So you like to play guitar, and you’re desperate to improve- but you just can’t squeeze much time into your busy rock ‘n roll schedule.
I know how you feel…
So I have come up with some things you can do in a short amount of time that will help you to improve in the long run. I should point out though- that sometimes when you get the chance you WILL have to just sit down and play for a few hours!
Anyway- here’s some things you can do in a short burst to improve your playing-
Spider exercises are designed to strengthen your fretting fingers and to teach you how to control them independently more easily. Now you may be thinking- “but Paul, I can already control my fingers independently” but you would be surprised. When switching between strings- your fingers will tend to want to “move with each other” because that is what they do normally in life. You will need to learn to stop them from doing this. Anyway- I’ll get on to explaining this exercise!
Basically you want to fret (and play) the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th fret on every single string. Starting with your top string all the way through to your bottom string. You need to use all 4 fingers (index finger on 5th, middle on 6th, ring finger on 7th, little finger on 8th) and play them all up in succession. But here’s the trick- you cannot take your fingers off to frets as you switch to another string. You MUST leave them there and just move each finger up to the next string ONE BY ONE. This sounds easy but is actually incredibly difficult in practice when you aren’t used to it. When you can do this easily then you will find solos and such things generally easier to play.
DON’T STICK TO WHAT YOU KNOW
Though this is what is generally advised against in life- when trying to better yourself at something- keeping on with what you already know is just a bad idea. Sure- perfect your aforementioned knowledge- but once it IS perfected then expand!
You normally play Acoustic? Pick up that Electric! You normally play Country? Play some Rock n’ Roll! (It worked for the Osmonds).
Different genres have different challenges to scale- so don’t box yourself off! You’ll probably find that practicing in lots of different genres will help to influence your own playing! You need to expand- especially if only practicing for short amounts of time.
PRACTICE YOUR SCALES
If lead guitar is your thing, then you’re gonna want to practice the hell out of your scales. Blues and Pentatonic scales are the most commonly rehearsed and I would suggest starting with these and then learning more scales if and when you deem it necessary. If you know your scales off by heart then you will find it much easier to improvise around things and you will just generally have a much greater understanding of the fretboard- and the key to being good at guitar is to really understand your fretboard. It may sound obvious but if you can understand how all these strings and all these frets relate to each other- then you have a massive advantage over someone who is just playing like a robot and is scared to switch it up.
IMPROVISE TO YOUR FAVOURITE SONGS
So you’ve only got 10 or 15 minutes? Then why not play along to some of your favourite songs! Unless you’re into 8-minute Sabbath tracks then you’ll probably get at least 3 or 4 songs in! Learn their basic chord structures if you can’t play their lead parts- and simply jam along. Try adding little pull-offs and hammer-ons inbetween chords- improvise little licks where the song doesn’t have any. Just really jam out to it! You’ll find it more enjoyable than just regimented guitar exercises- and you’ll get to practice blending different styles together.
PLAY WITH A METRONOME
Okay- technically this is something you should just do all the time anyway- but playing to a Metronome or Looped Drumbeat is important anyway. If you’re only learning in short bursts at a time- you don’t want to be learning out-of-time. If we don’t have a metronome then people do naturally tend to speed up and slow down their tempos freely- even some drummers have problems with this and many do play along to click tracks. You don’t want to think that you’ve perfected your part, and then discover that when playing in a band you can’t stay in time and everyone hates you.
DO SOME TREMOLO PICKING
If you can find a song with some Tremolo picking then that’s great- although it is fairly rare. The only one I can think of is “You Know What They Do to Guys Like Us In Prison” by My Chemical Romance, but that isn’t like to most people’s tastes.
Actually- scratch that- I just thought of a more common one. “Miserlou” by Dick Dale, more commonly known as the theme from Pulp Fiction. The melodies in this song are almost ALL played on the same strings in tremolo- i.e. extremely fast alternate picking. The idea is that this will build up the stamina in your picking hand! Your picking hand needs to be just as strong as your fretting hand- this is essential and often overlooked! Alternate-picking and aggressive palm-muting can often wear out your picking hand and you need to make sure that this doesn’t happen!
So there we go! Some little exercises that you can do in short spaces of time to help improve your guitar playing more quickly! Good luck, and don’t snap your strings on them tremolos!