Did you know that by programming your muscle memory, you can make playing the guitar feel more natural, and even improve your technique? Guitar teacher Michael N. shares 10 guitar exercises and tips to help you build up your muscle memory…
1. Understand muscle memory
Every instrument player uses muscle memory. Every day activities like driving, riding a bicycle, and even typing this article, are easier because of muscle memory. Remember to continue slow, correct, and “meaningful” practice so that the muscle movements needed are correctly memorized. Once you learn a scale or a chord really well, you will have a remnant of the scale embedded into your memory, specifically your muscle memory. Use this to your advantage by imprinting these memories really well early on!
2. Use a metronome at a slow speed
This type of metronome practice gives you room to concentrate on new technical aspects at an attainable tempo. This type of practice is more valuable, proving the fact that multiple reps of something aren’t worth as much unless focus on improving each time with consistency is inherent.
3. Practice placing chords shapes one finger at a time
Analyze what each finger has to do between each chord. Make those movements with finger one finger at a time, then two at a time, and eventually place your fingers in the whole chord all together. Eventually the entire chord movement will become an automatic move into place with simultaneous finger movement!
4. Practice the chord “shapes” without strumming
Place your fingers in a chord and then change to the next. Try practicing chords in sequences of three or four at a time. These should be chords that you have already learned, so you can make the shapes while watching TV or having a conversation. Taking out the variable of strumming is a great way to isolate and improve your left-hand technique!
5. Pay attention to what changes from one chord to the next
Sometimes a finger does not have to move very far to get to its next location. Sometimes it is already where it needs to be! Be conscious of these situations to make sure you are moving efficiently from chord to chord without extra movement.
6. Make the switches between chords a fast snap
Even if you are waiting four beats between chords or just switching chords freely when you can, try to start quick “snaps” to prepare and think ahead to the next chord. With four beats for instance, you should be thinking about the next chord as fast as possible or on the second beat of the group of four.
7. Counting and closing-in exercise
This is one of my favorite guitar exercises for when you are building up a specific chord change, but you need to be able to do it faster. Example: playing C to G is a challenge for you. Put a metronome on at a very slow and attainable tempo and the first time think in groups of 4 clicks. Play the chord only on the first click of four while counting out loud and changing the finger positions as fast as possible. Feel good after a while? Next try changing the chord within three clicks. Can you move right after the second click? Finally, when you’re up to speed, you can move the chord on each click and the counting and closing in exercise is complete.
8. One finger can get there before the others
When you are learning new chords, you have a chord change that is usually challenging to get in time, or you have a fast tune; you may still be able to make the chord! Remember that one finger could get to the next chord before the other fingers trail along, so you could strum a few strings that include the finger that has made it, position your fingers that are late, and then complete the strumming when all fingers are positioned. Try it out!
9. Focus on your fingertips
You might be noticing buzzing or strings that sound weird for certain chords. It could be that you are half-muting a string with part of your finger! Make sure to arc your fingers and use just fingertips on the fretboard for some chords and you can avoid the extra contact with the open strings underneath those fingers. Practice placing each finger down on the fretboard, being mindful to only press through the tip of your fingers. Boom. Problem solved.
10. Think ahead
As soon as one chord or note is placed, strummed or plucked, think ahead to the next necessary movement and make it. Then as soon as that chord is placed, do the same. We will always be thinking ahead until the end of a piece. Now, I am just thinking ahead about the next article I might write!
Learn more guitar exercises and improve your skills by taking lessons with a private guitar teacher. Guitar teachers are available to work with you online via Skype or in-person depending on locations and availability. Search for your guitar teacher now!
Michael N. is multi-instrumentalist and instructor in Oak Creek, WI. Available for lessons in person or online, Michael teaches guitar, drums, singing, and piano, as well as trumpet, marimba, and kazoo! Teaching for more than 7 years, he earned his Masters of Music in Instrumental Conducting and is even the current Youth Percussion Ensemble Director at UW Milwaukee and the Percussion Coach at Oak Creek High School. Learn more about Michael here!
Photo by Alan