The Benefits of Having A Guitar Workout Routine
By Nick Layton
When I started learning to play guitar back in the late 1980’s, practicing your guitar was a big deal. Back then the rock and metal scene was bursting with amazing virtuoso guitar players, and if you were a budding hard rock guitarist you realized that you had better get working on your chops if you wanted to be able to keep up with players like Yngwie Malmsteen, Eddie Van Halen, Vinnie Moore, George Lynch, Joe Satriani and many others. Players like Steve Vai had guitar magazine articles about their “10 Hour Workout,” and in general most players, including myself, were working hard at establishing a good practice routine to develop high level skills.
I think this idea of a guitar workout has kind of been lost over the years, and I think it is partly because there is SO MUCH information out there right now. Think about it, with unlimited resources at your fingertips how are you ever going to be able to dial that information down into any kind of organized practice routine? You’ve got free lessons on Youtube (including yours truly), online lessons from many courses and players (again, guilty as charged), and access to virtually anything you want to learn on guitar with one click of the mouse. Having all of this so readily available is a great advancement in some ways but, unfortunately, there is a downside….
Randomized learning=Subpar results
The biggest problem for those of us wanting to improve our guitar skills is that most of this information is presented in a random way. Don’t get me wrong, random learning can be fun. Want to learn your favorite song, and then cherry pick some country licks, study a new scale, work on your jazz comping skills? You can do it all in one sitting! But one thing I’ve noticed is that most guitarists who do this as their main way of learning and practicing don’t usually turn out to be very good players. They are being pulled in too many directions at once to really make any significant headway in their playing.
Effective practicing requires some direction in both the content and organization of the materials you are working with. Without a clear direction of where you want to go, how will you know where to even begin? So, it’s really important to think deeply about the kind of player you want to become, and then determine which skills you need to improve to become that player. Once you have a good idea about those two things the next step is organizing your practice routine around developing those specific skills. Because random practicing is so ineffective for skill building, I am a huge proponent of guitar courses which focus on developing specific skills in an organized way, and guitar “workout” routines that can be done daily or maybe a few times per week for skill building as well as maintenance of the skills you’ve already built. In my own development I’ve always used both and continue to do so. With a core study plan in place the random stuff we learn then becomes the icing on the cake instead of the cake itself!
Guitar courses and workouts
So, what do I mean by a “guitar workout” and how can you go about using one for your own benefit? First let’s differentiate between courses and workouts. A guitar course usually focuses on combining various skills like technique, vocabulary, theory and improvisation to develop your playing overall in specific areas. For example, a blues course would probably involve some scale work, sequences and licks, theory, and improvising over jam tracks. There is a specific direction but it has several elements.
A guitar workout on the other hand is usually best focused on one or two specific things, and I think is best suited to technique based skill building. I think of a guitar workout in similar terms as lifting weights at the gym. Successful bodybuilders and athletes always have a plan when they go to the gym. They know which muscles they are working, which exercises they are doing, how many sets and reps to do and generally how long the workout will take. They go to the gym (or the track, etc), give maximum effort to their training, and then go home and on with the other areas of their lives, all the while reaping the benefits of that workout and each new workout they accomplish.
Designing Your Own Guitar Workout
I believe technique based guitar workouts can be approached in the same way. Want to develop your legato playing? Choose some exercises and organize them in a way that makes sense, starting easy and building in difficulty over a set amount of time. You could choose and area of your technique that needs work. Here are some examples:
- Alternate picking: scales, sequences, scale fragments, licks.
- Sweep Picking: triad arpeggios, diatonic 7th arpeggios, arpeggio sequences, etc.
- Legato: finger exercises, scale patterns, licks and sequences.
- Rhythm playing (comping): playing chords and riffs over a specific groove, or a specific style (blues, funk, jazz), at a specific tempo.
You can come up with your own areas that you want to improve, again going back to the player you want to become and the direction you want your playing to go in, and then find or create some exercises for this area of playing and design your own custom guitar “weight lifting” session.
6 things to keep in mind before launching your workout.
- Choose a specific area of your technique you want to focus on.
- Decide how long you want your workout to be. I recommend 15-30 minutes.
- Choose exercises that you can play cleanly (at slow speeds) and easily remember. Overly complicated exercises will just bog down your workout.
- Organize the exercises by starting with the easier ideas first, then increasing in difficulty as you go.
- Decide how many times you want to play each exercise. Then test the process by playing through all of the exercises using a timer or clock to determine how long the “workout” takes you to complete. You may need to decrease the number of exercises or reps if it exceeds the 15-30 minute target, or add some if your workout is too short for you.
- Measure your progress: You need some way to track your progress. I recommend using a metronome. Keep track of your settings and keep challenging yourself every time you do the workout.
Try and do the workout at least a few times per week, just as you would go to the gym more than once during a week. Measure your progress. Choose new exercises when you get bored. Rinse and repeat!
That’s it! Have fun designing your own custom workout routines and I’m sure you will agree that the time invested is well worth the effort.
If you’d like to see a workout routine like this in action check out my brand new instructional offering here:
Legato Firestarter-A 20 Minute Workout to Ignite Your Practice Routine
All rights Nickolas A. Layton