Tag Archives: Exercises

Chording Exercise

This is a good rhythm guitar exercise – it’s focused on getting you really smooth at changing between different chords. It can also help train your ear – you learn how different chords sound together.

First, create a bunch of flash cards with different chords on them. The more the merrier. Bonus points for not just naming the chords, but for putting the fingering on it – that way you can have the same chord several times, but with different fingerings.

(Click on any of the images to see them much bigger in a new window)

Here’s a pile of these flashcards that I made on the backs of blank matchbooks:
Don't play with matches, kids

Next, dump all the flashcards in a bag or a hat or something:
It's a trilby, not a fedora

Start pulling flashcards out. The first one you pull out goes on the top row, then the rest of them in the row below:
This exercise is not about sounding good

The exercise is to play through these, going from the chord on the top row to the first one in the second row, then back to the top row, then to the second one in the second row, then back to the top row, etc. So, using the layout pictured above, the chord pattern I would play would be:
Cadd9 – E11 – Cadd9 – B7 – Cadd9 – G13#9 – Cadd9 – D7sus4/A – Cadd 9

This may not sound all that fabulous, but after you finish, you will never have trouble going from that Cadd9 chord to any of those other chords.  Eventually, you should be fluid enough that you can flow from any chord to any chord.

As far as the rhythm goes, I’d suggest starting with a very simple pattern – downstrokes quarter notes in 4/4, changing each new measure. Then make your strumming patterns more complex, but never lose the groove. Keep the following in mind as you do this:

  • Timing is everything – use a metronome or a drum machine, and learn to be rocksteady as you go through the changes
  • Focus on making the transitions as smooth as possible
  • Make sure that each note in each chord is clear
  • Don’t speed up until you can do all of the above
  • If you discover some cool chord progression while doing this, write it down and use it in a song!

Bonus points if you record some of these random progressions, and then practice soloing over them. This can help you learn to play over crazy changes, and can also help you find interesting melodic ideas that you might not have found otherwise.  If it sounds terrible, well, do the exercise, then move on with your life.

Alternate Picking Exercise

This is a cool finger exercise for guitarists that helps with alternate picking. Here’s the first part of the pattern in tab:
Remember that slow is smooth

Now, here’s part two, which includes a little bit of string-skipping:
And smooth is fast

A couple of notes to keep in mind:

  • Start the first pattern with an upstroke. As you play each four note sequence, keep the pick between the two strings you’re hitting.
  • Start the second pattern with a downstroke.
  • It’s way way way more important to be smooth, clean, and perfectly timed than it is to go fast. You will get fast eventually, but only go as fast as you can still do it perfectly.
  • The synchronization between your right hand and your left hand is crucial – if they aren’t together as you’re doing this, you’re reinforcing the wrong things. Go slow and get it right.
  • If you have a metronome or a drum machine, use that as you do this exercise. You want to do this as rock steady as possible.
  • Run through this a couple of times a day. Be patient – you’ll get super-fast sooner with patience than with impatience.
  • Finally, please remember that this is an exercise that uses geometric patterns on the fretboard – it is not particularly musical. Do practice this. Don’t put it in your song or your guitar solo – that would sound dumb.

If you have any thoughts about this, please leave a comment – I’d love to know whether this was helpful (or a waste of time). I’m hoping to post more guitar exercises over time.

By the way, the tabs are drawn on the back of giraffe-pattern napkins. I’ll leave you with a shot of the front of the napkin:
Yes indeed.