Top 4 Guitar Exercises You Should STOP Practicing

by Mike Philippov


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Want to make faster progress in your guitar playing? Then stop wasting your precious practice time working on things that do NOT improve your guitar skills. Here are the top 4 items too many guitar players waste time on but get no benefit from:

1. Finger Independence Exercises

Lack of finger independence in the fretting hand is a common problem for guitarists, but most exercises prescribed for this are useless in helping you develop this skill. FAR too many guitarists practice all the exercises that are supposed to help their finger independence, but still have terrible fretting hand technique. Worst of all, many guitarists assume that their lack of progress with finger independence is caused by not having found the ‘right’ exercises yet. So without understanding why their fretting hand independence is not getting better, they go further off track searching for more exercises, not realizing that the entire premise of having ‘general’ finger independence exercises is flawed.

Watch the video below where I explain in more detail why finger independence exercises are virtually worthless for your fretting hand and how to REALLY develop your finger independence for guitar:

2. Finger Strength Exercises

Most guitarists approach the topic of ‘strength’ training for guitar in a completely backwards way. Yes, strength IS important for guitar playing, BUT your ‘fretting’ hand strength is the last thing you should be focusing on. Here is why:

1. It doesn't take all that much fretting hand strength to play notes or chords on guitar (with one exception being applying wide vibrato on bent notes or double stops). Even techniques such as legato or trills take a lot LESS effort than most guitarists (who haven't mastered these skills) try to use when playing them. This leads me to my next point:

2. The reason why most people feel like they need to ‘get stronger’ in their fretting hand is because they use way too much tension in their hand to begin with - causing their arm to become fatigued from playing a lot faster than it should. Instead of using ‘more strength’ (which will only make the problem worse), the solution is to learn to optimize the amount of effort you use in the fretting hand so that excessive tension doesn't accumulate in your hands (and the rest of the body) as you play. It is the lack of control over excessive tension that causes most guitarists to become tired while playing - NOT ‘lack of strength’ (or endurance).

3. It is actually the ‘picking’ hand that needs to develop the most strength and power in order to play with a wide dynamic range and perfect articulation in any context. As you play guitar, the amount of strength needed to fret notes stays essentially the same (very low), while the amount of force/power used by your picking hand to strike the strings can change many times (from very soft to very aggressive/loud).

Unfortunately, the vast majority of strength exercises for guitar players are directed only at training the fretting hand, hurting your guitar playing in 2 ways: by never addressing the root cause of why your fretting hand gets tired in the first place and taking your focus away from the hand that actually NEEDS to become stronger!

What Should You Do Instead?

1. Stop practicing strength exercises for your fretting hand and use that extra time to learn how to optimize the amount of effort you use to play guitar so that you do not get tired quicker than you should.

2. Practice to improve your picking hand articulation to actually develop strength where it NEEDS to be developed in your technique. A simple way to practice this skill is to play your guitar unplugged for a portion of your practice time (focusing on picking as loudly as possible). Doing this will force your picking hand to become stronger. You can also get more specific exercises for improving your picking articulation in this guitar picking technique video.

3. Guitar Speed Exercises

Similar to fretting hand finger independence, your speed is NOT developed by any specific ‘exercise’ (or a set of exercises). Speed on guitar comes from developing many elements of your playing simultaneously, such as: improving your general technique in each hand individually, improving your hands’ ability to work together (2 hand synchronization), learning to play with optimal tension, mastering the nuances of picking articulation, using the most efficient picking hand technique, learning to think at higher speeds, plus other factors.

As you can see, these elements are very general and can be trained with ANYTHING you practice (as I described in the video about finger independence above). These components of speed are trained by focusing your mind on refining the technical motions that make speed possible. Because of this, it really doesn't matter what exercises you practice - you can build speed with literally ‘any’ exercise, as long as your mind is focused on the right things while practicing it.

On the other hand, the problem with ‘speed exercises’ in particular is that they attempt to reduce the multi-dimensional process of building speed down to a one-dimensional set of repetitive motions with your mind often totally disengaged from the process. They also fill you with false expectations that a certain set of finger motions repeated progressively faster is what is needed to ‘build’ speed.

Realize that if you do not take the time to develop the technical elements that make speed possible, then mindless practicing of speed exercises will often do more harm than good to your guitar playing (by ingraining your bad technique even deeper into your muscle memory and putting you at a higher risk of injury).

What Should You Do Instead?

Instead of searching for more exercises that will get practiced in the same ineffective way, take any musical fragment that you find hard to play and focus your mind on improving a different aspect of your guitar playing each time you practice it. I describe this process in more detail in this article about the best way to practice guitar exercises. Practicing a single exercise with the focus on developing multiple elements of your technique will give you far more results than practicing 100 different exercises by mindlessly trying to ‘move your fingers faster’.

4. Exercises That Don't Help You To Reach A ‘Specific’ Goal

Too many guitarists spread themselves too thin, practicing every new exercise that comes along, but never really thinking about how or why a certain item helps them to achieve a specific result in their playing.

From now on, every time you are tempted to practice a certain item or an exercise, put it through the “Why” test. Simply ask yourself: “Why should I practice this?” “What ‘specific’ benefit will this item/exercise help me to achieve?” If you cannot answer this question in a way that sounds convincing and compelling to yourself, then what you are about to practice is likely to be a big waste of your guitar practice time.

Note: Some practice items may be very effective ‘in general’, but will be a waste of time ‘for you’ if you do not understand exactly how and WHY an exercise will help you improve your guitar playing. As explained above, no exercise will make you a better guitarist if you simply go through the motions of moving your fingers on the guitar mindlessly. Unless you are aware of the most important things to focus on when practicing an exercise (in order to reach the objective it’s supposed to develop), then you will be better off not practicing it at all until you are clear on exactly what to focus on while working on it.

Now that you have more clarity about what things waste your guitar practice time and hurt your progress, go through your practice schedule and critically analyze every item in it. Replace the materials that waste your time with more effective ones (or improve your effectiveness at practicing the items that already are in your schedule) and you will start making much faster progress every time you practice guitar.

To learn more about improving your guitar playing, read this article about solving your guitar playing problems.

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