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Roberto Capocchi, guitarist: Blog

Great Guitar Exercises You'll Never Do!

Posted on December 5, 2011 with 6 comments

Here I'll be discussing some excellent exercises that can really help your playing, but look, sound, or feel weird. Many of them are familiar, or make sense.  We hear about them, and nod approvingly - and go on doing something else.  Others just don't seem like they would be helpful, no matter we hear about them from amazing players.

I'm posting each one as a comment.

Take the tittle as a dare, and try out these suckers.

Roberto Capocchi

February 13, 2012


Good posture means you are ready to move, unencumbered by excessive contraction, unnatural positions, and insufficient muscle tone. You need to be prepared to move, but anticipation the movement in and worrying about it causes tension. Repeatedly playing like this makes that tension become part of your playing mechanism, and that creates problems.

When we encounter difficulties, we reflexively brace for them by tensing up, because our body reacts a if we need more strength for the task. Since we often repeatedly practice challenging things, being them exercises, pieces, or problematic passages, we might find we actually incorporate that extra effort into out playing, even into our “ready position” before playing. Of course, that extra effort does not help, and in fact can be the cause of the problem or difficulty we are practicing hard to overcome!

So relax. Sit up, ready to move, but imagine you are about to play something very easy, and make it look and feel as easy as you can. Strum the open strings and notice if your body moves into that “extra effort” attitude out of reflex. Relax, and repeat, until that reflex is gone. Then add the left hand, and the problem will come back. Start with something very easy, say alternating C and G chords, and keep your shoulders, neck, arms, back, legs, all in that “relaxed yet poised for action” state. Once you can do that, you'll notice that this easy passage is actually feeling easy. Of course, if you are a beginner, or if those chords do not seem easy, so try something even easier.

Comparing the C-G chords to the trickiest music you play, on a scale from 1 to 10, C-G will be 1, and your music will be a 10. Imagine what a 2 would be. Maybe a simple short scale? Level 3 could be an arpeggio pattern over the C-G chords. Gradually bridge that gap, until you are only facing the difficulty of the music, not the added weight on your shoulders. You might find that the passage is physically easy once you know it, but was complicated or difficult to read at first, and that difficulty has become a habit you can let go. Or you might find ways to facilitate the passage, such as open string shifts and guide fingers. When you drill them, make sure not to hold on to the tension the old way of playing the passage was creating.

Now go seegee some music!

Roberto Capocchi

January 5, 2012

The Blip

This is easy enough to explain. You just play without pressing down on the fretted notes. You just touch the strings lightly on the targets. Try it first on simple scales, then move on to your repertory. It accomplishes a few things:
1)It challenges your memorization.
2)It shows when you are tightening opposing muscles in antecipation of a movement you might have been worried about in the past.
3)Since you can't nail a finger down to reach with the others, it focuses your control over the abducting muscles in the left and when you have stretches and complicated chord shapes. When you go back to playing normaly, you can use the nail and stretch technique again, but it will be more relaxed and refined.
4)It helps “re-calibrate” the ammount of presure and effort you really need to hold the strings down – we often overdo it.
5)It brings awareness to the lef arm support and mobility from the shoulder.
6)It allows you to run through repertoire and new fingerings many times without over-tireing the small muscles in the hand.
7)It helps left/right hands coordination by allowing the left fingertips to clearly feel when the right had plucks.
8)After doing this for a hile, you will notice the inactive fingers will stay closer to the fretboard.

Pay attention to slurs: on the hammers, make sure the lower finger stays relaxed on the strings, and don't worry if the hammering finger brings the string down to the fret – just make sure to relax it immediately. On the pull-offs, also make sure the lower finger stays relaxed touching the string and limit the action of the pulling finger so it does not dislodge the string from the other fingertip.

Chris Burton Jacome

December 6, 2011

Great stuff, Roberto! The guitar world is lucky to have you in it! Thanks for these great practice session exercises!


Roberto Capocchi

December 5, 2011


This is more of a process than an exercise per se – you can, and should, apply it to many exercises and passages from your repertory. This might be my very favorite approach.
To the observer, it looks like you are repeating something easy, slowly, many times. It looks like an exercise in patience and concentration. It looks boring, and it looks like it take a lot of effort to maintain your attention. I never have student ask me: “Hey, can you show me how you do that?” Instead, I get asked “dude, are you OK?

From the inside, though, I only experience 3 or 4 repetitions, and move on to something new! Here's why: our experience is defined by our sensations, and our sensations can be directed by our attention. By moving your attention around, you actually experience something different, even if you are DOING the same action.

Here's the process:
Chose what you are studying. For example, a slur exercise, arpeggio, or a short section of a piece.
Repeat it slowly a few times for each of the following steps:

Starting at the neck, thinking of it as a joint, observe what it's doing. Is it being pulled, tensing up, staying rigid, floating comfortably?

Keep repeating what you're playing, slowly and easily, so you can move on and focus on the muscles between the neck and the shoulder. Are they relaxed? Do they actively participate in the movements you need? Do they stabilized the movements you need?

Move on to the next joints, the shoulders. Keep playing the excerpt, slow and easy. Are the arms moving from the shoulders if they needs to? Are the shoulders themselves moving up, or hovering tensely?

Move on to the muscles between the shoulders and the elbows. Are they relaxed? Do they actively participate in the movements you need? Do they stabilized the movements you need? Do they release any effort after each note is played? Do the opposing muscles maintain equilibrium with the least effort, or is there an arms race going on?

Next, focus on the elbows. Do they stay in the same place, or do they have to move to help the movements you need? If so, do they move freely? Are they flexed close to the middle of their range of motion? Do they maintain that position, or do they have to flex or extend to help the movements you need? If so, do they move freely?

Do the same for the muscles in the arms, then the wrists, then the muscles in the palm of the hand, specially at the base of the thumbs.

Once you get to the fingers themselves, you might be surprised at how well the excerpt is working, and you might be humbled by how little control you actually have over the fingers – despite the fact that we obsess about controlling them.

This exercise allows you to focus on the experience of more central parts of your body, allowing the fingers to work better.

Some people go down both arms simultaneously, others focus on one side at a time. What works best for you?

Roberto Capocchi

December 5, 2011


This works for either hand. The idea is simple: from a basic hand position, individually lift each finger, then let it fall back on the string, without tensing up the other fingers, or altering their position. Aim for a consistant contact spot – a sweet spot that is defined in part by the needs of the other fingers.

Right hand: Lift very little, and move from the metacarpal-phalangial joint, or the wrist joint in the case of the thumb. Do it with PIMA on strings 4321 and with it's variations: 6321, 5321, 5432, 6432, 6543. It's basically the same exercise – bt the strings FEEL different. Also try it with PIMA all on the same string, and in a tremolo position with the IMA on a string and P on a lower one. Don't push on the strings with the fingers you're not lifting!

Left hand: Don't lift too much, and move from the metacarpal-phalangial joint. Try with fingers 1234 on one string, one on each fret, in different strings and up and down the neck – remember, althought they might seem like repetitions on the same exercise, they all FEEL different. Also try it with the fingers in different configurations – chords, stretches, etc.The combinations are so numerous, you might want to stick with the basic ones, then go through sectins of your repertoire for variations.

In either case, you might want to start out by allowing all the fingers to follow the one you're focusing on (as described in the “Finger Flaps” exercise in “The Princiles” book) so you don't fake independence by means of tensing up the fingers... Then try doing this leaving all te fingers in place. The idea is to allow the fingers to return passively to theiy sweet spots. Paying attention to sensations throughout your whole body will speed up making those contact spots automatic.

Roberto Capocchi

December 5, 2011


Jamie Andreas has two exercises in “The Principles of Correct Practice for Guitar” called the “Chair” and the “Pillow”, where you sit in playing position, relax, breathe, and focus your body awareness. Gerald Klicstein also discusses this in “The Musician's Way. There are links to both books in the “recommended material” section of this site. Check them out.

I've heard similar ideas from Oscar Ghiglia, Everton Gloeden, David Leisner, David Russell, Odair Assad, Rene Izquierdo, and often, by myself, when I'm talking to a beginner. What I'd like to point out is that all those great players don't talk about this as somethinga beginner, or YOU should do – they often describe it as an integral part of their practice. I'm pointing this out to myself as well. So join me in taking 5 minutes early in your practice to do it.
Here's my take:
1)Start with a tuned up guitar, a good chair, and the footrest, cushing, strap, guitar support, etc – whatever you use on stage.
2)Sit in front of a large mirror.
3)Revivew out loud the important points about a good playing posture. Talk to your teacher about this - you might need a review.
4)Set up and point out, OUT LOUD, how your position exemplifies each one of the concepts you consider important.
5)Refine each one of those points, unless you can say out loud: “I AM THE BEST GUITAR HOLDER IN THE UNIVERSE!” You can probably relax a shoulder or two, align your hips better, loosen your neck, relax you legs, or something.
6)Close your eyes, imagine your posture, then open them and get the mirror's reality check – we are great a tuning out tension. If your shoulder fells OK but is lifted close to your ear, let it go, and recalibrate your perception of tension.
7)Breathe and rotate your attention through your whole body. Ask yourself: how familiar does this feel?
8)Play something and catch as you adjust into your REAL playing posture. Stop, an make a choice – is your usual playing posture better, or the posture you found through the exercise? Of course, you might adjust your position to addapt to something special about what you're playing – for example, you would move a little to start a piece high up the fretboard, over the guitar body.
9)If you have this down, you should find no difference between what you say and do, the posture you end up with should feel completely familiar, and you should not have any tiny adjustments just before you start playing something.
10)Play though a piece, scale, or little exercise and allow your body to move around your initial posture. Ths should not be a frozen position, but something in you can easily move from, and move back to, as needed. While you do so, keep breathing easily.

Doesn't this seem like a waste of time? Don't you want to skip this and go straight to your “real” practice? It usually does, but it's not. Take 5 minutes a day, for a couple of weeks, and do this consistently – about an hour's worth of practice time, and you'll be pleasantly surprised.