How to create your own intermediate guitar exercises

Q: Why should I create my own intermediate guitar exercises when there are so many available online?

A: Because the exercises you design will address the specific issues you encounter during your practice sessions. Each exercise will be tailored to the guitar lick, riff, or solo that you are learning, focusing on the most difficult parts.

As an example, I’ll show you how to do this using lick 14 from these 15 easy guitar licks that get harder.

Try out this guitar lick. Don’t be concerned if you find it difficult. We’ll dissect it and make exercises out of it. It should feel easier after you practice them.

More important than learning the lick is to understand the process of breaking it down into small pieces and creating exercises from each piece so that you can replicate the process whenever you come across challenging parts in the music you’re learning.

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Exercise 1

In the first exercise derived from this lick, we play the first two beats of the first bar, and then reverse them until they form a loop.

This exercise will help you practice legato technique, build endurance, develop a feel for triplets, and use efficient picking motions.

Exercise 2

The second exercise is about rhythm, and it simply involves playing the lick’s rhythm on the same note in time with a metronome.

This will help you improve your timing on the guitar and make the entire lick feel easier because you’ll be using a familiar rhythmic pattern when you practice it again.

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Exercise 3

In this exercise we’ll practice the accuracy of the bent note on bar 3. String bending is a powerful technique that many guitarists start learning at intermediate level, but keep refining and improving after reaching more advanced levels of playing.

Play a half bend followed by a full bend to train your ear to recognize the difference in pitch.

The target note will be the first note in each bar of the exercise below. Before executing the bend, give it a close listen.

It is not necessary to get the timing right in this exercise. What matters is that you precisely bend the string to the pitch of the target note.

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Exercise 4

In the next exercise we’ll be practicing the bend further by moving it around on the same string.

Because each bend requires a different amount of strength to execute in different places on the fretboard, moving it around will give you a better idea of how much strength you should apply for each.

Exercise 5

The next two exercises focus on the sixteenth notes on the first and second beat of the second bar.

Because these notes are the shortest in duration and played legato, this is the most difficult part of the lick.

To begin, we’ll play these notes with a picking pattern in the first bar and legato in the second.

This is something you can apply to almost everything you practice. Practice playing something picked if it should be played legato, and use hammer ons and pull offs if it should be picked. By doing so, you will not only speed up the process of learning that specific lick or riff, but you will also improve in other aspects of guitar playing.

When playing legato, we must use the pick every time we change strings. If you want to practice a long legato stretch, try playing notes on the same string. Keep in mind that, in addition to hammer ons and pull offs, you can also use slides in legato playing.

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Exercise 6

In this exercise, we’ll move the note pattern from the first two beats of the second bar up and down the fretboard.

This helps to build endurance, gain perspective by practicing legato in different locations on the fretboard, and will make this group of notes easier to play when returning to the original lick.

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Exercise 7

The final exercise simply loops the last beat of the first bar and the first two beats of the second.

This will help you connect these musical elements for this specific lick, as well as practice sequences with notes of varying duration.

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Get creative

The ability to develop your own intermediate guitar exercises, will help you become an advanced player sooner.

When you encounter challenges like those in the guitar lick we used as an example, you can simply use the same exercises we have gone through in this lesson.

Sometimes this won’t be possible since you’ll encounter different techniques, rhythmic patterns and finger motions that require different exercises than these.

In such situations, of which you’ll surely encounter a lot if you’re an intermediate player, all you have to do is get creative and create your own.

Some ways to do so include: Isolating small portions of music and moving them up and down the fretboard or across strings, changing the tempo, turning the amp off (to force your right hand to pick harder), turning the volume louder (to hear unwanted string noise), removing or adding notes to the lick, and playing the rhythm on a single note.

Before turning your riffs and licks into exercises ask the following questions:

  • What are the hardest groups of notes to play in this piece of music?
  • Why makes them hard to play?
  • How can I make them harder in some ways (e.g. faster tempo, stronger pick attack), but easier (e.g. slower tempo, shorter group of notes) in others?

Once you have an answer to these questions, all you have to do is get creative and design exercises tailored towards solving the specific problem the lick, riff or solo you have been learning has brought up.

By doing so, you will not just learn random licks or riffs, but also grow as a guitar player.

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