Practicing Smartly Hi there guitar fanatics, and welcome to the first of many monthly columns for Premier Guitar. I thought I’d start my first installment from the bottom up

Practicing Smartly

Hi there guitar fanatics, and welcome to the first of many monthly columns for Premier Guitar. I thought I’d start my first installment from the bottom up and share my practice techniques. I’ve talked to many guitar players who can’t always see the progress from all the work they do. Here are my favorite exercises for building speed and dexterity (hand strength), and some things to get you focused.

  • Make sure you have a place where you won’t be disturbed.
  • Let your family and friends know this is your time to focus and you need their support so you can improve.
  • Also try to be consistent by playing five days a week from 15, 30 or 60 minutes a day.
  • Buy a metronome or drum machine to help your timing.
  • Take breaks periodically, rest your hands and shake them out to avoid problems like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and other muscular problems.
  • Don’t practice in front of the TV all the time. It’s fun sometimes, but you need to focus. Now, if you’re sitting there trying to learn the themes to all you favorite TV shows, that could be some good ear training.
  • Don’t always practice with full distortion, as it can mask sloppy technique. Try using a clean tone as well.

Pick with a good, strong contact with the string, use conviction and don’t be wimpy. I use heavy picks, as they are better for fast picking. When you play slow you should hit the string harder and as you speed up play lighter. You need to have your left and right hand in sync. The key to playing fast is playing slow. By starting slow you stay in control.

Exercise 1)
Exercise 1
Use strict alternate picking. This is a common four finger exercise, but I’ve added some different combinations to explore. Make sure to go up all the strings (only the bottom two strings are shown) and then shift up one fret and come down the next fret.

Start your metronome at 50 BPM and play the exercise in a cycle for 30 seconds; after 30 seconds bring the metronome up one click and play for another 30 seconds. Keep speeding up until you start to get sloppy. At that point stop and write on a note pad the speed you reached (maybe 100 BPM). Then go to the next exercise and start back at 50 BPM. The next day when you start to practice, try to beat your previous number (i.e. 110 BPM).

Exercise 2)
Exercise 2
C major scale. This is a simple scale pattern to help you to build speed and use a common fingering for melodic playing. Use the same approach – start slow and build up every 30 seconds. Try experimenting with your favorite scales or modes and apply the same technique.

Exercise 3)
Exercise 3
E minor pedal tone. I use pedal tone licks to practice staying close to the string while picking; if you can keep the pick close to the string and don’t hit adjacent strings you will sound cleaner. This uses an E minor pedal tone lick with a triplet timing. It’s 3 notes per beat (123,123,etc.).

Exercise 4)
Exercise 4
This uses an A minor scale pattern on the top two strings only. Try it in different octaves (same notes but higher or lower pitch) and remember to start slow.

I’ll see you all next month for a new lesson. In the meantime, practice hard, have fun and it will pay off in the long run. Visit me online if you have questions.

Gary Hoey
you can email Gary at:

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