How One Simple, 4-Note Exercise Routine Can Drastically Improve Your Technique: Part 1

You want to get better at guitar – play your favorite solos effortlessly and impress the crowd with amazing speed and dexterity.

But there’s something holding you back. You hate sitting down with a metronome and busting through finger exercises. You feel like you should practice finger exercises more than you are, but unfortunately, your technique suffers because you don’t.

If you’re like most guitarists, you’re more stoked to play the songs you want to play — not spend hours per week laboring drills with a metronome. It’s called guitar playing for a reason, right?

But just like any other skill, you know that if you want to improve as a player, some time and attention is needed to improve technique.

The battle in the pursuit of becoming a better guitar player often becomes a struggle to find a balance between doing your homework, and playing for enjoyment.

This was a big problem I had as a young guitarist.

I can recall several times when I felt like I was plateauing. I wanted to get better and take my playing to the next level.

[Queue “Rocky” Theme Music]

“OK, it’s time to buckle down. At LEAST 30 minutes a day working on my technique. No excuses this time!” I’d tell myself, high on motivation.

Motivated…for now


I’d scrape the Internet and find 5-10 complicated finger exercises covering all the techniques I wanted to master. I’d queue up the metronome. “Jeff Loomis, watch out because I’m gonna smoke your ass!” I would think as I feebly sweep picked my way into a frenzy.

But then I’d stall. Something would come up. Life would get in the way. I was losing steam.

After my initial burst of motivation, my newly implemented practice routine died, and after a week I reverted back to my old habits, no longer feeding off the motivation I did a week earlier.

This happens to a lot of people. You can think of it in terms of New Years Resolutions and losing weight. People generally feel doughy after the holidays. They are bombarded with the sentiment – “Exercise so you can look good, be healthy and not hate yourself!” Folks sign up for a gym membership…go for a week or two, get sore, hate salads, and eventually everyone who rode the motivation wave of getting in shape stops going halfway through January.

This is because motivation is a depleting resource and you can’t rely on it to sustain you through some of the more nitty-gritty aspects of playing guitar.

Over time, I learned that simplicity and consistency are often key to seeing long-term improvements on guitar.

It’s much easier to improve your technique if you focus on simple, quick exercises and do them on a consistent basis rather than trying to bite off more than you can chew, take on too much, and get discouraged when you’re no longer motivated and aren’t having any fun playing.

That’s why I wanted to develop something for you that removes all barriers in your way to improving your technique. It’s not flashy or sexy, but it’s simple, efficient, and once you learn it, you can quickly run through it and get it out of the way and move onto the more fun aspects of guitar playing.

Zach’s Simple 4-Note Guitar Exercise Routine

This routine is born out of a simple concept – one exercise applied to multiple techniques.

With this routine, all you need to do is remember one exercise and four notes. You’ll then apply it to as many techniques as you’re able to/want to work on. The techniques covered are suggestions of what you could practice, but you can really apply whatever technique you want to the technique if you follow the parameters explained below.

The benefit of this framework is that you don’t have to learn a new exercise for each technique and keep track of several exercises. You can easily run through it at the start of a practice session, or quickly go through a few exercises while you’re waiting for your significant other to get ready before you go out.

The routine’s simplicity encourages consistency. And that’s where you’ll see your improvement.

How To Play This Routine

The Notes

A, B, C, & D. That’s it. You’ll play these four notes on different parts of the guitar neck for different techniques, but the notes remain the same for each exercise.

The Central Exercise

The central exercise consists of 4 measures, each with an increasing rhythmic subdivision (basically, more notes in each measure). Here’s the breakdown:

  • Measure 1 = 8th Notes
  • Measure 2 = 8th-note Triplets
  • Measure 3 = 16th Notes
  • Measure 4 = 16th-note Triplets

Listen below to hear exercise’s rhythm played on a snare drum to get a sense of how the rhythmic subdivisions will sound. Internalize this rhythmic progression and you’ve already done half the work for this routine.

I’ll show you the first five exercises below and briefly explain each technique.

Now all you need is your guitar, a metronome and a pick. Let’s do it.

Ex. 1 – Alternate Picking

Ex. 1 - Alternate Picking TAB

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This is the cornerstone exercise that is the basis for the other exercises to follow. The inspiration for this exercise has been around the guitar community for a while…I’ve seen variations of it in publications like Guitar World, as well as from mega-shredders like Paul Gilbert.

Start at a relatively slow tempo so you can start to assess where you are in terms of playing cleanly and what a manageable tempo is for you (these video examples are at 60bpm).

For this exercise, you want to use alternate picking exclusively (down, up, down, up…etc.)

Strive for an even volume for each note and make sure you’re in time with the metronome. If at any point you find yourself struggling with any of the measures – particularly, 16th notes and 16th-note triplets – push the tempo back a bit until you can play every measure cleanly and in time.

Ex. 2 – Legato

Ex. 2 TAB

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Going an octave down, here we have the same lick played on the sixth string, using the same notes – A B, C and D – on the 5th, 7th, 8th, and 10th frets, respectively.

Start by picking the A on the 5th fret, sixth string with your first finger and slide up to the B on the 7th fret. Then hammer on C and D with your second and fourth fingers, and finally pull off the D, C, and B notes and slide back down to the A with your first finger.

This can be a challenging exercise especially if you play it on a clean setting but it’s a great exercise for strengthening your fingers.

The hardest thing about this exercise is not only keeping in time, but keeping the volume of each note consistent (i.e. watch out that your two stronger fingers don’t produce a higher volume than your pinky).

Ex. 3 – Down Picking w/ Palm Muting

Ex. 3 TAB

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This exercise is particularly beneficial for metal guitarists because metal riffs are often aggressively picked with palm muted downstrokes mixed with unmuted notes for a dynamic contrast.

Here, we move the note sequence to the 5th position on the E string. Use downstrokes exclusively and palm mute all the notes on the E string. Moving up to the D note on the A string, pick that without a palm mute.

You might find the exercise relatively easy for the first three measures, but realize that the 16th-note triplets are difficult to execute in time and with consistency. Keep practicing and over time you can achieve a James Hetfield-like down picking ability.

Ex. 4 – Tapping

Ex. 4 TAB

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Tapping. A technique that has so much potential for abuse. I’ve seen many guitarists learn the nuts and bolts of the technique, but then tap away feverishly, which sounds sloppy. Timing is important for tapping seamlessly, something this exercise encourages.

For those unfamiliar with tapping – it’s a fairly straightforward technique that builds off of legato techniques like hammer-ons and pull-offs. The “tap” involves a finger from the picking hand (usually the middle finger), hammering on a note on the fretboard, which extends the note range of a pattern. This can create fast legato-sounding licks. Players like Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads popularized this technique, which is commonly found in metal guitar solos.

Here’ we relocate our note sequence to the high E string. Play the A, B, and C on the 5th, 7th, and 8th frets respectively, and then using your middle finger of your picking hand, tap the 10th fret and pull down toward the floor to release it.

Resist the temptation to speed this up prematurely. If you practice this consistently, your tapping will be much better off for when you want to try more complicated patterns.

Ex. 5 – Bending

Ex. 5 TAB

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This exercise encourages bending to pitch quickly.

Here, we’re playing the same lick, now on the second string. This time, you’re going to bend up the C note on the 13th fret up a full step, sounding the D note.

If bending isn’t one of your strengths, you might want to practice fretting the 15th fret to hear that D pitch you are aiming for. Then, bend up the 13th fret to that target pitch until you match it.

Using this exercise can help your muscle memory better remember how to bend up to a target pitch very quickly.

Pretty Simple, Right?

By taking a few minutes to learn these exercises, you’ve equipped yourself with quick-and-simple exercises you can easily recall from memory and practice whenever you want. This can be particularly useful if you have very little time in your day to pick up the guitar but want to make sure your fingers stay in shape.

These exercises, if done consistently, will improve your technique and help keep you in shape. Even if you’re a player who doesn’t have a goal of achieving flawless technique, this routine encourages you to dedicate a little attention to technique so you can quickly get it out of the way and move onto the more fun aspects of guitar playing.

Stay Tuned for Part 2!

Part 2 of this routine will contain 5 more exercises that are a little more challenging, so get started with these 5 exercises and stay tuned for the second installment of this routine.

Special Bonus for Joining My Email List!

As a bonus for this lesson, if you join my email list today using the form below, I’ll send you some extra goodies to make learning and practicing this routine even easier. This includes:

  • A full PDF collection of all of this lesson’s exercises
  • Guitar Pro files you can download
  • A 10-minute backing track
  • A progress tracking sheet where you can record how often and how fast you practice this routine

By joining my email list, you’ll also get new lessons, tips, tricks, and guitar hacks sent directly to your inbox, as well as other exclusive material you won’t be able to find anywhere else.

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