Guitar exercises for you to become a better player

Susan Fernandez February 02 2022

How and when should your practice skills?

What are the best guitar exercises? What are some good warm-up routines? These questions have been asked over and over for years. However, there is so much information on these topics it's sometimes difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

After spending years pondering these issues, here are my top tips based on actual students of mine. If you haven't already read them then please check out the earlier article " how I learned to play guitar fast ", which covers many of these principles in more detail.

At first, this article may seem just like a review of what was said in the previous article but soon they will be expanded upon with extra tips and advice; after all this is about getting you better faster right? So let's jump right into the first tip.

Tip #1 - Warm up before you practice

Practice without warming up is like driving through a rainstorm with your windows closed. Warming up will open your mind to learning faster, help build muscle memory and make you more confident when playing.  A good warm-up routine should prepare you for what's to follow.

Here are some great guitar exercises that will wake up your fingers ready for action:

  • Slow string crossings (start on an E minor chord)
  • Finger stretching exercises (draw circles over each finger)
  • Scale patterns played one octave higher at 80 bpm (e.g.: an A major scale starting on 16th fret)
  • Scale patterns played one octave lower at 80 bpm (e.g.: an A major scale starting on 8th fret)

Tip #2 - Don't work on the hard stuff!

We know it's really tempting to jump right in and start tackling all your tricky licks, but you're only setting yourself up for frustration. So what should you focus on? Try concentrating on scales and simple songs.  

Working out tunes is great fun, will improve your timing skills dramatically, provides a good practice goal whilst being very rewarding when completed.  Even if you have no desire to learn to play by ear leave some time to work through a few songs every day because not only is it fun and rewarding, over time it will strengthen your fingers and teach them where to go next.  It will also open up a whole new world of jamming and improvisation opportunities.

Tip #3 - Do the easy stuff first

This is pretty simple advice but many players just can't do this. Make sure that you always start every practice session with the things that are easiest for you to play right now. This will build momentum in your practice sessions giving you more drive when approaching the harder parts later on in your practice session.

It's much easier to run before you can walk so don't try running before walking, keep practicing the basics until they are perfect then move on to harder things one at a time! If everything seems too hard then take a look at tip #4.

Tip #4 - Don't practice too long without taking a break

We know it sounds silly but this is one of the biggest problems I see with guitarists.  As you become more fatigued your concentration levels will drop and you're likely to start making mistakes that could end up costing you big time! It's like driving down a dark country road when tired, one wrong move and it could be lights out (or worse).

Many students tell me they practice for hours on end, I'm not sure if they are trying to prove something or just unaware about how too much practicing can actually hinder progress. Let's suppose you play for an hour and make lots of mistakes and bad decisions, don't worry because this is natural. If you get fed up and stop then the next practice session should be a very easy one to help reduce frustration levels and get you back on track.  

If you keep pushing yourself through every mistake then it will take longer for your brain to recover from being so fatigued which could lead to bad habits becoming stronger in the long run! Practice smart not hard people!

Tip #5 - Change what you practice weekly

The more time you spend playing the same thing over and over again the quicker it becomes comfortable to play but there comes a point when there is no challenge left. You have spent so much time with that lick that it's become effortless (it's like driving), now it's time to take it up a notch so start looking for new ways to keep it interesting.

Is there a different phrasing you could try? What about trying it in a different position on the neck or using hybrid picking instead of plectrum? Always be thinking ahead and planning your next move, even if that's just learning something new to break things up.

Tip #6 - Make use of guitar exercises as much as possible

The guitar is an amazing instrument but what makes it great for practicing is not only the wide range of skills we can develop over time but also the huge amount of material we can work through at any one time.

Guitar exercises are like having several hundred songs under your belt and this will make playing regular songs much easier. Below are a couple of examples but make sure you check out the guitar lessons on this site for more.

Example 1 - One Two Three Four Example  

For timing practice, you might have used to play along with the metronome in 4/4 time then starting at different points in each bar until eventually you could play either fill in any section of the bar!  This exercise worked really well because it not only improved my timing but also helped build stamina and taught me how to use the rests effectively in music.

Example 2 - The 5th String Sweep Study Example          

As well as being used to develop fingerstyle skills, sweep picking is great training for your right-hand fingers too. This lick starts with 3 muted notes on the lower 4th string which forces you to sweep up with your 1st finger (I know it sounds like a pain but trust me it will make things easier).  

Don't be put off by how long it looks, this is an easy one if practiced slowly and accurately. Once you can sweep all the way through smoothly try adding some hammer-ons/pull-offs at different points in the bar (there are several examples like this on this site).

Tip #7 - Practice playing specific chords or scales over backing tracks

Backing tracks are great for working on specific skills that relate to rhythm playing; they really help build confidence too. We would recommend keeping them simple especially when starting out, here's a couple of suggestions:

Example 1 - C Major Backing Track Example

This backing track is really basic but it should help you to get started. It's in 4/4 time at 100bpm, the chords are played on all 6 strings and there are 3 notes per beat. The only other aspect I would recommend focusing on is getting your left-hand muting working properly (this was a big problem for me).

Example 2 - Blues Backing Track Example

The main focus here is learning how to get that bluesy vibe into your playing, the chords are easy to grab hold of if you are new to this style of music. If you aren't used to this type of rhythm try putting on some headphones and pretending someone close by is playing them!

Tip #8 - Use a metronome to help with timing and rhythm

Most of us use a drum machine or iPod for backing tracks but they can't keep time like a drummer can (it's what we pay them for!) so my advice would be to get hold of a decent metronome and start working on your timing and consistency. Your left hand will thank you later!

Tip #9 - Get your guitar technique sounding awesome

If you struggle playing scales, chords or licks cleanly then it doesn't matter how much you practice, when it comes to recording whatever it is will probably sound sloppy. A good place to start is by checking out the guitar lessons on this site where there are loads of exercises designed specifically to help you play better.  Once you have a solid base it's time to start adding the dynamics and feeling that will take your playing from being great to being awesome!

Tip #10 - Take regular breaks

As a beginner/intermediate guitarist, we would play for hours on end every single day until my fingers were so sore we couldn't feel them. Don't get me wrong, this is great stuff when you are learning the basics but it's also important to give yourself a break.

You should always aim to play for no more than 30 minutes without taking a 10-minute break so you can keep your ears fresh and continue to progress. The guitar is an instrument that anyone can learn to play, regardless of their age or ability so there really isn't any excuse not to be awesome!

What riffles are the simplest for beginners?

Among all those tips we can recommend you to start with this one. Riffles are the easiest for beginners since it comes naturally to get your fingers on the right positions without too much of a struggle. A good example would be Sweet Child 'o' Mine by Guns N' Roses.

What scales should beginner guitarists learn?

A minor pentatonic scale is an excellent choice, not just because there are countless great solos made using it but also because of the versatile nature that makes it accessible even to complete newbies who have never held a guitar in their life before. Even though you will soon discover how exciting learning scales can actually get once you master them, don't forget to work on some songs simultaneously so that your practice doesn't feel monotonous!

As far as we're concerned, you can never go wrong with a tab sheet. You can either use a computer program to download the tablature for free or find a book in your local library. If there aren't any available where you live, all you have to do is check out Amazon and get one shipped right away!

Another good idea is to invest in comprehensive instructional DVDs that will take away some of the mystery from learning scales and teach you valuable lessons about technique. However, if none of these seem interesting enough to deserve your attention, feel free to improvise on your own using simple string skipping exercises!

Improve yourself

When it comes to learning scales it's important you don't get caught in the trap of trying to learn everything at once. If you're trying to master a new scale, just stick with that one until you feel confident enough and then add other elements such as picking techniques or string bending into your repertoire. Remember that patience is key here so don't rush things through and enjoy every moment of the process!

The one thing that will help you improve the most is practicing every single day. Consistency is the easiest way for you to progress but it's also important not to forget about having fun with your guitar, too! If working up licks and melodies sounds like a drag then try taking some time off and enjoy playing whatever pops into your head!

Bottom line

We hope that you've found this article useful and will put some of the tips into practice. Keep in mind that no matter how much you practice, when it comes to recording whatever it is will probably sound sloppy.

A good place to start is by checking out the guitar lessons on this site where there are loads of exercises designed specifically to help you play better.  Once you have a solid base it's time to start adding the dynamics and feeling that will take your playing from being great to being awesome!