You will become a better guitarist in far less time if you avoid the most common exercises too many guitarists waste their time on. These exercises not only "not" make you a better guitarist, but often hurt your guitar playing without you realizing it. Here are four of the most common types of exercises you should stay away from (and what to do instead):
1. Fretting Hand Finger Independence Drills
There are thousands of finger independence exercises of all kinds, but there is a good reason why so many guitarists who practice them STILL suffer from lack of finger independence in their fretting hand. This is because the exercises themselves create a false expectation in your mind that a certain set of random finger movements is what will develop a new skill in your technique. Reality check: it won't. Watch the video below where I explain in a lot of detail what is wrong with practicing traditional finger independence exercises and what you need to know in order to "actually" develop this skill in your guitar technique:
2. Exercises For Fretting Hand Strength
Fretting hand strength exercises are a nice gimmick, but they have virtually zero value in terms of helping you improve your guitar playing and technique. Here are the most important reasons why: 1. You don't need all that much brute power and strength in your fretting hand to play guitar (and the strength you do need develops very quickly simply from playing your instrument every day). Yes, some techniques DO require more effort/strength than others (such as barre chords, legato and string bends), but doing these techniques well is a lot more about control, coordination and minimizing excessive tension than it is about raw "strength." 2. Most guitarists struggle with their fretting hand technique not because their hands are "too weak," but because they use too much effort ALL THE TIME while playing. This leads to build up of fatigue, hand pain and, (in extreme cases) injury. So making your fretting hand stronger not only does nothing to improve your technique, but it often only exaggerates the problem of using too much tension while playing. 3. When it comes to strengthening the muscles used in guitar playing, it's the PICKING hand that needs the maximum amount of power while playing. The more strength you have in your picking hand, the easier it will be for you to increase your dynamic range while playing and for your playing to sound good at any speed. Ironically, the picking hand is all but neglected when it comes to strength development among guitarists and this backwards approach does more harm than good to your playing. What should you do instead? 1. Quit wasting your practice time on fretting hand strength exercises and instead focus on using less effort (only as much as necessary) in that hand when playing notes. This will help you to play guitar faster and longer without becoming tired. 2. Allocate some of your practice time to improving your picking hand strength and refining your articulation. One of the best (and easiest) ways to do this is to turn the volume off on your guitar and play the same exercises/sequences/licks you normally practice. When doing this, pick the notes as loudly as you can and this will force your picking hand to become stronger. When you turn the volume back on, your playing will feel easier by comparison.
3. So-Called "Guitar Speed Building" Exercises
Guitar speed exercises have the same general problems as finger independence drills (as I described in the video above) and overreliance on them is the primary reason why most guitarists struggle with their speed. The point is that speed exercises (in the way they are typically practiced) put too much of your focus on the "finger movements" of the exercise itself, instead of on any one of the elements you must develop to build real speed, such as: mastering the fundamentals of technique in each hand individually, keeping your hands in sync at higher speeds, using just right amount of tension in each hand, articulating the notes with power, and other factors. I describe some of these elements in more detail in another article I wrote for UG in the past (you can read it here). Bottom line, building speed is not a simple/linear process that can be achieved simply by trying to move your fingers faster or by mindlessly practicing a random set of exercises. At the same time, understand that if your mind is correctly focused on refining the fundamentals of your technique, then "anything" you practice can become a specific speed building exercise "for you." The better you become at using any single exercise to improve a variety of aspects of your guitar playing, the faster you will improve not only your guitar speed but ALL of your guitar skills in general. Learn more about how to do this in this column about practicing I wrote for UG.
4. Exercises That Serve No Specific Purpose
Just because you may find a new and interesting exercise to practice, does NOT mean you should spend any time on it, until you put it through a "relevance test." Until you do this, you risk pulling yourself in too many different directions when practicing and not getting much accomplished in your practice sessions. Before you practice any new exercise, ask yourself a few simple questions, such as: