December 11, 2023

Do guitar drills actually help your playing?

The thing I love about getting face to face with other aspiring musicians that are hungry to improve, is knowing that I’m going to learn something from them. I know, I know… you’ve heard that cheesy statement before, but it’s so true and here’s another example of it.

I met Bill (not his real name) a few weeks ago. We only had 30 minutes, so initially, we just sat with guitars in hand and got to know each other a little. He was actually a very fine musician and had been gigging with successful touring bands for many years. He just felt his playing was in a bit of a rut. He felt his playing was exactly the same as it always had been… you know… playing the same old riffs and licks. So I asked him, “What sort of stuff are you practicing?” He then pulled out some sheets of paper with highlighted parts and squiggles of times and check marks all over it. “This is my daily practice sheet… I check off each exercise after it’s completed that day, then move to the next one.”

This guy was committed and reminded me of a time when I used to do exactly the same thing. The page had a list of exercises and guitar drills. It was like a Personal Trainers guide to guitar. Step by step, each day it changed a little and incorporated something different.

“So is this good or bad?” He asked.

“It’s awesome!” I said. “Anyone that has a daily worksheet like this is sure to improve… so how much of your practice time is spent on this stuff?” …….”All of it” he said.

Aha… It turned out he had separated drills and exercises from actually ‘playing’ the guitar. There was no connection between the two. The mind/sub-conscious won’t connect the two things until YOU connect them. We think “If I just do this exercise, it’ll become part of my playing.” But the only way a new idea, concept, scale, lick, riff or chord can get incorporated into your playing, is to incorporate it intentionally.

I was totally guilty of this when I was wanting to become a shred machine in my teens. I would spend as much as 2-3 hours on speed drills and scales… but only jam about 20 minutes at the most. So when I came to jam with a friend or in a band, I’d go to do some shreddy thing in my solo and it all fell apart.

So how do we solve this? I think it’s important to split your practice time into two or three parts.

1. Guitar Drills and Exercises.
2. Incorporating those drills and exercises.
3. Playing.

1. Drills and exercises

I think these are important and force your playing to do something you perhaps wouldn’t or couldn’t do, however only spend 20% of your time on perfecting these at most. Maybe it’s a chord pattern, riff or scale shape, so you spend enough time to just get it under your fingers and get used to how it’s picked.

2. Incorporating those drills and exercises

This part is where you are forcing yourself to integrate the new idea or concept into your playing. This is the part that most people miss out. For example, you learn a new scale shape. So spend time making ‘music’ straight away… don’t just go up and down the shape all day… make it sing and growl. Break it down into small chunks… jump around the shape and really get to know it. Be creative immediately! Spend as much as 30-60% on this if you wish.

3. Playing

Playing is simply that… we just play guitar. We jam with friends, we put on a Backing Track and play along or solo. We simply have fun and do what it is we were supposed to be doing in the first place… We play music! We play for enjoyment and the love of music, without judgement or looking to see if our playing is ‘better’ than before or whatever. Take the pressure off and just play dammit! The largest portion of your time should be spent just playing.

You should find the new idea or concept will gradually become a part of your playing effortlessly. As long as you are doing the second step (incorporating those drills and exercises)… I guarantee you’ll be successful.

Happy Playing Guitar Freaks:)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *