An Essential Guide To Guitar Practice Exercises

Learning the proper guitar practice exercises to supercharge our playing can make all the difference – Let’s explore!

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • A proper stretching routine
  • What the chromatic scale’ is and how to practice with it
  • How to practice using arpeggios
  • How to create finger independence

Guitar Practice Exercises – Everybody’s Favorite!

We all would really like to think that we owe our careers as musicians to our flashy choreography, hilarious costumery, and witty stage banter.

Unfortunately, the years have taught us that the things that lead to success at (or satisfaction with music) are the seemingly mundane things we choose to spend our time on.

For example, committing to a set amount of guitar practice exercises per day (or week).

You landing on this page means that you’re willing to do the boring stuff so you can get better at the guitar, so congratulations!

The goal of this article is to help you along the transformative journey from wondering why anyone would waste precious time on guitar practice exercises, to joyfully looking forward to the next time you can pick up your guitar.

We want you to spend as much time as you have going through practice routines and stretches to improve your playing.

  • Prepare to be astounded at how much you can achieve on the guitar without even playing an actual song!
  • Moreover, as you’ll see, the amazing thing about guitar practice exercises is that you can learn to pull them from actual songs!
  • Playing the guitar well requires more than just notes or chords.
  • It’s a combination of timing, tone, phrasing, posture, healthy hands, and willingness to put a little time in toward improving all of those things.

Have you got some time now? Good – here we go!

guitar practice exercises

Guitar Practice Exercises: Constant Stretching

Taking up the guitar necessarily involves a lot of tension in your hands.

There’s a lot of effort involved in squeezing the chords with your fretting hand, attacking the strings with your picking hand, and (at the beginning phase) just trying to get a decent sound out of the thing.

  • Playing guitar can pile on top of the other things we do all day like working at a computer, texting, writing, or even holding a phone between our shoulder and ear.
  • All of these daily activities can lead to repetitive stress and injury.

The first rule of music is don’t get hurt!

  • That’s why a lot of us took up music instead of rugby!
  • However, a lot of us ignored the advice to constantly be stretching.

This can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, or tendinitis, or joint inflammation in the fingers before learning our lesson.


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Guitar Practice Exercises: Stretching Your Wrists & Forearms

The first of our guitar practices exercises doesn’t require a guitar at all.

You can and should do it anywhere!

In this video, Steve Stine is showing you exactly what to do to keep your wrists happy.

We all know that tendonitis and carpal tunnel has seriously derailed large careers – Leo Kottke, Robben Ford, Steve Vai, Ani DiFranco to name a few – and it forces guitarists to either give it up for a while or completely relearn how to play.

There’s no reason for that to happen to you!


Guitar Practice Exercises: Stretching Your Hands and Fingers

Here’s a wonderfully effective series of stretches to get the circulation going in your hands and fingers.

These stretches, done once or more daily, will definitely help your circulation, avoid inflammation in your forearms and joints, and increase your range of motion on the guitar and in life.

If you care for your hands and arms the same way you care for your guitar, you’ll both last a lot longer!


Guitar Practice Exercises – The Chromatic Scale

On to the guitar! The first of your guitar practice exercises is what we call the Chromatic Scale.

What makes it so useful is that it is a vehicle for you to work on all of these things at once:

  • Proper fretting hand and thumb positioning for optimal single-note playing
  • Learning where to place your fretting hand fingers to get the best tone on your guitar
  • Synchronizing your fretting and picking hands so that they work independently but together
  • Reaching for notes with your fretting hand’s pinky finger
  • Picking different strings without having to look at them
  • Beginning to work with a metronome (which you’ll have to do sooner or later!)
  • The powerful combination of speed and accuracy!

Pro Tip: Don’t start out fast. You should begin very slowly and gradually inch up the tempo, never playing faster than you can control.

Guitarcompass has a video with one version of the chromatic scale that you can check out here.


Another variant of this is the idea of playing the whole exercise in reverse.

While you’re playing the chromatic scale, set your metronome to a tempo that’s just a bit slower than you think you can get through the entire exercise without stopping.

Control is ultimately more important than speed.


Pro-Tip: The fret you choose for starting the chromatic scale can make a big difference in how comfortable it is to play.

Although you’ll eventually want to be able to do all of these guitar practice exercises  all over the fretboard, if the stretch feels like too much, try starting on the seventh fret.

You can work your way down later, and the exercise works wherever you put it.

Dexterity Exercises For Beginners

The chromatic scale is one of those guitar practice exercises that you can do as soon as you pick up and tune the guitar.

The next exercises help you to develop dexterity – the art of bossing your fingers around in a more scrambled fashion.

  • These guitar practice exercises are great stepping stones to developing the ability to play killer riffs.
  • Although they are completely beginner-friendly, they are also helpful to any guitar player as part of a warm-up sequence.


Mini Exercise in Thirds

This two-part exercise uses a Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol mini-scale and then mixes it up nicely.

It works anywhere on the guitar across any two strings, except for the G and B strings, because of that little jog in tuning.

Start with finding Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol on the guitar. Here’s an example.

You can start anywhere, but you should play the first note with your second finger, using the method of assigning your fingers to consecutive frets from the Exercise of Champions.

  • This will place your fingers so that you can get through the exercise without having to shift your hand up or down the neck.
  • Once you’ve got your fingers playing this little scale without too much trouble, you’re going to start skipping over notes.
  • A third is the interval you get when you skip over one note.

Here’s the full little exercise in thirds.

This is one of our favorite exercises because it’s melodic and breaks our fingers out of “play this scale” method of practice.

When you use a flatpick to play this exercise, you can either pick with all downward motion.

If you are ready, you can try down-up picking, which is also called alternate picking.

If that sounds intriguing but mighty strange, here is a lesson for you to check out:

Alternate Picking: The Ultimate Guide


Guitar Practice Exercises: Finger Jams

The next series of dexterity exercises are brought to you by Darrell Braun with the kind of encouragement and understanding we here at the National Guitar Academy love to see!

  • It’s not necessary for you to do each of these every day, unless you really want to, but what I like about this series of guitar practice exercises is that they deal several different ways with a common issue.
  • When you assign your fingers to consecutive frets, it makes playing in that four-fret position a lot easier because you do not have to slide your hand up or down the neck to reach all the notes.
  • However, there are frequently notes in melodies, scales, or riffs that lie just outside that four-fret position.

These exercises help you to practice playing outside the position one fret at a time by reaching your pinky, or by inching your hand up or down the neck.


Arpeggio Exercises For Beginning & Intermediate Guitarists

All guitarists need to develop skill at playing scales and arpeggios, and there are an awful lot of resources out there for you to learn and practice scales.

Like these, for example!

Learning Guitar Scales

Learn Guitar Scales in 8 Easy Steps

Guitar Scales Tabs

Here are a couple of very practical guitar practice exercises involving arpeggios.


Arpeggio Exercise on a Single Chord

Learning an arpeggio shape and using it as an exercise is a great way to begin to move chord shapes around the fretboard.

Once you learn one arpeggiated chord shape, you can find other chords and transfer your guitar practice exercise into a killer guitar solo!

Here is Paul Davids professing to show you The Best Finger Exercise Ever!

(It’s a good one to be sure.)

Have fun playing this arpeggio shape at different speeds, and then take it out for a spin the next time you suddenly need to improvise a solo!


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Arpeggio Exercise in a Series of Chords

Arpeggios make lovely guitar practice exercises, and they have the additional advantage that you can configure them into common chord progressions.

This means that your guitar practice exercises with arpeggios can be used immediately in real songs!

Check out Swiftlessons’ arpeggio series here!

This exercise shows you an arpeggio chord progression called I-IV-V.

There’s some music theory behind those numbers, and if you’re interested in pursuing a deeper understanding of what that means, you can check out this lesson: Music Theory for Beginners

If you’re not ready to open the whole music theory can of worms just at the moment, it’s enough to understand that I-IV-V is the name given to the basic grouping of chords in the vast majority of songs and musical pieces written in Western music.

What that means for you and your guitar practice exercises is that playing the I-IV-V arpeggios as shown in the video means you are developing the following skills:

  • Dexterity and timing between hands
  • Moving fluidly up and down the guitar neck
  • Teaching your ears how I, IV, and V relate to each other
  • Memorizing a I-IV-V sequence of arpeggios
  • Transposing that sequence to another key by starting on a different fret

One single exercise can teach you a lot of things about how to get through any of the songs you want to learn on the guitar, as a matter of understanding how music works structurally and mechanically.

Also, they are fun to do and very satisfying to play at different tempos.

Pro-Tip: Keep using a metronome! If you’ve used one before, you know that it takes some practice just learning how to keep listening to the metronome while you’re playing the guitar. It also takes some practice to be able to adjust your timing to fit the metronome click.

Check out this arpeggio exercise below and try to let the notes sound out clearly:


Where Do I Go From Here?

There’s a truly unmanageable amount of information available on guitar practice exercises. Once you have memorized and mastered this small handful, please feel free to check out this lesson on guitar practice exercises!

20 Guitar Exercises that Will Make You a Better Guitarist

If you are ready for a whole BOOK of guitar exercises, there are some listed in this helpful article.

Top 10 Guitar Books for Beginners

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