• Learn how to properly warm up
before a gig or practice session.
• Develop your fingerstyle technique
through the use of tremolo.
• Create finger-twisting exercises
for your fretting hand.
“Why don’t you take your own
advice?” she asked me.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“Well, for a long time you’ve been
teaching people to slow down and get it
right before moving on. Why don’t you try
it yourself? After all it’s been nearly four
months since you’ve played your guitar.”
Once again, my wife was right. I had
been in the hospital for nearly four months
with a heart condition. Two of those
months I just laid flat in bed. So when I got
back home and started to play again, I tried
to pick up where I had left off. Wrong! I
could barely play a D chord, much less an
actual tune. I was so frustrated that I would
play for 15 minutes and then put my guitar
down for a few days before trying again. I
told her that maybe I didn’t need to play
guitar anymore. I’d played enough for one
lifetime and perhaps it was time I did something
She simply smiled and said she didn’t
think that was the answer. But each time
I would try to play my arrangement of “I
Got Rhythm” or “Superstition” or something
else that used to be so easy for me, I
just could not do it. So I took her advice
and decided to listen to what I had been
telling others for so long. As hard as it was,
I had to go back to square one. Literally.
And I found out that it works!
So what I’m presenting here are three
exercises for you to try. Now bear in mind
that I was at a fairly high level of playing
when I got sick so, as luck would have it,
I was able to progress fairly quickly upon
my return home. Which means these exercises
are going to progress fairly rapidly, as
well. I recommend you try each exercise
and then look for ways to expand it into
something of your own. The process has
been a very good one for me—though it’s
still ongoing—and I think it will be good
for you as well.
Let’s begin with Fig. 1. Start slowly with
your metronome set at 80 bpm and work it
up gradually. Make sure that you connect
all the notes. This means your fretting hand
has to stay in place until the last second,
then shift all your fingers at once. Notice
that the chords are not the same ascending
as they are descending. I need to have some
variety when I’m practicing, and it makes
a simple exercise a little more musical. For
real variety try doing this exercise in D
minor. Hint: Think in the key of F.
Fig. 2 is a great workout for your fretting
hand. Be very careful to play this cleanly.
Remember, we are not talking about
speed. What we are looking for is accuracy.
When you play this one, move your first
and third fingers at the same time and
do the same with your second and fourth
fingers. Move them in one quick motion.
It will be tricky at first, but then one day it
will make sense and you’ll see how it helps
other things you play.
Start the metronome at about 70 bpm,
and move the passage up the neck one fret
at a time. This means you’ll begin at the
2nd fret with your left first finger and then
do the whole pattern. Then start at the 3rd
fret and do the whole pattern. Take it up
the neck as far as your frets will allow, then
work your way back down. This should
take about 10 minutes. Finally, play something
you already know and see how free
your left hand feels!
Okay, now it’s getting tough. Fig. 3 is
an exercise I used to do first thing in the
morning to wake up my fingers. I would
do this and others like it for about 15 minutes,
and then, as far as my right hand was
concerned, I was ready for anything. To do
a nice smooth tremolo takes a long, long
time. Work this out very slowly at first—like
50 bpm—until it feels really smooth. Then
build your speed gradually—bumping up
about 5 bpm at a time—until you reach 140
bpm. Then slow it down. You’ve got to be
painfully honest with yourself on this one,
because if you try to speed it up before you’re
ready, it will just sound like a mess.
has become widely known as one
of the most awe-inspiring acoustic guitar players
in the world. His unique arrangements and spellbinding
musicality and precision have entertained
audiences from Los Angeles to Milan. As a
recording artist, Huttlinger has released numerous
albums and performed at all three of the
Crossroads Festivals. For more information about
his latest release, Finger Picking Wonder-The
Music of Stevie Wonder, visit petehuttlinger.com
Photo by Paul Schatzkin.