How To Find The Best Guitar Exercises

by Tom Hess


Do you become overwhelmed with searching for what to practice on guitar as you try to filter through countless guitar exercises?  Are you feeling frustrated with thousands of guitar playing resources, books, videos and lessons that all attempt to guide you down different paths of learning guitar?  Would your guitar playing become a lot easier if you knew exactly what to practice on guitar as well as when and how to do it so that you could make the most musical progress possible? 

From teaching well over a thousand guitar students over the last 25 years, I have found that most guitarists do not struggle with finding lots of guitar practice materials.  Instead, one of the most common problems I hear about is a general feeling of helplessness from not being able to make sense out of the millions of guitar practice exercises and resources found on the internet or elsewhere. 

If you can see yourself in what I wrote above and you feel overwhelmed by not knowing how to decide which guitar exercises you should focus your practice time on, then I want to show you why so many guitar players share this problem and (most importantly) how you can make more progress in your guitar practicing and identify exactly what you should practice on guitar to become the musician you want to be. 

One of the biggest mistakes that guitar players make regarding guitar exercises is having "too many" of them.  As a result, they spend a lot more time and energy jumping around from one exercise to another than they do focusing on “how to get the most results” out of whatever guitar exercise they are practicing.  Fact is that you can often make a lot more progress by focusing “intelligently” on a smaller number of highly targeted guitar practice exercises than you can from a long list of random guitar licks (more on this below). 

Another mistake guitar players make is looking for “what to practice on guitar” before defining specifically what their goals are AND what specific steps they need to take to achieve those goals.  Remember that guitar exercises "in and of themselves" have no meaning.  Going through monotonous repetitions of random guitar practice materials will have very little effect on your guitar playing until and unless your mind focuses on two things:

1. The "specific" guitar playing problems you are trying to solve by using a particular guitar exercise. 

2. How the guitar practice exercise fits into the big picture of the general guitar playing skills you are trying to develop. 

It is important to understand (and always remember) that guitar exercises are merely tools that are used to overcome "specific" problems in your guitar playing.  The key word in the last sentence is “specific”.  For example, instead of saying: "I want to make my guitar playing cleaner", you need to identify an exact problem such as: "I need to work on cleaning up the noise from the lower strings that occurs every time I bend a string".  The more specific you can become about what you are trying to achieve, the easier it will be to determine the most effective guitar exercises for reaching that goal. 

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If you struggle to get results out of the exercises that you practice or if you are feeling overwhelmed from not knowing which guitar exercises to include into your guitar practice routine, ask yourself: “what specific guitar playing problem is this exercise helping me solve and how does this particular guitar practice exercise fit into the big picture of my long term goals as a musician?”  If you cannot answer this question (don’t worry – most guitar players cannot), then here are the steps you need to take to understand what to practice on guitar:

  1. Become clear on what goals you want to achieve for guitar. 
  2. Break up your long term guitar playing goals into a list of skills that you must develop to reach those goals.  If you are unsure of what steps you must go through to become the guitar player you want to be, check out this free resource about reaching musical goals.
  3. Narrow down your guitar practice exercises to a list that is very specific to your guitar playing problems.  After doing Step 2 above, select the guitar exercises that will help you develop the skills you identified as important to your guitar playing goals. 
  4. Learn how to organize your guitar practice time in the most effective ways among the exercises that you have identified in Step 3.  This will help you to avoid wasting valuable practice time and will enable you to make faster progress.  If you have trouble with doing this on your own, read this guitar practicing page to get help. 
  5. Realize that the biggest responsibility for your guitar playing progress falls on YOU.  The most important factor that determines how much progress you will get out of a specific guitar exercise is what your mind focuses on as you practice.  Even if you have correctly identified (narrowed down) the list of guitar practice exercises to focus on, your mind must be totally focused on overcoming the specific problem that the exercise is designed to fix.  You must never let your fingers go on autopilot while practicing.  As you get better at doing this, you will likely realize that you don't need to practice as many guitar exercises as you imagined before. In fact, many guitar exercises can often be used to develop multiple skills simultaneously (watch this guitar practice video to learn how to do this). 

Approaching the process of practicing guitar with the mindset outlined in this article will make your journey towards becoming a better musician a lot easier and more enjoyable. 

If you study guitar with an experienced guitar teacher (someone who has already taught many people to play guitar well), he/she should already be aware of the ideas described above and should be helping you to practice guitar in this way.  However, if you have been struggling with knowing what and how to practice on guitar, implement the ideas that you have just learned into your guitar playing and watch your rate of progress take off like never before!


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