Guthrie Govan on Technical Exercises

“I generally prefer only to play things that I would actually play in front of people or things I can use on a recording”

Guthrie Govan

Technical exercises, you know, those things that are just so exciting to learn – just kidding!

Well, how important are they, and do you really need to be practising them?

Well, if Guthrie Govan is anything to go by (and he probably should be because he’s one of the world’s best guitarists), maybe not that important. 

What are Technical Exercises?

A technical exercise is simply a physical movement that you repeat over and over to condition your fingers to play the guitar better. 

There are technical exercises for developing strength, stretch, finger independence, synchronicity, speed and so on. 

Over the years of playing, I’ve practised my fair share of technical exercises, and they do help you play the guitar better. 

So what’s the deal?

The Downside of Technical Exercises

1. They’re Boring

They are. They really are. Don’t believe me? Try them.

2. They’re Not Musical

Technical exercises are purely mechanical movements repeated for a duration of time. The aim is to condition your fingers so that playing the guitar feels easier. There is no musicality involved.

3. They Give A False Sense Of Improvement

As you get better at technical exercises, you start to think that you’re getting better at guitar. Maybe you are on a technical level. But really, you’re just getting better at playing technical exercises. 

4. They Take Up Valuable Play/Practice Time 

Play/practice time is a limited resource, especially for hobbyists. Technical exercises eat into that time, which could be better used working on and playing real music that you enjoy. 

A Better Approach

“Well, I don’t really practice exercises so much (plays a technical exercise), no one wants to listen to that”.

Guthrie Govan

If you think about it, any movements your fingers make on the guitar act as a technical exercise. Chord changes, licks, riffs, solos. They’re all physical movements and practising them WILL condition your fingers to play the guitar better. 

So why not condition your fingers through learning the music you’d like to play (like Guthrie), rather than slugging through independent exercises? 

Why not take a challenging chord change from one of your favourite songs and turn that into an exercise to be repeated over and over until you get it?

Why not take a legato run from one of your favourite solos and work on that as an exercise?

Why not turn one of your favourite riffs into an alternate picking exercise? 

Developing your technique this way, through real music has a heap of advantages over the more traditional method.

The Benefits of This Approach

1. Inspiration And Motivation

The music you’re learning acts as your inspiration and motivation to practice the individual exercises because the exercises are actually part of the music you want to learn. As you improve each exercise, you improve the song you’re learning. This is both inspiring and motivating.

2. More Effective

The exercises you create from the music you’re learning are more effective than traditional technical exercises because they DIRECTLY relate to the music you’re learning.

The movements that you’re training into your fingers are the EXACT movements that they need to learn to play the music. 

3. It’s Musical

Conditioning your fingers this way is also musical.

As well as improving your technique, you’re learning to play music as well. 

4. No Wasted Time, Effort, Or Energy

Practice/playtime is a limited resource, especially for hobbyists.

Through this approach, you only practice what you need to learn, to be able to play what you want to play.

It’s a waste of time, energy and effort developing your technique up to Malmsteen if all you want to play is Dylan.

Summary

To sum it all up, technical exercises are not a magic formula for improving. They’re just physical movements, generally absent of any musical context.

A better approach is to develop your technique through the music you love the most. 

Stay inspired, always!

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

Guthrie Govan


Footnotes:

  1. Quotes taken from video by PMG Prart Music Group