I’m about to confess a guilty secret...
Not just to all the subscribers to this blog, but also to my colleagues in the GuitarHead office. Last week, I purchased a new music exercise book for myself...
Why should I feel so guilty about this you might ask?!? Well for starters it’s a book of piano exercises, which may be an act of treachery against my fellow guitar title comrades! But I suppose my hangdog demeanor is more to do with a certain attitude you find around many guitar players – there’s all too many 6-string warriors that refuse to seriously respect the practicing of ANY material other than a tune they’re trying to learn.
Be honest with yourself...
I’m not gonna lie here; I was actually one of those guitarists a good few years ago. Like many rookies, I was busy trying to pound out fairly complicated strumming patterns, unfamiliar chord progressions, and totally unrealistic solos, all within the context of trying to fathom out my favorite tunes either by using TAB or simply my own ears. With very little success I might add. And it wasn’t that I couldn’t figure out the notes or the chords properly; more that I lacked the practical physical abilities to make the music actually work.
Imagine someone who’d never even jogged to their local shop trying to run a whole marathon – that was me. The mere idea of using plain exercise material in preparation for a more significant challenge held zero interest, until one day my own guitar teacher threw a magnificent 2-string finger-bender at me, seriously opening my eyes to the simple joy of a practice exercise that actually felt like personal development. I’ve since had the pleasure of devising similar technical challenges for my own students, and witnessing the gains they make through using such material makes me realize how wrong I was all those years ago.
And the best thing about exercising for the sake of it? There’s truly something for every level of player. For example...
The Complete Beginners
I’ve said it before in these blogs; strumming is one of the hardest things for a beginner guitarist to truly get right. So why not try some exercises in this area – getting your head around just a few simple patterns will work wonders on the muscle memory in your strumming arm!
These four patterns can be repeated as many times as you wish, using whatever chord you’re happiest strumming over (heck, try changing the chord here and there, and make a tune out of it!) The important thing is to keep a regular pulse going – use a metronome if possible – and ALWAYS strum down on the beat!
CAGED chords are one thing, barre chords are quite another. Add the word ‘Jazz’ into the mix and some learners may feel the fear creeping in! But there’s really no need – barre chords are some of the most useful things any guitarist can ever learn, especially when you realize just how effective they can be when moved around the neck with a touch of jazzy elegance...
This exercise is a great example of fun jazzy practice. You’re shifting between three very different but not overly complicated barre shapes (all based on the same fret), over a II-V-I progression in each measure, and then moving the whole thing up a fret in the next measure. This sounds pretty sweet just over these four bars, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t carry the same pattern going as far up the neck as you want.
Working your way through a G major scale in thirds can be a strangely pleasing activity if you approach it with a twist! In this case you need to start in 2nd position, with fingers 1-4 firmly rooted on frets 2-5, and absolutely NO movement either up or down the fretboard – you can only work across the strings.
This means that you will, unavoidably, be cycling through your fretting hand fingers in various kinds of reverse order all the way up the first line of music, and vice-versa on the way back down the second line. Weirdly satisfying!
Yes, this is the exercise my own teacher threw my way all those years ago. Just alternating between strings 2 and 1 may look super simple, but you’re absolutely expected to stick to the finger numbers written below the conventional notation. And play it as fast as possible. Try up-then-down strokes, then try purely up, then purely down. And don’t think you get to stop after just four bars – keep this sucker running as far up the neck as possible!
Wrapping it up
And that’s your lot – four different exercises, in four different styles, at four very different levels. If this has whetted your appetite for more ways to make progress then you’ll definitely want to check out our new Exercises for Beginners book, with over 100 different well-crafted exercises covering a balanced mix of melody, harmony and rhythm – and a few surprises along the way!
Right, my piano book is calling me, and I want to get a bit more practice in before that particular secret escapes into the public domain.
So until next time...