It’s already been well documented that guitar players aren’t the best at practicing what we need to practice.
It’s also common knowledge that there's a necessity to maintain your skills and improve your technique if you ever want to become a proficient guitarist. According to AC/DC, “It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock n’ roll.” Unfortunately, that statement is true. There is no way around hard work, and you’ll always get out what you put in. But what if there was a way to make that hard work not suck so much?
Did your ears just perk up (I assume you’re reading this out loud to yourself)? That’s right, I offer a suggestion to redesign your practice routine around guitar exercises that don’t suck.
For clarity, I am associating guitar exercises that do suck with the mechanical, mind-numbing patterns that exist in the depths of some old jazz guitar teacher’s 65-year-old leather messenger bag. It’s the tattered bag he keeps all his old practice documents in to mindlessly Xerox for beginning student after beginning student enrolled in the rundown old music school he teaches at. This music school has a polka recital for the accordion kids every year.
Thankfully, you don’t need those wearisome exercises to become a better guitar player. On the contrary, the more fun and engaging the exercises, the more likely you are to practice consistently, which is a good thing.
The concept is simple: form exercises from licks out of your favorite songs or solos, and incorporate them in place of the dull exercises that are eroding your soul.
For example, if you’re trying to improve your alternate picking, a segment of any John Petrucci or Paul Gilbert tune will be perfect. Looking to polish your hybrid picking? How about giving the hybrid picking lick from the "Cliffs of Dover" intro a shot? Remember, these are exercises, so you should learn them slowly with a metronome at first, but when you’ve got them up to speed, you’ll have a badass lick in your pocket, as well as a bolstered set of chops.
Another inherent advantage to learning licks and riffs of your guitar heroes and treating them as practice routines is that you know in your head what they’re supposed to sound like, so you’re actually benefiting from ear training if you adhere to this philosophy. The best part is, you’ll have fun practicing, and isn’t that what really matters?
Tyler Larson is the founder of the guitar-centric brand Music is Win (opens in new tab). His insightful, uncomplicated guitar lessons and gear demonstrations along with entertaining, satirical content about life as a musician receive tens of millions of video views per month across social media. Tyler is also the creator of the extremely popular online guitar learning platform, Guitar Super System. A graduate of Berklee College of Music, Tyler has been teaching guitar for over a decade and operates a production studio in Nashville, TN.