How To Practice Guitar Exercises Effectively

TToday’s guest post by Tom Hess is a bit different for Dotted Music, though we are sure that many of you will find it useful. Dedicated to all guitarists over there – you know how important practicing is.

Do you have a difficult time deciding what guitar exercises to practice despite sifting through countless guitar practice materials daily? Are you feeling confused about which guitar learning method to turn to as you seem to be pulled onto many different paths with dozens of guitar books, websites and videos? Do you want to find out once and for all which guitar exercises to focus your practice time on in order to achieve your musical goals?

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From teaching hundreds of guitar players over the last 25 years, I have found that most musicians do not have a shortage of “things to practice” on guitar. The problem that I see many guitar players run into is not knowing how to organize all of their guitar exercises into an effective guitar practice schedule that moves them towards becoming better musicians. If this sounds like you, then I want to show you how to determine what you need to practice on guitar to improve your musical skills in the fastest way possible.

The first significant mistake that guitar players make with regards to guitar exercises is practicing “too many” of them. As a result, too much energy is spent trying to decide (at random) what exercise to play next, instead of concentrating on getting the most benefit out of each exercise being practiced. In reality, you can very often achieve a lot more by intelligently focusing on a smaller, targeted list of guitar practice materials than you can from a longer list of guitar exercises that are put together at random (more on this in a moment).

Another reason why guitar players struggle to make progress with all of their guitar practice materials is because they make the mistake of starting to look for “things to practice” before becoming clear on why they need to practice guitar exercises in the first place. Keep in mind that guitar practice materials can only make your guitar playing better when they are practiced with a specific objective in mind. Mindlessly playing through guitar finger exercises will not make your guitar playing any better until your mind is clear on several things:

  1. The long term guitar playing goals you want to reach and how a given exercise fits into the big picture of developing your musical skills.
  2. The exact guitar playing challenge(s) you want to overcome by using a particular guitar practice exercise.

Above all, you must remember that the only reason why guitar exercises are needed in the first place is to help you solve various guitar playing problems. As simple as this concept is, most guitar players do not practice with this understanding in mind. The more specifically you can define your guitar playing problems, the easier it will be to find the most effective exercises to overcome them. For instance, rather than saying: “I want to increase my speed with scale sequences“, you need to identify an exact problem such as: “I need to practice the picking hand motion that happens when my pick is caught inside the strings“.

In order to determine whether or not a specific guitar exercise should be included into your practice schedule, ask yourself this question: “what guitar playing challenge will I be able to overcome by working on this exercise and will this exercise move me closer to my guitar playing goals?” To help you with answering this question, here are several important points to follow that will make your guitar practicing a lot more productive:

  1. Identify (in specific terms) your guitar playing goals.
  2. Work backwards from your final goal to prepare a list of steps that you need to go through to reach the objectives from Step 1. Check out this free resource about improving your musical skills if you don’t know what steps go into the process of reaching your musical ambitions.
  3. Put together a very targeted list of guitar practice exercises that is specific to developing the skills (and/or solving guitar playing problems) that you identified as important to your goals from Step 2.
  4. Learn how to create the most effective guitar practice schedules. To do this, you must know how to efficiently divide your guitar practice time among the exercises that you have selected in Step 3. This will help you to avoid wasting valuable practice time and will enable you to make faster progress. If you don’t know how to do this, read this page about how to make your guitar practicing more effective.

Keep in mind that ultimately it is you who is responsible for the results you experience in your guitar playing. Even after you have correctly put together the list of effective guitar practice exercises, you must remind yourself to stay focused at all times on the specific problem you are trying to solve while practicing. Don’t allow your hands (or your mind) to go on autopilot. As you get better at doing this, you will likely realize that you don’t need to practice as many guitar exercises as you imagined before. In fact, many guitar exercises can often be used to develop multiple skills simultaneously (see an example of how to practice guitar in this way in this video about the best way to learn to play guitar).

If you take guitar lessons from a proven guitar teacher (who has helped many people to become great guitarists), he/she should be familiar with the concepts I explained above and should be structuring your guitar lessons with these ideas in mind. However, if you have had a hard time with making progress on guitar up to this point, implement the ideas from this article into your guitar practicing and you will see your musical skills start to improve at a much faster pace than ever before!

Tom Hess is a guitar teacher online, composer and a touring musician. He plays guitar in the epic metal band Rhapsody Of Fire. He teaches guitar players in his rock guitar lessons online. Go to to get more guitar playing resources, guitar playing eBooks, and to read more guitar playing articles.