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Joe Satriani: “You’re not going to sell out theaters or get a billion streams with finger exercises”

Joe Satriani
(Image credit: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images)

To make it as a guitarist in today’s world, you’ve got to know your way around the fretboard. And to build chops, you need to spend countless hours woodshedding and practicing scale runs, right?

Well, according to Joe Satriani – one of the most adept electric guitar players on the planet – while dedicated practice is important, there comes a point where it yields diminishing returns, and focus should be placed elsewhere.

As he explains in a new interview with Guitar Player (opens in new tab) – in which he reveals his top 10 tips for guitarists – intensive scale practice and finger exercises should be seen purely as a means to become a more proficient player, rather than a method to nurture or entertain an audience.

“You can work on exercises and scale patterns forever, but after a while there’s a point where you need to stop and move on,” Satch says.

“You’re not going to sell out theaters or get a billion streams online with finger exercises. Limit these routines. Keep them short and productive, but keep in mind they’re merely exercises, not actual music your audience wants to hear.

“Spend more of your precious practice time learning and playing music. It’ll be more enjoyable for you, and you’ll progress much faster.”

Joe Satriani

(Image credit: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images)

Satriani does touch on the importance of learning scales in order to become a better guitarist, but emphasizes that they should be practiced over actual music rather than in isolation.

“It’s important to learn scale patterns, but if you spend all your time doing exercises, pretty soon everything you play will sound like scale patterns,” he says. “Who wants to hear that?

“Playing over music is a good way to take what you’ve learned and apply scale tones to chords and chordal progressions. As an example, set up a two-chord pattern in one mode and jam over the top. Make sure to listen as you play. That’s what the audience does.”

Satch also mentions the importance of varying your practice routine: “When I was learning to play, I would get stuck on some exercise, and I would repeat it over and over. What I didn’t realize was how the repetition was working against me. It was making my playing stiff and non-musical.”

He continues: “Break out of that habit. Stay relaxed and change your guitar warm-up exercises each day. Crank up the variety factor. One day you can do the non-musical, finger-twisting stuff; the next, focus on arpeggios, and the next day it’s scales, and so on.”

Joe Satriani is set to embark on a massive 44-date tour of North America later this month in support of his latest album, The Elephants of Mars. The jaunt will commence next week, September 21 in Riverside, California, and conclude November 19 in Dallas, Texas. See Satch’s website (opens in new tab) for a full list of dates.

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Sam is a Staff Writer at Guitar World, also creating content for Total Guitar, Guitarist and Guitar Player. He has well over 15 years of guitar playing under his belt, as well as a degree in Music Technology (Mixing and Mastering). He's a metalhead through and through, but has a thorough appreciation for all genres of music. In his spare time, Sam creates point-of-view guitar lesson videos on YouTube under the name Sightline Guitar (opens in new tab).