthless as you mentioned. I also think that taking pieces of songs as exercises is great advice because when you play something that sounds like a song it tends to be easier to play simply because you get that “flow” in your playing. Anyways, I don’t completely agree that those exercises are worthless but I think you make a great point that they are often overused. Many people under estimate the value of learning songs. Thanks for the interesting article.

  • Hi, Dave. It sounds like you have a lot of playing experience. I’m inclined to say that if the bananas haven’t worked themselves out yet, then they probably never will. Perhaps with some careful practice and training you can make improvements. Have you tried anything?

    I also have things that trip me up, even after all my years of practicing and playing. But I’ve found a fix: Avoid them! I’ve found that it’s often better to change a song part to something I can play well than to fumble through the “correct” way.

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