Book Review: Guitar Aerobics by Troy Nelson

Let's get physical!

How many times must we blow a solo during a set or struggle with a chord voicing before we realize that without a little bit of work, we're never going to get better as guitarists? But how do you get better?

Learn a new song? Memorize a new riff? Revert back to scale study?

I have found that without some practice, especially if you're a weekend warrior like myself, your skills will NOT remain. Just like Lita Ford mentioned in her interview with me: "It's not like riding a bike." Truly it's not. I stopped playing for years. Two of those years spent longing for my Les Paul were due to wrist problems. The other few after that were due to work, family, and other life commitments. I'm not blaming anyone but myself for my hiatus, but life got in the way. When I emerged from the ashes of my musical rebirth, I realized I needed to get my chops back. I wasn't a teenager sitting in my room for hours on end, uninterrupted, with no responsibilities anymore. I would have to "make time" to practice, just like we all do. But once you've put aside an hour to play, you don't want to noodle around aimlessly.

What does one do? (By the way, I apologize if you've still got visions of Olivia Newton-John in your head right now.)

Being the nerd I am, I looked into getting my chops back by implementing some kind of regimented practice regime that would include songs I knew how to play, songs I wanted to learn, some scales....but what else? I needed exercises. The type that they make you do in music class, to build muscle memory, strength, and perhaps teach you some phrasing or other techniques you need brushing up on.

I went to my local music store and looked around. Lots of scale books, lots of method books, TAB books for specific bands and albums....but I needed a boot camp. After 15 minutes of browsing, loe and behold I found it: Guitar Aerobics: A 52-Week, One-lick-per-day Workout Program for Developing, Improving, and Maintaining Guitar Technique, written by Troy Nelson. BINGO! I had found what I was looking for! (Note: They also have a version for bass players!)

The idea is that you sit down and play one exercise/lick per day, every day for an entire year. I breezed through the book in the store, reading the studies and the introductory regimen that the author explains. This really was going to be a workout! The book comes with 2 CD's so that you can play along with the backing tracks and/or metronome provided. As a part of this workout, the author invites you to follow the regimen below for each lick/exercise.

Set 1: 40 bpm x 10 reps
Set 2: 48 bpm x 10 reps
Set 3: 58 bpm x 10 reps
Set 4: 72 bpm x 10 reps
Set 5: 84 bpm x 10 reps
Set 6: 96 bpm x 10 reps
Set 7: 108 bpm x 10 reps
Set 8: 120 bpm x 10 reps

Basically, you play each lick 80 times, increasing your speed (and therefore the difficulty) and dexterity with each set.

I've been using this book for several weeks now. I have to say that the stretches that seem easy during the first 3 sets start to get a little more difficult in the 7th and 8th sets. Also, as you approach the end of the week, the exercises get a little more difficult. Think you can play faster than 120 bpm? No problem, just set your metronome higher. Each week builds on the week before and some of the licks are in the same key or scale sets.

If you need to add some "workout" type elements to your practice schedule, this book is a great way to start. I'm tremendously happy with it and recommend it for anyone: beginners, intermediate players, and shredders who can play circles around me. The ability to play the licks at whatever speed you want allows this book to be versatile enough for beginning players as well as advanced ones.

They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. If you spend half hour a day with this book, plus another half an hour working on some new songs, you'll have 365 hours under your belt at the end of the year. That's not including gigs, rehearsals, extra practice time that you're going to be squeezing in, or all those hours you spent in your bedroom as a teenager while everyone else was down at the local malt shop having fun. (I'm not old enough to remember malt shops by the way, but saying the donut shop just didn't seem to have the same nostalgic ring to it!)

What are you doing still reading this? There are licks to learn my friend! Grab Troy Nelson's book and become a better guitarist. You can purchase the book (as well as other Hal Leonard publications that we'll be reviewing here) online via Music Dispatch.