Shredding legends like Jimi Hendrix, Eddie van Halen and Yngwie Melmsteen have set the music world on fire with their ability to play fast and clean guitar solos, seemingly without any effort whatsoever.
Some of the earlier ground-breaking pieces include Yngwie with his Fender Stratocaster coolly shredding his way through "Hot on your heels", Alex Lifeson performing his spectacular solo in "Spirit of radio" and Phil Collen in Def Leppard’s 1983 hit, "Photograph".
First and foremost, let me say this. You are not going to learn to shred guitar in a week or two, and none of these icons did either. We are talking about several years filled with tons of dedication and practice. But so it is with all worthwhile things.
If you aspire to shred on the guitar, you have to start with the fundamentals, and that includes copious amounts of exercises. All fingers need to be strong, but most players will find that the ring and pinky finger especially need to be strengthened. You will also have to learn dexterity and build up your stamina with continuous practice. This will, in turn improve your speed of play.
Before (and even after) every exercise, remember to give your arms, wrists and hands a good stretch to warm them up and help avoid injuries.
The following exercises will benefit you in a variety of ways, and they will become the first row of building blocks toward the skyscraper that is shredding.
1. Eighth Note Down-Strokes Exercise
This exercise will help to increase your stamina, develop your picking arm as well as build muscle memory for your picking hand.
To start, make use of a metronome and set a speed you are comfortable with. It really doesn't matter what the speed is or whether you feel it is too slow, you will inevitably become faster as you become better.
Now, play a sequence of eighth-note down-strokes in any open string for three full minutes. Open string means that only the string is being plucked and no fretting is done.
The main goal of this exercise is to be able to maintain for the entire length of time. You want to be able to complete the three minutes with an element of exertion – not to feel that it was too easy. If you feel that way, you need to move the speed up.
2. Eighth Note Alternate Picking Exercise
Alternate picking is when you start on an up-stroke and then play a down-stroke note (or the other way around, starting with a down-stroke and then doing the up-stroke).
Set your metronome to the same speed as with the first exercise.
Then, play a sequence of eighth-notes in any open string using alternate picking for three full minutes.
The goal for this exercise is the same as above, with the added objective of having your down-strokes and your alternative picking eventually sounding as alike as possible.
For both of the above exercises, only move the metronome speed higher once you can comfortably maintain that speed for three full minutes. This may take months, not days, but it's all part of laying the foundation.
3. Strengthening Your Fretting Hand Exercise
There is no need for a metronome in this exercise; just a stop-watch or timer that counts off 15 seconds for you.
This exercise is played legato (long connected notes). A quick definition for legato is playing your notes in such a way that each follows the other smoothly.
Start on the 5th fret of the 3rd string (with your first or index finger) and perform a series of hammer-ons and pull-offs with your second or middle finger one fret up (6th fret) - for 15 seconds straight. The challenge is to do these as hard and as fast as you can for this time period.
Keep repeating this for 15 seconds at a time and you will soon start feeling the results in your fretting arm, wrist and hand.
Keep playing (legato, remember), and next, move on to your third or ring finger – at the 7th fret – and do the same for 15 seconds. Do this for repeated 15 second periods, and when you are ready to move to the next finger, go to your fourth or pinky finger at the 8th fret. Your first or index finger remains on the third string of the fifth fret during the entire exercise as you move from one fret to the other - smoothly and without a break.
As you start to feel comfortable, you can increase the time with 5-second intervals. Now rotate through your middle, ring and pinky fingers as the ones to be held down while the hammer-ons and pulls offs are played with the other fingers.
Remember that, even when switching to different fingers, it should be a continuous play with no stopping in between.
4. Strengthening and Building Technique
This exercise will support you in further building your finger and hand strength, as well as adopting the correct techniques on the road to turning your hands into shredding tools. It is also very often used by guitarists as a basic warm-up exercise.
To start, place your first or index finger on the first fret / first string, and pluck the string. Next, place your second or middle finger on the second fret, same string and pluck it. Then your third or ring finger on the third fret and pluck it, and lastly, your fourth or pinky finger on the fourth fret and pluck it.
Next, move your first finger to next string (same fret) and pluck it. Each of your fingers follow, with the string being plucked after each move. Work your way to the 6th string and then back to the first.
The sequence of this exercise would be 1, 2, 3, 4 which indicates the order of the frets being played.
Remember to keep each finger in its own fret and not have any fingers squeezed together in any one fret.
So when you are, for example, playing your second finger on the second fret, all your other fingers remain hovered over their respective frets during that time.
Take your time during this exercise as it is aimed at increasing strength, not speed.
Once you are comfortable, you can change the sequences and start the exercise, for example, with your fourth fret instead of your first and do a 4, 3, 2, 1 sequence.
This version of the exercise will help you to work your way toward faster and faster play, and eventually towards shredding.
The above exercise focuses on strength and accuracy, now let's look at an exercise that focuses on speed.
5. Speed Exercise
So as above, you would start on the first string with your first finger, then second and so on. Then move all the way to the sixth string and back to the first.
The difference now is that you do this as fast as you can.
In the beginning, it might be a touch of chaos, but keep at it and stick with it. And then, do it some more.
As with exercise four, you can also change the sequence and do 4, 3, 2 and 1.
Shredding For Glory
Always keep in mind that any time you try to learn something on your own, you are going to have a tough time to stay focused, and learning how to shred guitar is no different. The above exercises have been created to keep you motivated as you zone into some focused training.
As you continue with all the exercises and you start to feel your stamina and speed increase, start to combine the concepts with different kinds of licks (scales, tapping, rhythm ideas, etc.), and soon you can start to create your own guitar licks as you shred your way to glory!
About the Author: Joseph Evans
My name is Joseph Evans and I am a guitar playing, freelance writing, online teaching music lover based in Seattle, WA. Growing up in a musical family naturally lead to obtaining my Bachelor of Music (BM) in Composition & Music Theory degree, after which I taught and traveled my way across Europe for 7 years before returning back home to settle in beautiful Seattle. On a typical day, you would find me playing my guitar, pottering around in the vegetable garden, going on long hikes, reading and/or writing.