How To Come Up With Your Own Exercises

author: aaron@tmc date: 07/18/2011 category: guitar techniques
rating: 10 / votes: 5 
Lesson details In this lesson we will look at how you can come up with your own exercises for techniques you want to learn or improve. Being able to come up with your own exercises is a valuable skill. Although there are countless lessons and exercises available on the Internet, eventually there will be a time where you can't find any specific exercises to help you out. If you have to rely on other people to provide you with exercises then you're really limiting your development. If on the other hand you can come up with your own specific exercises to help you develop the areas of playing you want to focus on, then you will be able to push your playing to a higher level. This skill is really for those players who want to push themselves to that higher level. What makes a good exercise? Think about any exercises you use at the moment (eg: finger warm up, technique exercises, speed drills) and think about why they are useful. An exercise is only useful if it helps you develop your skills. Let's look at a simple finger warm up to understand what makes a good exercise.
E||----------------------|----------------------|----------------------|
B||----------------------|----------------------|----------------------|
G||----------------------|----------------------|----------------------|
D||----------------------|----------------------|--1----2----3----4----|
A||----------------------|--1----2----3----4----|----------------------|
E||--1----2----3----4----|----------------------|----------------------|
Note: The pattern continues all the way to the high E string. The exercise above is a very common finger warm up/finger stretching exercise. The idea is to use all four fingers and hold each finger in place after you play a note so by the time you use the fourth finger you have all four fingers in place on the first four frets on the guitar. This exercise is extremely effective in stretching your fingers out as well as helping you control your finger position. But why is it effective? One of the main reasons why this exercise is so effective is because it forces you to focus on specific things. When a beginner plays this exercise for the first time it is quite a struggle to hold the fingers in place. By using a very simple number pattern, 1 2 3 4, that matches up with the finger numbers you don't need to think about which finger to use next. In other words, it is so obvious which fingers you need to use that you don't need to think about it. Because you don't think about it, you get to focus on the key point stretching your fingers into place. The key here is focus. If on the other hand we used a complicated number pattern such as 1 4 2 3, a beginner's focus would be taken away from the stretching of the fingers to figure out which finger is used next. (Note: a more complicated number pattern is still a useful exercise; it just serves a different purpose.) There are a couple other reasons why this exercise is so effective but the main reason is focus. Try to analyze other exercises you currently use and find out why the exercise is effective and how it focuses your attention on the key techniques. Developing your own exercises When you develop your own exercises you need to focus on the right things. If for example you come up with an exercise to get you used to using alternate picking, make sure you are focusing on your picking hand. If you keep checking your fretting hand during the exercise then the focus on the key technique is lost and the exercise isn't effective. After you get used to alternate picking then you can start playing more complicated pieces, but when you start learning a technique it is best to focus on the key movements. Example: Starting to learn sweep picking In this example we will look at how a player (let's call him John) who wants to try learning sweep picking for the first time can come up with effective exercises. The steps outlined below are just an example of one possible path and you can do whatever works for you. Step 1: Watching and hearing the technique First John starts by watching videos on YouTube or any other source to see up close the technique in action. John watches the picking hand and notices how the pick moves smoothly across the strings in one motion. He also notices how the fretting hand fingers lift off the fret one after another rather than hold in place like a chord. He compares a few different player's techniques to see if there are any differences between players. Step 2: Working out what to focus on By watching the videos it becomes obvious that there are two main points that John wants to focus on: (1) the smooth motion of the picking hand, and (2) the fretting hand fingers lifting off the frets. John decides to come up with a separate exercise for each point so he can completely focus on each aspect. Step 3: Come up with exercises Now that John knows what he wants to focus on he can come up with very simple exercises so he stays focused rather than get distracted by complicated parts (that can come later). First exercise: To practice the motion of the picking hand John decides he wants total focus on the picking hand so he holds the fretting hand over the frets, muting the strings. Now he can practice the motion by raking the pick across the strings down, then up. No notes are being played so there is no distraction with the fretting hand. The muted sound of the strings gives an indication whether the notes are evenly spaced or if the picking isn't smooth. John practices this first exercise until he can easily move his pick across the strings in a smooth, controlled motion. Second exercise: The next exercise will be to focus on the fretting hand. John picks an incredibly simple number pattern as shown below to practice lifting each finger off the fret after it is played. He plays using alternate picking because he wants to focus on the fretting hand.
E||-------------------12----|--12---------------------|
B||-------------11----------|--------11---------------|
G||-------10----------------|--------------10---------|
D||--9----------------------|--------------------9----|
A||-------------------------|-------------------------|
E||-------------------------|-------------------------|
The number pattern above is used because he can always clearly see every finger and doesn't need to think about changing positions. This exercise is purely to get the fingers used to separating the notes so they don't ring out together like a chord. John plays this over and over until he can play it fast and smooth (still using alternate picking). Third exercise: Now that John feels comfortable with each point above, he can combine the two exercises. Rather than use a new number pattern he uses the same pattern so he can again focus completely on the picking hand. By starting off slow he can hear whether the notes are ringing out together or if they are evenly spaced. Later exercises: After John masters the exercise above he can start developing new exercises using more complicated finger patterns, using more strings, adding in slides/hammer-ons/tapping, or using a metronome. Each new addition will have its own focus and separate exercise. Have a read through the steps again to get a feel for how you can do the same thing with whatever technique you choose. Why this is an effective way to develop your skills Some people will read the above and think nah don't bother with all those steps, just play and you'll learn it. Yes you could just find a song that uses the technique and start trying to play it. But what do you think works better: focusing on the specific movements one at a time, or trying to learn everything at once by trial and error? It may seem like this approach takes more effort and takes longer, but in reality players who do it this way will end up with better technique and actually learn faster. Also by focusing on one thing at a time you reduce the risk of developing bad habits. A player who has the discipline to focus will develop into a better guitarist than someone who just plays'. Key points to remember You can use the example above to come up with any exercise for any technique. Just remember the main points below and you will always find something to focus on and a way to focus on it. Focus on one thing at a time Start out simple then slowly work your way to more complicated parts Start playing slow and only increase your tempo when you feel in control Focus on one hand at a time Watch videos of other players using the technique Compare how other players play the technique differently Break up the technique into specific movements Remember the whole point of coming up with your own exercises is to give you more options. A player who only uses exercises from other people is limiting their development. If you try applying this method you will eventually get to a point where you don't need to look around for exercises because you will be able to come up with effective ones on your own. Aaron writes lessons over at Tempo Music Cards.com which provides beginners with a range of resources and lessons including flash cards to help you learn the basics on guitar.
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