Irecommend to my students that they break up their practice time into four parts. The first area of practice is technique, which is to create a muscle memory of scales, arpeggios, triads and double stops. Muscle memory is crucial if you want to play fast or improvise. Constant repetition of technical exercises will allow you to recall scale passages or arpeggios instantly, while thinking about what key or chord you are playing over, at the same time as you listen to what is being played around you.
Ear training is the next area. This means listening to other guitarist’s solos and writing down or transcribing what they are playing. Transcribing other people’s solos will allow you to build up a library of ideas that you can tweak to make your own. If you have never transcribed before, start small with just one phrase or a couple of notes, then work your way up to transcribing whole solos and songs.
If you can’t read music, learn how to. It doesn’t take long to learn, and a good starting point is Hal Leonard’s
Guitar Method Book1. Buy it, then practice for ten minutes per day – you’ll be reading in no time.
The third area is to develop your understanding of music theory. Understanding major scale harmony is a good starting point, as it helps you understand how chord progressions work. Understanding the major scale is also the first step in understanding how to use the modes when improvising. Modes are essentially the major scale starting and finishing on any other note than the first note of the major scale.
The fourth area is to improvise, and record yourself while you do it. Listen back to what you have done and find your own voice through self-evaluating. Jam with as many people as you can in as many different styles as you can. Being great at technical exercises is important, but interacting with other musicians is an entirely different skill and it needs just as much practice.
Exercise #1 is purely a technical exercise I like to use to build up co-ordination between my fretting and picking hand. Make sure you play this exercise to a metronome. For years, I practiced tremolo picking, or alternate picking. I developed my alternate picking to the point where I could alternate pick 32nd notes faster than I could down pick 16th notes. I developed this exercise to practice my down picking. This exercise should be crab-walked. This means you should only ever move one finger at a time on your fretting hand, the idea being it will help you with finger independence.
This exercise should build coordination between your hands, work on your alternate and down picking speed, and also help you with finger independence – it’s like the NutriBullet of technique exercises.
Sweep picking may not be a technique you wish to apply to your own music. It is, however, a technique that requires a lot of control and patience to learn. Pretty much, if you can work out how to sweep, there is not much you cannot do on the guitar.
Exercise #2 builds on arpeggio ideas from my previous two articles. The arpeggio we play is an A minor arpeggio. To make the pattern fit neatly into the bar, I have started the arpeggio on an E note, which is the 5th degree of the A minor chord. The up and down strokes are notated so you can see how I like to sweep this arpeggio.
You can pick the notes on the high E string, but I prefer to hammer-on and pull-off these notes, particularly at faster tempos.
The first bar outlines the arpeggio in eighth note triplets. The second bar halves that time value to 16th notes triplets. Try combining this arpeggio with some of the other minor arpeggios we have already covered.
Exercise #3 outlines a diminished arpeggio. Again, the notes values are halved for the second bar to 32nd notes, so its best to star t out at a slower tempo.
I also recommend playing with less distortion than you might normally use. You want to make sure that each note is clear and accurate, and this is easier with a cleaner tone. Being a diminished arpeggio, the same pattern can be repeated up and down the fret board a minor third higher or lower.