Tag Archives: Practice

Practicing When You Can’t Practice

One frustrating thing about being a guitarist or just a musician in general is that we aren’t always near our instruments. Few of us are fortunate to be a guitarist full time and work and school tend to consume large amounts of our time. We want to be back at home practicing, but we’re not. We can either get pissed about it or try to use our time to the best of our ability.

So what can we do to improve or make some progress musically?

Finger Exercises

If you are going to be playing when you get home why not get your fingers warmed up for playing? One thing I like to do is to place my hand down on my leg or the surface of a table with my fingers bent 90 degrees with my fingertips touching the surface. Then I will lift and drop each of my four fingers one at a time until they touch the surface. I’ll start off slow and build up speed.

The great thing about this is that you can sit and do this during a boring class or unproductive meeting and no one is wiser. As far as your fretting hand can tell you are running 1-2-3-4 chromatic exercises. Everyone around you just thinks you have a nervous tick or have had too much coffee. Just try and stay semi-alert if you are called on to respond to something.

This may seem silly, but try it for 20 minutes and tell me your fret hand isn’t ready to shred.

If you want to kick it up a notch, visualize some scale patterns and start tapping those from low to high. You can even move your hand up to compensate for switching strings if you feel so inclined. You see the muscle memory part of your brain and your fingers don’t know there is no guitar in your hands. Tap out your scale practice routine. I mean what do you really have to lose?

Practice Planning

Everyone has a smart phone these days. You can type the next great American Novel out in a device that fits in your pocket. Hell, I’m writing this post while waiting for my car inspection. What I’m getting at is get a nice note-taking app installed and when you are stuck somewhere else start writing a new practice routine. You’ll only have so much time to play when you get home so you might as well be prepared. I know when I was in high school I really wanted to go home and practice, but when I got home I would noodle around for a while, mess with some songs I was learning, and then put it down after a while. If you are prepared for what you are going to play when you get home you can simply get started.

If you have never had a practice routine you should try it. For example, build a list of categories you are working on and come up with at least one exercise for each. Then, depending on how much time you have to play each day set a certain amount of time that you are going to do that exercise. Maybe it will look something like this.

  1. Legato
  2. Alternate Picking
  3. Tapping
  4. Sweep Picking
  5. Finger-picking
  6. Song Parts
  7. Scale Sequences
  8. Improve to Backing Track

If you focused 5 minutes per exercise you would have a 40 minute routine. This is a tried and true method to becoming well-rounded. Pretty simple, right?

Here is the thing. You are going to get bored really fast when you master those things so you need more. Spend some of your isolated time looking up new potential exercises for your routine. Look them up and take a screen shot with your phone. Everyone is probably on Facebook or looking up sports scores. Why not actually do something productive with this time?

Take online lessons apart and pull some of the exercises from them out and try them when you get home.

You can also look up scale patterns for new scales are try and memorize them. There are several useful guitar apps out there that have tons of info you can look at. Just make sure your volume is down on your phone.

There are a lot of things you can do when you are away from your instrument. Don’t let life get in your way.

Happy Shredding!

The Art of Warming Up

One of the most important aspects of guitar playing is the one that is often overlooked by most players. When we start playing guitar we think about songs we want to learn, tones, gear, and even theory sometimes. Warming up usually falls at the wayside. When we pick up a guitar and start noodling around we will tend to just warm up naturally. This is ok, but is usually not the most efficient way, especially when we have a limited time to practice. There are several different warm-up methodologies and I’m going to thru a few of them today. Mix, match, and create a routine that works for you. Use the different methods differently day by day to create a warm up that works for you.


I would recommend some simple hand stretches before starting on the guitar for the day. Nothing major. You can thread your fingers through each other and lightly bend all of your fingers back.

Bend each of your hands back for a few seconds to stretch out your wrists also.

Keeping it simple

One of the more plain warm up patterns that you will see all over the internet is the classic 1-2-3-4 pattern warm-up as shown below.


You can do this one with alternate picking or legato. I recommend you do either or both depending on what you are working on. Once you get the end of the pattern, shift everything up one fret and repeat the exercise. Do this pattern all the way up the fretboard and back down again as long as you feel is necessary. The good thing about this shape is that it is balanced and warms up each finger evenly. The bad thing is it not very musical (unless you really enjoy chromatic patterns) and doesn’t really put anything in muscle memory that you would really want to deploy in an improvisation situation.

I would recommend working this pattern with a metronome and starting at a comfortable pace and bringing it up as you go.


E–1h2p1h2p1h2p1 (using the index and middle finger hammering)


E–2h3p2h3p2h3p2 (using the middle and ring finger hammering)

And Finally…

E–3h4p3h4p3h4p3 (using the ring and pinkie finger hammering)

This is another simple warm-up that can really wake up your fingers on your fretting hand. If you do half step trills for about 30 seconds each it can be a small finger workout. If 30 seconds is too long (or short), change it. This is your warm-up. Do what works for you, but don’t hurt yourself.

The good thing about this one is it warms up the fretting hand pretty quickly. However, this isn’t something you want to do more than a few times per position, but it will build strength in your fretting hand fingers.

3NPS (Note per string) Scaling

If you like to review your scale patterns from time to time then your warm-up will benefit from this too. I try and focus on the three notes per string patterns that repeat in higher octaves further down the fretboard. Plus, if you used to playing linear modal shapes, warming up with these patterns might help break you out of the box (or at least start tying the boxes together).

Here is an example I like to use with the E Minor (Aeolian) scale.






Patterns repeat until you run out of frets…

Then, when you get bored with that and you really want to stretch your hands out try some 4NPS.



These runs are less satisfying due the occasional repeating note in the pattern, but is good for warming up and breaking out of the box. If you need some inspiration for this one just go watch Joe Satriani play legato on YouTube for a few minutes and you’ll really want to get these shapes under your fingers.

That’s basically it. You can warm up with basically anything, but I hope these ideas are useful to you.

If you liked this lesson, check out the rest of my stuff at bensatterwhite.com

Happy Shredding!