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Finger Gymnastics: Advanced Practice Tips for Guitar

Hi! This article will discuss four different examples of how to practice your advanced guitar skills. They focus on increasing finger strength, dexterity, and ultimately speed. But keep in mind that all these examples should be practiced slowly at first. Increasing the speed before you can play the part without any mistakes will only lead to sloppy and unpleasant-sounding guitar playing. Enjoy!

Example 1: Diminished trills.
This example concentrates primarily on finger strength and stamina. On a technical level it involves performing minor third trills up 3 strings at a time in a diminished scale pattern. Although you may play this exercise anywhere on the fretboard, for the sake of this example we will start on the C located on the 5th string, 3rd fret. Perform the trill so that you alternate between C and D# two times and then do the same with F# and A on the 4th string and then C and D# on the 3rd string. Then move the whole pattern up one fret and continue with C# and E on the 5th string, G and A# on the 4th string, and C# and E on the 3rd string.

Repeat the same pattern all the way up the fretboard and see if you can make it to the C at the 15th fret, an octave above where you began. Also, make sure you are only using your first and fourth fingers. This really gives you a great left hand

workout! You can try some variations too, like starting on different strings or going across all six strings instead of just three!

Example 2: Synth inspired arpeggios.
I actually enjoy a lot of electronic and dance-inspired music and sometimes it's fun to take ideas from other genres and try them out on a guitar. Specifically, here I will show you an arpeggio that I took straight from a preset on a Korg Triton keyboard. This example will really help out with your string-skipping coordination. It is based loosely around an Em chord and can be played entirely at the 12th fret position with the exception of the one high E note at the 24th fret. If you really want to get adventurous or just look flashy when you play, try tapping that high E note with your right hand instead of reaching for it with your left hand 4th finger. When you get used to it you might actually find that it is easier.

Example 3: Improvising on two strings at a time.
This is an exercise that will also help with string-skipping coordination but also with visualizing scales. It does require you to either have a backing track that you can play to or a friend to jam with. Also, for this example I used a Bm progression but you should try it out with different scales too! The idea of the exercise is to improvise using only two strings at a time. Start out with the middle two, the 3rd and 4th strings. Then try the 2nd and 5th strings, and finally the 1st and 6th strings. The example shown is a short illustration of what can be done on just the 1st and 6th strings.

Example 4: Sweep Arpeggios - A quick how-to guide.
One of the most popular techniques in the advanced guitarists' repertoire is the sweep arpeggio. The basic idea is that while you play the arpeggio your pick moves across the strings at a constant speed and as each note is played you lift your left-hand finger so that it is only played briefly. That is, you don't want to hold the notes down so that they ring out. The reason for the sweep picking is that it is economical in motion so the arpeggios can be played very fast.

The example here illustrates one way to do a C major and an Am arpeggio. Keep in mind that there are other ways to do these, and for any other kind of chord (7th, diminished, suspended 4, etc) all you have to do is play them as an arpeggio and try to sweep pick across the strings. When you are starting out the hardest part is coordinating your left and right hands to act together. Start slow but don't be afraid to increase your speed on this one. It is a technique that actually gets easier when you can do it faster.

Another thing to try when you are starting out is to use only your left hand to hammer on the notes. Leave your right hand on the neck behind your left hand to mute the strings. This will get your left hand used to the motion and then all you have to do is match up the picking with what your left hand is doing.

I hope these examples have given you some exciting and challenging things to work on, good luck and keep practicing!

- Ian Medhurst

Ian Medhurst has been an instructor at at Excel Music since its founding in 2006.

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