The Role of Technical Exercises: A Guthrie Govan Perspective

A few years ago, the great Guthrie Govan was asked if he might demonstrate some technical exercises to help aspiring guitarists improve their technique.

To which he responded:

“Well, I don’t really practice exercises so much”.

As someone who’d always used technical exercises to develop my technique, his answer fascinated me and prompted further thought into the subject.

What Are Technical Exercises?

At their core, technical exercises are systematic physical movements designed to enhance the agility and condition of your fingers. These exercises target various aspects, from strength and speed to synchronicity and stretch and so on. Many guitarists, including myself, can attest to the benefits they provide.

The Bad of Technical Exercises?

However, a few issues arise when it comes to technical exercises:

  • Monotony: They often lack the allure of real music, making them tedious for many.
  • Absence of Musicality: Predominantly mechanical, they don’t always translate into musical expressiveness.
  • Time Trade-off: They demand a chunk of practice time, which might be better spent on more melodic endeavors.

A Guthrie-inspired Approach

After hearing Guthrie talk about his outlook on technical exercises it got me thinking. Is there a more harmonious way to fuse technique development with enjoyment and musicality?

Like, surely, this is what Guthrie does in his own practice sessions right?

I pondered the question for some time before coming to the conclusion that within every song, there is a technical exercise. A unique technical exercise that directly relates to learning that song.

For example:

  • Sweet Child O’ Mine becomes a directional picking drill.
  • Every Breath You Take doubles up as a finger strength and flexibility workout.
  • Wonderful Tonight evolves into a string-bending masterclass.
  • Last Resort serves as a practice ground for finger independence.

The idea is to transform segments of our favorite songs into exercises that are enjoyable and musical whilst simultaneously developing our technique.

The options are endless and I think this approach offers myriad advantages:

  • Intrinsic Motivation: As your proficiency in the exercise grows, so does your mastery over the song.
  • Balancing Technique with Tune: You’re not just honing a technique in isolation; you’re making music.
  • Tailored Technique: Focus on techniques that align with your musical preferences, ensuring every moment spent practicing is both enjoyable and effective.

Striking the Right Chord

It’s essential to strike a balance. While technical exercises hold immense value, especially for newcomers, the key lies in selecting them judiciously. Aimlessly diving into any and every exercise, lured by the promise of rapid progress, can be counterproductive.

I believe that guitar students should adopt a more holistic approach. Every technical drill should have a clear purpose, pushing you closer to your musical aspirations.

Echoing the sentiments of Guthrie Govan, the essence of playing should always resonate with this philosophy:

“If it doesn’t sound good, I don’t want to play it”.

Guthrie Govan


  1. Original video by Prart’s Official Artist Channel