Guitar Exercises: Unlocking Power Of The Technique Triangle

Guitar Exercises: Unlocking Power Of The Technique Triangle

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Guitar Exercises Hub on FretDojo:

Trying to find the best guitar exercises to use for a warm-up?

Finding it a struggle to change chords fluently?

Constantly mis-hitting notes when playing scales?

Maybe you want to learn some cool fingerstyle guitar techniques?

If you’re interested in developing any aspect of your guitar technique, I’m glad you’ve found this page.

Here you’ll find a selection of my hottest resources to develop your guitar technique and an overview of what you need to watch out for when working on guitar exercises to get the most benefit and avoid injury.

Let’s get into it!

jazz guitar books
jazz guitar books mobile

Quick Start Guide To Guitar Exercises:

I’ll be honest with you:

For years, I struggled with my guitar technique.

So many of the classic charts and solos are at fast tempos, and my technique was reaching its limit.

And it wasn’t that I was being lazy in the practice room either.

In fact:

I was diligently practicing hours and hours, running through endless technical drills and guitar exercises that my teacher had recommended.

Over and over, my teacher kept telling me: “Sure, progress is slow, but that’s what it’s like for everyone. The only way to get better is to keep doing those hours and hours of practice – in a few years you’ll overcome those roadblocks, trust me”.

So I took his advice and kept lumbering my way through those endless drills. It was painfully boring, and hard on the hands too.


All this work was futile – it did very little to increase my technical ability on the guitar. I was frustrated, and not making fast enough progress.

It was only years later that I realized:

Guitar Technique Question MarkWhat I was doing back then was not the way to get better at technique. It makes hardly a dent, in fact.


I realized I was spending too much time on similar exercises, rather than focusing on core exercises that are the most essential, and that cut out all the fluff.

That’s not all:

By learning how my mind was naturally wired and the way that the brain refines motor activity most efficiently, through the interplay of conscious and subconscious processes, I worked out how to drastically increase my technique – while, incredibly, halving the time I was spending on guitar exercises.

Once I studied in detail how high achievers in many fields gain success, it became crystal clear to me how I needed to structure my guitar practice, what exercises I needed to focus on, and what I needed to STOP doing in order to progress my guitar technique.

That’s when everything changed.

Once I knew the secrets to leverage the natural inborn abilities of the mind, my technique (and especially my speed on guitar) started improving incredibly quickly.

And it was there that I discovered:

The Technique Triangle.

Secret of Guitar Technique: The Power Of The Technique Triangle

“The Technique Triangle?” I hear you ask. “What’s that?”

Let me explain.

The technique triangle is what underpins my whole approach to improving technique.

It’s a simple 3-point framework you can use when practicing any guitar exercises to get maximum benefit.

I now reveal to you:

The Technique Triangle In All It’s Glory!

The Technique Triangle is what we use at FretDojo to develop any aspect of your guitar technical skills.

Guitar Technique Triangle
Any guitar exercise you work on should ideally work toward the 3 goals or ‘points’ of the triangle. Whether you are working on left hand technique, a spider exercise, or fingerpicking patterns, these 3 points are the crucial elements to keep in mind.

Ok – so let’s investigate how all this works…


Guitar Exercise Triangle Tip #1: Coordination

Coordination and accurate guitar finger placement is the bedrock of guitar technique.

If you are constantly missing notes, hitting the wrong string, or messing up the order of picking – you can’t make good music, period.

Anytime you do a guitar exercise, ensure that your coordination is the first thing you pay attention to.

Are you carefully hitting all the notes cleanly and without any miss hits? If not, you should slow down the guitar finger exercises to a comfortable speed until you can play the exercise cleanly and without any mistakes.

This meticulous approach is the hallmark of a great musician – they are not satisfied unless the accuracy is as near to 100% as possible.

Got it? Good.

Let’s look at point #2…

Technique Triangle Tip #2: Effortlessness

Here’s the problem with only looking at coordination as an outcome when playing guitar exercises:

If you don’t pay attention to how your hands are feeling, you could be in trouble.

Look out for tension when you play – it is the enemy of your hands – and the music.

Tension is a problem as it can prevent you from building speed, and will choke your musicality.

Just like if you want to drive full speed down a highway you need no traffic, for the music to flow you need no obstacles of tension getting in your way.

Effortlessness is all about awareness – checking constantly that your hands are feeling good, supple, and relaxed.

The above ‘points’ of the Technique Triangle are the foundation for the final point, which eludes so many guitarists:


Technique Triangle Tip #3: Speed

Speed is an important goal for any guitarist.

Who wouldn’t want to play like this?

Even if you aren’t interested in playing like Pat Martino, speed should still be the goal of most exercises you play on guitar.


The reason:

Speed is largely the outcome of having rock-solid coordination and a high level of effortlessness in your playing, i.e. the ‘triangle’ points #1 and #2 we covered earlier.

Being able to play guitar exercises fast proves to you that you have achieved effortlessness and coordination in your guitar technique.


If you find speed eluding you, it’s more often than not you haven’t spent enough time building the foundations of coordination and effortlessness. There’s a reason why speed is at the top of the Technique Triangle – it needs to be supported by the other two points!

Speed gives you a sort of ‘headroom’ when you play – it makes everything at a more easy-going tempo a piece of cake.


How can you develop your playing in each of these above ‘points’ of the triangle?

Read on for some useful options available at FretDojo…

Online Course: Fast Lane – The Total Technique Roadmap For Guitar:

Fast Lane Guitar Exercises Online Course Logo

Click Here To Find Out More & Book Your Place >>

My comprehensive complete guide to guitar technique, Fast Lane: The Total Technique Roadmap For Guitar, is a world-first online video course dedicated solely to the art of improving your guitar technique.

It’s a comphrehensive compendium of the best guitar exercises to raise your guitar technique to the next level. The course has specific ‘Core’ daily guitar exercises to help train and improve your technique in a smart and efficient way.

A specific focus is on building speed – the final module of the course has some important guitar speed exercises that will unlock your ability to play past guitar solos, and is the ‘missing link’ if you were wondering how to play guitar faster.

With the above Technique Triangle framework underpinning the course, you’ll discover a complete roadmap for supercharging your coordination, developing new levels of effortlessness, and taking your top guitar speed to dizzying heights – with a comphrehensive array of guitar dexterity exercises.


I thoroughly enjoyed this course and loved the lessons – each has clear purpose and moves your technique forward. I’m playing faster, but more importantly I’m playing with better articulation, clarity, and coordination.

I wish I’d got this sort of training when I was more of a beginner player!

Mark Bauer, USA

Before doing the course, I was aware that my technique wasn’t good enough – I lacked speed, unable to play higher than 90 BPM, which is not fast enough for jazz.

The Fast Lane course is very comprehensive, systematic, and offers a a lot of opportunities to improve. I really benefited from this course, and I think it is really worth the money I spent.

Thomas Maurer, Switzerland

With students from all around the world taking this program and 40 years combined experience of the instructors, this is the ultimate guide to build your guitar technique that will benefit you – regardless of what guitar style you play.

Click Here To Find out More About The Course and Enroll >>

Bonus Sample Guitar Exercise Posts:

I enjoy posting guitar exercise videos to Youtube and my website. Check out a few helpful exercises here:


  • Slaying The Speed Demon: Here’s a cool post I collaborated on with Stuart King who is the co-creator of the Fast Lane course I mentioned above. This is an excellent example of how by changing your mindset with some unorthodox approaches you can dramatically increase your guitar speed with a few simple steps.
  • Jazz Guitar Warmup: Here’s a very cool jazz guitar warmup which I call the ‘Almost Slurred Scale Exercise’ – a multilayered exercise to work out your speed, phrasing, position shifting, slurs and more.
jazz guitar instruction

Any questions about our lessons on guitar technique? Click here to get in touch and we’ll be happy to help you out.

Now over to YOU:

What did you think of this page all about guitar exercises – any comments or questions? Let me know by leaving a comment below…

~ Greg O’Rourke, BMus, Hons (ANU)

Founder, FretDojo

ULTIMATE Fingerstyle Guitar Exercises for All Guitar Styles

ULTIMATE Fingerstyle Guitar Exercises for All Guitar Styles

ULTIMATE Fingerstyle Guitar Exercises for All Guitar Styles

Get the PDF for this lesson HERE:

In this episode I’m going to show you the ultimate fast path to building fingerstyle guitar technique with these three handy fingerpicking exercises for guitar.

These 3 simple fingerstyle guitar exercises will quickly enable you to develop your fingerpicking accuracy and speed on guitar, regardless of what style of guitar you like to play! Whether you like to play jazz, rock, pop, classical or country, you’ll find this lesson useful.

I’ll also show you the core principles of good fingerstyle technique to set you up for success and so you avoid injuries when it comes to fingerstyle guitar. 

Thanks for watching and let me know what you think by leaving a comment below this video. 


Greg O’Rourke 

Founder, FretDojo
World Leader in Online Guitar Education 

► Become a FretDojo Patreon here: https:

► Start Your FretDojo Jazz Guitar Academy Membership here:


Before you go…

Join my 30 Day Jazz Guitar Challenge

Instant access:

•  A step-by-step guide on building core improvisation skills

• Fundamental comping techniques to be a hero on the bandstand

• Discover the biggest mistakes made by aspiring jazz guitarists…and how YOU can avoid them

• The ultimate fast path for establishing a foundation in jazz guitar

• Instant access – find out more and sign up by clicking the button below:


What did you think of this jazz guitar quick tip? Leave your comments below…


Greg O’Rourke

Founder, Fret Dojo

Innovation in Online Jazz Guitar Education

Jazz Guitar Warmup: (Almost) Slurred Scale Exercise

Jazz Guitar Warmup: (Almost) Slurred Scale Exercise

Jazz Guitar Warmup: (Almost) Slurred Scale Exercise

Get the PDF and Backing Track for this lesson HERE:

In this FretDojo episode we’re going to cover a very cool jazz guitar warmup which I call the ‘Almost Slurred Scale Exercise’ – a multilayered exercise to work out your speed, phrasing, position shifting, slurs and more – and also help get those creative juices flowing for your jazz guitar practice session. Enjoy!

► Become a FretDojo Patreon here: https:

► Start Your FretDojo Jazz Guitar Academy Membership here:


Before you go…

Join my 30 Day Jazz Guitar Challenge

Instant access:

•  A step-by-step guide on building core improvisation skills

• Fundamental comping techniques to be a hero on the bandstand

• Discover the biggest mistakes made by aspiring jazz guitarists…and how YOU can avoid them

• The ultimate fast path for establishing a foundation in jazz guitar

• Instant access – find out more and sign up by clicking the button below:


What did you think of this jazz guitar quick tip? Leave your comments below…


Greg O’Rourke

Founder, Fret Dojo

Innovation in Online Jazz Guitar Education

Building your GUITAR SPEED – Fast Tips

Building your GUITAR SPEED – Fast Tips

Building your GUITAR SPEED – Fast Tips

In this video, you’re going to learn the roadmap to building speed on guitar. When you want to build a fine motor skill like developing guitar speed you need to have a strategy and a consistent approach – and this video will show you how.

You’ll find out the answers to the following:

– The most important considerations for making rapid and consistent progress with speed development

– The big mistakes that players make when trying to build their guitar speed

– A fun and easy exercise that anyone can learn to rapidly develop your speed – using only two strings.

Serious about improving your speed? Get your free eBook: Click here to get your FREE Guitar Speed Building Secrets eBook.

Now the exciting bit:

If you're keen to have a structured, step-by-step approach to learning jazz guitar, it might be worth checking out my online learning system, the FretDojo Jazz Guitar Academy.

Here's what you get when you join up:

  • Detailed step-by-step video lessons on new classic jazz tunes and essential jazz guitar skills added to the club website each month. Includes listening recommendations, demonstrations of the melody, analysis of the harmony, and detailed explanations on how to solo over the tune.
  • Key improvisation concepts and techniques for soloing, and classic licks and example solos that relate to each tune, so you can continue to expand your jazz vocabulary and have more options when it comes to soloing.
  • Detailed comping ideas to suit the style of each jazz standard covered
  • Lessons on how to make chord melody and solo jazz guitar versions of tunes featured - play a complete jazz standard completely on your own like Joe Pass!
  • Members only forum - A worldwide community of jazz guitarists from all around the globe.
  • Regular workshops, masterclasses, and Q & A Sessions - get direct answers from me on anything holding you back in the practice room. Replays of all sessions are available to access for all members even if you can’t make it live.
  • Massive searchable database of jazz licks and soloing concepts - the ultimate idea "grab bag" for your solos.
  • Optional monthly challenges where members participate to get feedback on their playing, reach new milestones and be eligible for cool prizes.

Go here for more info:

What did you think of this jazz guitar quick tip? Leave your comments below…


Greg O’Rourke

Founder, Fret Dojo

World Leader in Online Jazz Guitar Education

8 Steps to Slaying The Speed Demon: Speed Picking Secrets for Jazz Guitar with Stuart King

8 Steps to Slaying The Speed Demon: Speed Picking Secrets for Jazz Guitar with Stuart King

8 Steps to Slaying The Speed Demon: Speed Picking Secrets for Jazz Guitar with Stuart King

As you can see in the lesson video below, I’m pretty excited today.

There’s a good reason for this:

I was lucky to pin down my good friend and virtuoso guitarist Stuart King to record a lesson on how jazz guitarists can build their speed picking.

Why did I pick this topic?

Because learning to play lines fast is a critical skill for any jazz guitarist.

Besides being a great all round musician and a top jazz guitarist (and a nice bloke to boot), Stuart is endowed with incredible chops.

He’s simply the fastest guitarist I’ve played with to date!

The lesson video (below), is a sensational how-to-guide on building speed – you’re going to enjoy this one.

It turns out Stuart is one of those ‘hidden guitar yogis’, who has quietly worked out an incredible shortcut to boosting your speed and accuracy on the guitar.

Since recording this video, I’ve been practicing Stuart’s approaches to speed picking daily.

After one week of following the step-by-step process in this lesson, I’ve noticed a significant boost in my maximum speed, and my speed picking accuracy has increased as well.

Without further ado, let’s get into it!


Video Lesson: Speed Picking Workshop With Stuart King

Don’t have time to read this post now? Get your Handy PDF Download:

Click this link to get a print friendly version of all the exercises in this post for your practice.


Why Do I Want To Learn To Play So Fast Anyway?

There’s no doubt about it:

Whether you are interested in shredding it up or not, any serious study of jazz guitar requires an ability to play fast tempos.


The majority of single line solos by the jazz guitar greats are stuffed full of double time runs that are often tricky to play.

So, if your chops aren’t up to the job, you’re missing out on being able to incorporate critically important jazz guitar vocabulary into your playing.

That’s not all:

If you can play quickly, you’ll be able to think more quickly when you improvise.

This means that you’ll have a greater ability to be more creative when you solo, regardless of the tempo, as your mind will be working faster.

Now that I’ve convinced you why you need to get your speed picking up to scratch, here’s what not to do…


The WRONG Approach

Like what Stuart mentioned in the video above, I myself have always had issues with building speed.

Here’s the typical approach when it comes to guitar speed exercises:

Take a passage and practice it over and over, bumping up the metronome 1 to 5 bpm at a time, gradually increasing the speed until you reach your desired tempo.


It doesn’t work.

Most of my colleagues and students I’ve talked to about this approach describe a threshold that, upon reaching it, is impossible to get past.

But there’s another way.

Initially, Stuart was unwilling to part with his hidden secrets about speed picking…

…but I got them out of him eventually.

Read on for his method in all its glory!

(Hint: Fast forward the above video to the time code (in green) to get to the spot in the lesson video that demonstrates the steps below.)


Step 1: Presenting The Sprinting Technique (4:04)

To get started, choose a lick that you want to practice building your speed picking with. Ideally, a longer line will be the most useful to study.

Try to stick with just one lick initially – you’ll see why later.

Here’s the one that Stuart was using in the video above:




As Stuart describes in the video, a ‘sprint’ is:

“…a short burst of fast notes, interspersed by slower notes either side.”

To start building your chops with the Sprinting Technique, take the first 5 notes out of this lick and isolate it:




Why 5 notes?

The reason:

You want the cell to start and end on a downbeat.

Practice this short cell of notes at a slow tempo a few times until you get the hang of it before moving to the next step.


Step 2: Choose Your ‘Target Tempo’ (5:55)

What you need to do now is choose a fast tempo that you’d ideally like to become comfortable at.

Stuart refers to this as your ‘target tempo’.

We aren’t talking about bumping your speed picking tempo up only 10 bpm.

You want a tempo where you could keep up with Pat Martino at least:

Stuart chose 150bpm as the target tempo in this video, because you won’t often find double time licks played much faster than that in jazz.

If you can play 16th notes at 150bpm, you should be pretty comfortable with most tunes and transcriptions.

Ok, let’s not mess around:

You’re going to learn to do speed picking at this tempo right now.

“Whaaaat?!? But I could never play that fast!”

Never fear my friend.

At the end of this lesson, you’ll be carving it up like there’s no tomorrow.

Let’s take these guitar speed exercises step-by-step.

As Stuart demonstrates in the lesson video above, first practice ‘sprinting’ at your target tempo with tremolo speed picking on just the first note of the 5 note cell, along with a metronome.

Here are a few exercises to show you what I mean:








Speed picking isn’t so much about building muscles as it is about being able to hear fast tempos.

The above exercises are pretty straightforward, but make sure that you’re nailing the notes on each downbeat precisely along with a metronome.

These are really ear training exercises to get you familiar with moving at a fast tempo.

Notice how on either side of the 16th note sprints in each exercise, you play simple quarter notes on each downbeat.

This helps you verify you actually did, in fact, nail the sprint with rhythmic accuracy.

It’s easy to think that you’ve played a sprint rhythmically in time, but…

…you can make subtle errors that will, when it comes to playing a longer sprint, start to skew you away from the metronome.

Playing quarter notes either side of the sprint helps you avoid this problem, forcing you to zero in on the beat.

Onwards to Step 3…


Step 3: Sprint on the First 5 Note Cell At Your Target Tempo (8:12)

Now that you’ve gotten used to the target tempo of 150bpm on a single note, the next step is to take the 5 note cell we isolated and use the Sprinting Technique on that.

Remember to pump out those quarter notes before and after each sprint. This will help you check if you’re getting the sprints rhythmically in time. Here’s an example:




If you aren’t sure you’re playing the sprints exactly in time with the metronome, record yourself using an audio recorder or smartphone and check how accurate your rhythm is.

An important point to mention here:

Don’t worry if you’re technique is a bit messy, i.e. missing strings or hitting wrong strings with your pick as you play the sprint.

Ignore all that for now, we’ll clean it up later.

Just focus on developing your rhythmic awareness of the target tempo, regardless of any technical flaws.


Step 4: Isolate The Next 5 Note Cell – Rinse And Repeat (8:35)

Now that you’ve used the Sprinting Technique on the first cell, isolate the next cell of the lick and repeat the process:




Here’s how you would practice a sprint with this cell:




Step 5: Start to Glue The Cells Together (9:08)

Now we have two ‘chunks’ out of the lick that you can play pretty quickly. I want you to now glue them together, to make a longer sprint:




This is where things can get tricky.

It can be a struggle to be able to play a longer sprint like this at a fast tempo like 150 bpm.

But if you can’t play them together – don’t slow down the metronome!

Instead, take a couple of notes temporarily off the end of the sprint and try again:




Once you can play this shorter version of the sprint, add the notes back on that you removed and it should start to work for you.

In this way, work through the lick, one 5 note cell at a time.

Then, gradually combine them until you have cobbled together the entire lick at the target tempo.

Here’s the thing:

You’re likely going to find that the lick still won’t sound that good and you are dropping notes, playing messy and generally struggling.

Don’t stress – the point of this exercise so far is not to have clean speed picking…yet.

We’ll sort that out later.

For now, you’re just trying to train your ears to hear that fast target tempo of 150 bpm.

Read on, because Stuart has a great trick here when you get to this point, and things start to get mind-bendingly interesting…


Step 6: Drop the Tempo to 80% Of Your Target Tempo (10:54)

At this point, notice how Stuart on the lesson video took the tempo down from 150bpm to 140bpm.

He was able to play the lick pretty cleanly at that slower tempo. In his own words, it was like he was:

“…only playing at 80% of my ability.”

Now here’s the thing:

What if you can make your target tempo (in this case 150bpm), 80% of your ability?

You can.

You just need to train your ears to hear a tempo much faster than 150bpm, which is what you’re going to do next.


Step 7: Ramp Up The Tempo Beyond Your Wildest Dreams (12:46)

“190 bpm? Are you mad??”

Trust me, it’s going to work.

Attempt to either play the full lick or some 5 note sprints at 190 bpm or at a similar, incredibly unrealistic, fast tempo.

Go to 150% of your ability at least.

As you can see in the video, Stuart failed miserably at 190bpm, but that’s not the point.

What you’re really doing here is tricking your mind into thinking that 150 bpm is actually a pretty reasonable tempo.

Spend some time with this. Put your ego aside and be prepared to bomb out at this insane speed. Ignore your lack of accuracy or not being able to play the whole lick.

Just keep focusing on those metronome clicks and see if you can generally approximate that stupidly fast tempo.

On to the final step…


Step 8: Now Go Back To Your Target Tempo (14:06)

Once you’ve suffered for a while at 190bpm, it’s time to chill out.

Wind the metronome back down to an easygoing 150bpm.


See how much more comfortable 150bpm feels then the crazy tempo we attempted in the last step.

You might surprise yourself at this point how easy it will feel to play at a tempo which was, just minutes before, a real struggle.

I couldn’t believe it when I tried Stuart’s approach this week, as prior to this 140bpm was pretty much my 100% tempo…on a good day.

To have 150bpm feel relatively comfortable was unbelievable.


Ok, So How The Heck Did That Work?

The point of these guitar speed exercises was not to develop finger dexterity, fast twitch muscles, picking techniques or anything like that.

They were simple exercises in training the mind to perceive an incredibly fast tempo (in this case 190bpm), even if you can’t play it cleanly yet.

By doing this, you are speeding up your mental awareness, which seems to be the crux of the whole speed development issue on guitar.

Interestingly, when you then go back to your ‘slower’ target tempo (e.g going back down from 190bpm to 150bpm), it feels much slower than it actually is.

You’ve tricked your mind into thinking that the target tempo is only 80% of your ability.

Rhythm awareness and rhythmic accuracy, not technical accuracy, is the key to unlocking the ability to play fast on the guitar. Regardless of your lack of accuracy with your speed picking, through following this approach you now have that ‘raw’ speed under your fingers to work with.

Be patient: the technical accuracy will come over time, as your fingers get used to playing at these faster tempos.


A Groundbreaking Approach

What I found most interesting about trying out Stuart’s approach is how quickly it worked to build speed.

This indicates to me that the ability to play fast isn’t really to do with building muscles in your fingers. If you’ve been playing guitar for a while, this should have already been developed long ago. Speed building is more of a mental training issue.

Here’s another fascinating outcome:

Through practicing this approach, it hasn’t just been the lick I’ve been using that has had a speed boost.

Everything else has felt much easier to play as a result of these guitar speed exercises.

It seems as though learning how to play just one lick fast gives you the ability to play other licks fast too.

Plus, I’ve found my picking accuracy has increased at slower tempos and my hands are more relaxed.

Stuart mentioned to me that he cottoned on to this approach by watching instructional videos by rock guitarists John Petrucci and Shawn Lane, but hasn’t seen it ever clarified into a clear practice method like what is presented in this post.

It appears that Stuart may have indeed slain the speed demon, a ferocious beast that has tormented guitarists for generations.

Further Resources

  • If you need a metronome, I use TempoPerfect, a free software metronome. Pretty basic but does the job.
  • On Stuart’s recommendation check out guitarist Troy Grady’s website at Although geared more towards rock players, Troy has excellent tips for improving your speed picking accuracy, regardless of what style of guitar you play. Troy has an excellent online course you might like to check out called Pickslanting Primer, which is a detailed guide to guitar picking technique that I highly recommend. Click this link for more info…
Enjoyed this post on speed picking? Get your Handy PDF Download: Click this link to get a print friendly version of all the exercises in this post for your practice.

Thank You!

A special thanks to Stuart King for taking the time out of his busy schedule to record this great video lesson for you.

Give this technique a try for a few weeks, and let us know what you think! Did you find this approach worked for you? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

If you enjoyed this speed picking lesson, please share it with your friends; it would mean the world to us.

May the force be with you,

Greg O’Rourke & Stuart King


About Stuart King:

Stuart KingStuart is a guitarist with over 20 years experience as a performer in many varied contexts, ranging from classical through to contemporary styles, musical theater, and jazz.

In 2005 Stuart graduated from the Canberra School of Music, Australian National University with a Bachelor of Music as a jazz performance major.

These days Stuart performs regularly around Canberra as a band leader, sideman, session guitarist and solo jazz and acoustic guitarist.

Stuart has performed with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra on various occasions and has performed with many notable Australian jazz musicians including Mike Price, Ben Hauptmann, Carl Dewhurst, Lucinda Peters, and Luke Sweeting.

Fingerstyle Tutorial: The 6 Essential Fingerpicking Exercises You Need To Know

Fingerstyle Tutorial: The 6 Essential Fingerpicking Exercises You Need To Know

Fingerstyle Tutorial: The 6 Essential Fingerpicking Exercises You Need To Know

In this fingerstyle tutorial you’ll learn the essential fingerpicking exercises you need to know in order to play most of the solos and arrangements from the great fingerstyle jazz guitarists, such as Lenny Breau, Joe Pass and Ted Greene.

Although this article is intended mainly for jazz players interested in fingerstyle guitar, the following fingerpicking patterns are well suited to developing fingerstyle techniques regardless of what style(s) you play.

If you are a beginner at fingerstyle guitar, I recommend that you start from the beginning of the fingerpicking exercises and work sequentially one at a time, focusing mainly on the ones that use open strings.

If you are more advanced, feel free to skim through the first few exercises but be sure to have a good look at the challenge studies throughout the lesson.

Don’t have time to read this post now? Handy PDF Download: Get access to a print friendly version of all the exercises and studies in this post for your practice.

I’m sure you’ve come across books that attempt to show you every inconceivable fingerstyle pattern and technique that’s possible.

However, most can be boiled down to just a handful of fingerpicking exercises, which will enable you to play nearly any fingerstyle jazz guitar transcription that’s out there. As you’ll see, there really isn’t that many patterns you need to know.

Regardless of what stage you are at in your fingerstyle guitar journey, keep in mind the points of correct right hand technique below, so you don’t fall into any bad habits.

First Things First – How to Play Fingerstyle Guitar

How to Pluck the Strings

In fingerstyle jazz guitar there is no set way in the method that guitarists use to pluck the strings. Feel free to experiment with fingerpicks, growing your fingernails, or using the flesh of the fingers only.

You could also try hybrid picking where you hold a pick with the thumb and forefinger and play fingerstyle with the other remaining fingers.

I use fingernails to pluck the strings, but they do break occasionally, so when they do I temporarily use an Alaska Pik fingerpick until the nail grows back.


PIMAC explained

In these exercises you’ll notice lettering like this:



These letters stand for the five picking hand fingers:

  • P = thumb
  • i – index
  • m = middle
  • a = ring finger
  • c = little finger (not used in these exercises)

Many of these exercises alternate the fingers between the index and middle fingers, or index and ring fingers.

In the above example, I’ve indicated to play the exercise with i and m fingers, then once you are comfortable with that try with p and i. The ‘sim’ means to continue the finger pattern for the exercise.

In fingerstyle jazz guitar (and most other fingerstyle genres), the thumb is usually reserved for the bass notes on the 6th, 5th and 4th strings.


The 6 Essential Fingerpicking Guitar Exercises

1. Basic Walking fingers

Walking finger exercises are a good start for a beginner of fingerstyle technique.

These exercises are pretty straightforward, however even if you are a more advanced player, check that you have good technique in your strokes as outlined below.

Watch & Play:

Different Stroke Types

There are two guitar fingerpicking stroke types that are important to learn for fingerstyle jazz guitar.

Take note of the correct finger picking action that the video above demonstrates. Many people develop poor fingerstyle technique by not being careful about their stroke motion when they’re first learning, and this can be tedious to correct down the track – so make sure you get this right from the start!

As outlined in the video above, the two different stroke types are:

  • Rest Stroke – pluck the string and then rest the finger on the string immediately adjacent to the string you plucked. Notice in the video how the fingers lean back a little when doing this type of stroke.
  • Free Stroke – pluck the string and don’t rest on any adjacent strings. Notice in the video how the fingers are more curved and positioned slightly forward of the string being plucked. The motion is similar to picking up a tennis ball, with the tips of the fingers moving into the palm of the hand. For free stroke, be particularly careful to avoid moving the fingers away from the palm of the hand – this will cause tension to build up in your hand and will inhibit your speed and fluency.


  • Stroke: Rest stroke until confident, then try free stroke
  • Finger combinations: i – m until confident, then try i – a

Walking fingers on open strings:



Walking fingers on simple C Major Scale:



Challenge: Walking Finger Study

Now that you are familiar with walking fingers, have a go at this short walking finger study. It sounds particularly nice if you try to hold on to the notes with your fretting hand as long as possible, so the notes ring on over each other (called a campanella effect).


Listen & Play:

Free Your Mind and Rest Awhile




2. String Crossing

  • Stroke type: Rest stroke until confident, then free stroke
  • Finger combinations: i – m until confident, then i – a

Walking fingers can get tricky when you move from string to string, as you might tend to repeat a finger upon crossing strings. Be careful in the following fingerpicking exercises to ensure the fingers keep walking no matter what – as opposed to hopping!


Watch & Play:


Basic string crossing on open strings:



String crossing across string sets:



Challenge: String Crossing Study

Now that you’ve got this finger picking technique secure, here’s a little study I wrote as a string crossing workout. The fretting hand has to do a few tricky chord grips in this one.

Like the last study, it sounds good if you try to keep the fingers held as long as possible on each chord, with the open strings ringing on creating that neat campanella effect.


Listen & Play:

The Way of the Guitar




3. The Thumb

  • Stroke type: Free stroke only
  • Finger combinations: p, p – i – p – m

In fingerstyle jazz guitar, the thumb is the bass player – playing single bass notes beneath chords or the odd bass line run.

Thumb strokes should be free stroke in a small circular motion, rotating mainly from the joint closest to the palm:

[misc-3: image of hand with jing arrow at thumb joint]

Note: Most players tend to use only free stroke for the thumb (the exception being flamenco players.)


Watch & Play:


Quarter notes on open strings:



Crossing open strings:



Alternating fingers and thumb:


4. Two Fingers Simultaneously

  • Stroke type: Free Stroke
  • Finger combinations: m+i, p+i

This is where these fingerpicking exercises can get tricky for a beginner!

As the video below details, when you are using your thumb on these exercises, be careful that it doesn’t collapse into the palm and instead remains on the outside of the palm, otherwise your index finger and thumb will get in the way of each other when fingerpicking.

Rest strokes won’t work here as the notes are always on adjacent strings, so just stick to free stroke for these fingerpicking exercises.


Watch & Play:


Two fingers fingerpicking exercise on open strings:



Two fingers moving through some string sets:



Challenge: Two Finger Study

As you can tell, I’ve been a fan of mixing open strings with picking patterns lately. This study should test out your fretting hand chops too!


Listen & Play:





5. Three Finger Fingerpicking Exercises

  • Stroke type: Free stroke only
  • Finger combinations: p+i+m, p – i – m

This is where things start to get a bit more interesting. There are some great patterns to learn when you start using the thumb in combination with two other fingers.

Check out the video below for how the exercises should look and sound.


Watch & Play:


Three fingers simultaneously:



Three fingers sequentially:



Challenge: 3 Finger Studies

When I was more into classical guitar I practiced a well known set of 120 right hand studies by Mauro Giuliani. I was so dedicated to practicing these I would try to practice all 120 – every day!

Although there were many useful patterns in the set, all of them were on a straight I – V7 – I progression. Boring!

I couldn’t bring myself to inflict this on you as well, so here are a couple of similar fingerpicking exercises but with some more interesting chord progressions. Enjoy!


Listen & Play:

Jazzy Giuliani 1




Jazzy Giuliani 2




6. Four Fingers

Stroke type: Free stroke only

Finger combinations: p+i+m+a, p – i – m – a, p – i+m+a

These are similar exercises to the previous section. All you have to do now is add on the ring finger (that’s what the ‘a’ letter is referring to in the examples below).


Watch & Play:


Four fingers simultaneously:



Four fingers sequentially:



Challenge: Four Finger Study

By using some simple fingerstyle patterns like these, stock standard chord voicings can sound a lot more interesting. Check out the study ‘Southern Land’ below for an example of this:


Listen & Play:

Southern Land




Further Resources

I’m sure there will be more posts on this site in the future on developing fingerstyle technique, however in the meantime check out these great posts on other sites for more fingerpicking exercises and ideas to develop your chops:


Enjoyed this post on fingerpicking? Handy PDF Download: Get access to a print friendly version of all the exercises and studies in this post for your practice.

I know a lot of the readers of my blog are interested in fingerstyle technique for jazz, and I’ve noticed there isn’t a lot of information out there online on the subject so I hope that this fingerstyle tutorial helps you get started and improve.

As you can see, by focusing on just the core fingerpicking patterns it really doesn’t need to take that long for you to develop a solid fingerstyle technique. Let me know if you liked this lesson about fingerpicking exercises by leaving a comment below…



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