There’s a reason why 40% of musicians play guitar. We all dream of being on stage, shredding that jaw-dropping solo. We want to be renowned and iconic like Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani, and Vinnie Moore. But before you get to that level, you have to get good. Really good. But as all guitar players know, getting to that status is easier said than done. So, how do you get to the professional level? You’ll have to learn some guitar exercises that will keep you in your top game. Here, I will discuss some of the best guitar exercises that professional guitar players recommend (and yes, I did ask them personally).
Bottom Linke Upfront: Some of the exercises that improve your playing are as simple as warming up. Even professional guitar players told me they play basic chords on a regular basis since polishing up introductory information will make you a better player.
At the same time, step out of the box and regularly practice scale patterns and modalities you don’t know. If you’re an advanced player, there are many intricate guitar exercises you can do to get to the next level.
We’re always told to warm up before exercising. The same advice goes for guitar. In short, warming up helps you play better. You’ll not only polish those difficult songs and complex chords but you’ll have better hand coordination and can play those inhuman speeds. Fortunately, warming up on guitar isn’t exactly rocket science.
Guitar Exercise – Stretching
No matter how many years you’ve been playing, always stretch. Your fingers have muscles and joints that need to be flexible. If not, you could risk injuries — or just bad hand cramps.
Start by facing a table, desk, or anywhere with a flat surface. Place the tip of your finger on the surface edge and push down. You should feel the stretch down the entirety of your finger. Repeat for all fingers and your thumbs on both hands. Be sure to do this slowly. Accentuate pinky stretches to hit those hard-to-reach pinky notes.
If you don’t have a flat surface nearby, you can push each finger back with the opposite hand. You can also pull each individual finger. But be very CAREFUL with these stretches. The problem that many players face is they stretch too much, causing cramping. Stretch slowly and gently.
You can also stretch your fingers on the guitar neck. Look up some chords (we will go over this in a later section) and play your fingers on the notes. But don’t play them, just feel the stretch. Some guitar players recommend placing your fingers on D, G, B, and high E.
Hair Tie Stretch
This advice has two parts: a stretch and a warm-up technique.
For the stretch, wrap a hair tie around your index finger and thumb. Wrap the tie twice, if necessary. There should be tension but enough room for your fingers to move. Make sure the tie is under the first joint on both fingers. To do the stretch, touch the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb. Repeat this for all fingers on both hands.
This is advice a guitar player friend of mine said and I never heard of it before! If you want to really challenge yourself, wrap a hair tie around your fingers and play some of the scales we will go over later.
Use a Stress Ball
This is a common guitar exercise that many guitar players recommend, including professionals. There are two great stress ball techniques for guitar players. The first is the original grip strengthener. Place the stress ball in your hand and squeeze it as hard as you can. Hold for a few seconds and release. Repeat 10 to 15 times. Switch hands.
There’s also the pinch strengthener. With this guitar exercise, you’re strengthening the force of each individual finger. This will help when holding down a note.
Hold the stress ball in your hands; instead of squeezing it with your palm, only squeeze it with an individual finger. Hold for about 30 seconds, and repeat with every other finger. Switch hands. Keep in mind, if this is your first time doing this technique or you’re a new guitar player, use a softer ball.
Do these techniques every day before playing guitar.
Play Scales and Chords
The notes you play on the guitar are organized into various scales and chords. In order to do these guitar exercises, you need to know the basic knowledge of music theory and how it applies to guitar. You can also use these exercises to practice playing chords and enhance your knowledge of guitar theory.
If you’re a
While there are more intricate chords and scales that you will learn in time, it’s best that you start slow. C and G major are some of the easiest chords for beginners. Depending on the type of music you plan on playing, you may want to practice minor chords in your entry-level years, as well.
Once you begin to master these basic scales, you can start playing scale patterns. These patterns take the notes and chords and break them up into smaller sections that are easier to remember and play. Perfecting your scale patterns will not only improve your note memorization but will also improve your speed and accuracy when playing.
Box scales are arguably the most famous example. There are multiple box scales and it’s recommended that beginners learn to play these scales first.
Many argue that chromatic scales improve your understanding of the fretboard better than other scales. Playing these scales will also improve your overall technique.
Another trick is to learn different modalities, especially for beginners. Try learning and practicing the seven major modes.
Bar chords (also spelled barre) chords are chords where you press a group of notes at the same time. Many players play bar chords all over the guitar as a warm-up and as a general technique exercise. But be sure to challenge yourself.
Practice bar chords in a variety of major and minor chords. This will not only improve your technique but will also enhance your creativity when writing music.
Play to a Metronome
Playing to a metronome is one of the most crucial aspects of guitar playing. That’s because your timing and rhythm need to be on point. Knowing proper rhythm as well as melody will make you a well-rounded player.
You may already play to a metronome. Most guitar players use a metronome when writing music in order to establish the timepiece of the music. However, you should play to a metronome even when you’re simply playing scales and modes. Again, this helps build your rhythm as well as warm-up and perfect any techniques you’re learning.
Playing to a metronome will also help increase your speed. However, you should always start slow, which brings us to our next section.
Every guitar player wants to play fast. However, many argue your playing won’t be accurate unless you start playing slowly. As you perfect playing slowly, you can start to build speed.
Some guitar players will argue that you should try playing as fast as you can. As you play fast, your playing will eventually become more accurate. However, I only suggest this for advanced players. You should also not immediately learn a new song fast.
Even so, advanced players may say this advice doesn’t work for them and they suggest playing slow, especially when learning a new song. Every guitar player is different and I say do what works best for you.
Play Your Favorite Songs
Playing chords and scales is obviously a necessity. But why did you want to pick up a guitar in the first place? To be able to play like your guitar heroes! Well, what if I told you playing your favorite songs will make you a better player? That’s because all songs use the necessary notes and scales to make up a song.
You’re technically learning music theory without realizing it (though knowing the chords that you’re playing also makes a difference).
There are many other reasons to continue playing your favorite songs and learning new ones. This will give you the inspiration to write your own music. Learning new songs is also a fun way to challenge yourself.
There is a science to getting better by playing your favorite songs. Understand your weaknesses and pick out songs that way. A common skill that players want to learn is soloing.
If you’re ready for that level, choose some of your favorite solos and go from there. However, some players may also find their rhythm guitar playing is lacking. If so, research some of the best rhythm guitar players and learn from their songs.
Just because you’re an advanced guitar player doesn’t mean you learned all of the skills you need to know. There is still much to learn and much to practice. You likely already know the following skills and pieces of knowledge, but perfecting these areas will only make you a better player.
Alternate picking is a staple in many genres of music, from neoclassical all the way to metal. But there is definitely a difference between a good alternate picking technique and a bad one.
Practice your alternate picking skill on a regular basis, playing extremely fast songs to ensure you’re solid. Some players also alternate pick on each string, without touching any notes. This helps hone in more on the technique itself.
Practicing your bends (or vibrato) is essential to getting that right pitch. There are multiple types of bends and it’s important you try and practice all of them.
A common exercise is playing a scale (ideally a linear scale for ease) and applying bends to all of the notes you’re playing. Try half bends first then full bends. You can also alternate between both.
Try Different Time Changes
If the music you play is on the progressive side, you’ll want to practice your time changes and alternate between one time change to another. As with other guitar techniques, time changes are as much about muscle memory as they are about knowing the right technique. This will help you smoothly move from one time signature to another.
The best way to perfect your time changes is by playing songs that use many complex time signature changes. Play them until your time changes are smoother.
Play Other Guitar Styles
You know all of the necessary guitar techniques and everything there is to know about music theory. If you’re not sure what else to learn, play other guitar styles.
There are a variety of genres that utilize the guitar. These genres include rock, funk, jazz, reggae, classical, metal, and country. Some of the best and most experienced guitar players can play multiple genres.
Get out of your comfort zone and discover other guitar playing styles. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn from other genres.
What if you really don’t like the style of music or songs in that genre? Find a really good guitar player in a different style and learn their techniques. From there, you can practice them yourself and develop an appreciation for the style.
Is None of this Advice Working?
What if you tried all of these exercises and don’t think you’re improving? Maybe you’re an experienced player who has tried it all and is stuck? Here’s some advice if you really don’t know what else to do.
Practice on an Acoustic
If you really want a challenge, practice on an acoustic only. Many guitar players think acoustic guitar is more challenging since the strings are a heavier gauge. This results in more tension and the inability to play certain techniques you have mastered on electric guitar.
Start by playing simple chords and scales on the acoustic. Once you master this, move on to more advanced techniques. It’s also best to practice various picking and fingering techniques on an acoustic guitar since the firmer strings will require you to use more force.
No matter what guitar level you’re at, lessons will only benefit you. Your instructor will help you stay motivated and will challenge you. You’ll find yourself playing guitar more and will continually learn more about the instrument.
If you have the time and money, weekly lessons are recommended. But even if you take the occasional lesson, you’ll be shocked how much it will benefit you.
Even if you’re at an advanced level, there are still ways to get lessons and still be challenged. I recommend masterclasses if you haven’t considered them.
By learning from professionals, you’ll learn more about playing than what a typical teacher can offer. You’ll learn how to craft your own unique sound.
Many instructors have individual targets, such as teaching players how to improve their songwriting or even their performance. Some of my guitar player friends even offer lessons on navigating the music industry and how to achieve more success.
With the internet, it’s easy to connect with professional guitar players. Most offer private lessons via Skype and Zoom. At the very least, most guitar players have a subscription service where you can access teaching materials on a regular basis.
Who reads guitar books these days? While I wouldn’t say they’re a necessity, they can be a useful resource if you’re stuck. There are guitar books available for players at all skill levels. The advanced books are a little faster-paced than
What if you really hate reading? We’re living in the age of the internet and there are more resources for you than ever. There are so many websites (such as this one!) that offer educational materials on a range of different topics.
Forums such as Reddit and Quora offer threads for guitar players, where you can connect with other players and seek their advice.
Have you tried all of this? There are numerous guitar-playing apps that can test your skills and will challenge you. Players also upload videos on YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and more on a regular basis.
Study Your Favorite Guitar Players
There’s a reason why you picked up a guitar in the first place. You saw a guitar player that left a mark on you. And guess what? This admiration can take you very far in your playing. Most professional players offer lessons, educational resources, videos, and even do clinics on a regular basis.
Even if they don’t, I suggest watching any guitar video they upload and reading interviews with the artist. You can learn a lot of their skills this way that you can apply to your own playing. These guitar players are often innovative and will inspire you to be creative, as well.
In addition, many of these guitar players are composers themselves. You’ll learn more than just how to shred a crazy solo; you can learn how to write amazing songs that people will love.
If nothing else, learn their songs and find the mechanics of their songwriting and skills. But I suggest finding more resources on guitarists because it’s difficult to learn their skills and innovations from playing their songs alone.
Go Back to Basics
Most players are shocked when the answer to achieving the next level is going back to basics. When we think about advancing, we put more emphasis on learning new skills and not perfecting the most basic skills you learn in your first year of playing. In reality, perfecting these basic skills is really the key to becoming a phenomenal player.
Re-learning some scales from your first and second years of playing will still strengthen your playing. But back to basics doesn’t always mean playing C major bar chords.
For many guitar players, back to basics means carving out a practice time every day. When you learned guitar as a kid, you had free time to mess around with the instrument. As an adult, you lose that free time. But committing time to noodle around will keep you focused and motivated.
If you already do this, focus on strengthening and stretching your fingers. This is especially helpful if you’re an older player; you’re at risk for developing various syndromes in the hand and fingers, so stretching and strengthening your fingers will make your playing tighter.
If nothing else, just listen to the music you loved when you were younger and seek inspiration that way.
Not a One-Size-Fits-All Answer
There is no standard for teaching guitar. That’s because all players are different. The guitar isn’t a one-size-fits-all instrument. There are so many playing styles, techniques, and skills to learn.
All of these skills are also different in a live setting versus playing in your own home. In addition, the business side of playing guitar is a skill in itself, if you want to reach that professional status.
The best thing to do is to know who you are as a player. Know your preferences, your weaknesses, and how you enjoy approaching guitar. If you have questions, I also suggest exploring multiple solutions to truly find what works for you.
Guitar Exercises FAQs
Question: Should I Practice Guitar Every Day?
Question: Can I Improve My Guitar Playing Skills Quickly?
There’s also a lot to learn, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t know it all yet. I just suggest developing a guitar practice plan, knowing your weaknesses and bad habits, practicing every day, and owning the right gear. While the improvements won’t be instant, they can develop quicker if you follow this advice.
And don’t forget to have fun! Players tend to get caught up in improving and they forget why they picked up a guitar in the first place. You don’t have to be the best player, but you can at least still retain your passion for guitar.
Question: I Tried All of this Advice and I’m Still Not Getting Better! What Do I Do?
They know they want to get better, but aren’t sure what “better” means or how to get there. I suggest identifying your goals and weaknesses and creating a practice plan. The practice plan can be as simple as choosing specific songs to learn.
If you do have a plan already, change it. This may include changing which techniques you focus on, going outside your comfort zone as far as chords and songs are concerned, and even trying new finger exercises. Even if you don’t feel any improvements in your playing, you’re still learning and are branching out.
Many musicians play guitar and there are a lot of guitar icons out there. You obviously want to improve, but may not know the right exercises to get there.
The right guitar exercise is different for all musicians. Try some warm-up exercises first, especially if you’re a
No matter what you do, play slow and always play to a metronome. If you’re an advanced player, focus on some intricate techniques such as bends and alternate picking. If you tried all of this, lessons and some research will always benefit you.