This classic finger exercise will boost your strength, coordination, and flexibility. Do this every time you pick up the guitar to practice and your guitar skills will skyrocket!
Wondering what else you should do when you practice? A good practice routine looks like this:
1. Warm Up – Play an easy and fun song that you know well
2. Exercise – The Caterpillar
3. Learn New Material – This might be a new piece of music, or learning a new skill like playing a scale
4. Study Music Theory (optional)
5. Review Old Material – Keep those old songs alive so you don’t forget them
Over the years of teaching this exercise to my private students, I’ve found that in its original form, the Caterpillar is too hard for many beginners. So I’ve developed four levels of difficulty that I teach in this video that will make the exercise accessible to anyone.
If you enjoyed this lesson, there’s tons more where this came from in the Members Section. Join the Heartwood Guitar family today! Members get access to…
Strum & Sing in 60 Days – My innovative course
Premium Song Lessons – In-depth tutorials for classic popular songs
Strum Pattern Videos – Pop-up videos that enhance the free 750 chord charts on my site
Guided Practice Videos – Learn good practice habits. Like having a private lesson with me.
Here’s a lush, jangly song with a simple 3-chord progression–that’s right, just three chords for the whole song–but some challenging rhythms, and a mysterious blend of acoustic guitars in the studio recording that were a bear to untangle.
The version I teach is what Petty played live: Capo 1, using key of E chord shapes. They sound rich, with nice low bass notes–perfect if you’re playing solo.
But I also show you how to play the song Capo 3–perfect for a friend you want to jam with. Together, these parts sound AMAZING.
I’ve come up with a new way of practicing that I’ll think you’ll love.
They’re 15-minute videos that start with me briefly teaching a principle of effective practice, like slowing down to avoid mistakes or relaxing your body. Then I start a 10-minute countdown timer, and while you practice a piece of music of your choosing–it can really be anything as long as it’s challenging–I occasionally give you gentle reminders to apply the principle we’re working on.
I got this idea doing daily meditations using the headspace app. Even though I usually struggle to create new habits (well, good ones anyway), I found it super easy to do these daily 10-minute meditations. I loved how they taught just a simple principle, and then reinforced it over several days or more until I really internalized it. And I really got the sense that the teacher was there with me, coaching me, encouraging me, even though it was just a recording.
Of course, as a teacher who’s constantly looking for new ways to help my Heartwood Guitar members, I thought, “I wonder if I could take the things I love about these meditations and apply them to guitar practice videos?
Sometimes I forget how important music is during times of stress.
This past weekend, I was feeling beat. Being in the U.S.’s epicenter of the virus outbreak has been exhausting. The days spent scrambling to switch my private students to online lessons, reading the increasingly dismal news, and worrying about my friends and family had taken their toll.
Even my boys’ excitement about making Leprechaun traps in anticipation for St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t lifting my spirits.
But on Sunday afternoon, we built a fire in the backyard and my wife suggested I pull out the guitar. “Let’s hear some quarantunes!”
As we ran through our family’s favorite singalong songs, my spirits lifted. And then someone suggested “Wagon Wheel,” and one of my 5-year-olds ran inside to grab his toy pan flute.
“I’m gonna count to four,” I told him, “and then I want you to play a big solo, OK?” We hadn’t really ever done this before, so I had no idea what to expect.
I counted us in, and man, he ripped into the most wild, weird, mind-blowingly wonderful flute (?!) solo. I was so delighted and amazed I could barely sing from the laughter.
Ever since, the world has felt a little more manageable.
Don’t forget how much we all need music right now.
This past week I shot my next premium song lesson, Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” It was a real coming-full-circle experience for me, having learned it when I was 14, and played it countless times with friends and strangers and girls-I-liked-who-just-wanted-to-be-friends over the years, and now teaching it to members of Heartwood Guitar.
It got me thinking about why this song continues to be so popular–with young and old alike. And why some songs work so well on solo guitar and other just don’t. And why learning to play songs solo is SO IMPORTANT.
Some Songs Just Don’t Work
Stairway to Heaven, for example, is notoriously hard to play solo. No one plays Stairway unless they’re on stage with a band, or showing off at Guitar Center. Even if you know how to play every guitar part, pulling off Robert Plant’s banshee wailing is beyond almost all of us, men and women included.
AND that’s a lot of words to remember.
AND those chord shapes are a real test of endurance on an acoustic guitar.
AND you’ll have to skip the guitar solo if you’ve got no one to play rhythm.
And that’s a crying shame.
The Perfect Solo Song
“Wish You Were Here,” on the other hand, is one of those songs made for solo performance.
It’s easy to sing–both for most men in the original key, or for most women by simply slapping on a capo.
It’s played using easy open chords.
And here’s the kicker: The instrumental part–that classic riff that starts the song–is one of those rare gifts from the guitar gods that can be played by mere mortals on solo guitar.
Performing “Wish You Were Here” with my student Wesley at Seattle’s Royal Room in 2018
Why the World Needs You to Have a Repertoire of Solo Songs
Whenever I teach someone a song–in person or online–I always try to anticipate how they’ll play when I’m not around. If they play in a rock band, I’ll teach them guitar parts that will sound good with the band backing them up.
But most of us don’t play in bands, and unfortunately, we live in communities where remote controls and game controllers have replaced musical instruments. Most people in the United States don’t even SING anymore.
We as a species are increasingly cut off from one of our main sources of community-building and spiritual sustenance.
You, my friend, are part of the solution–but you need to be able to hold your own. When you play music, you can’t count on other people joining in. So if you want to take your music out of your bedroom and share it with friends and family–because it’s fun, and because our culture is in dire need of it–you need a repertoire of popular songs that you can play start to finish.
Even if everyone else is just mumbling the chorus.
I’ve just completed an overhaul of Heartwood Guitar’s backend (the stuff under the hood you don’t see), which has enabled me to update the site quickly and easily. To celebrate, I’ve added a bunch of new chord charts.
Charts with an S have strum pattern videos. Become a member to get instant access.
It's been so fun releasing these free song lesson videos over the past couple weeks. I remember the excitement my blog generated almost 10 years ago--at that time, there wasn't a whole lot of support for guitarists on the internet, especially if you were just starting out. I'm sensing that same excitement again. I'm loving producing the lessons, and people are loving learning from them.
Here's my first-ever free song lesson video: "Let Her Go" by Passenger, for beginning and intermediate guitarists who want to learn how to both sing and play the song. This gorgeous tune is already hugely popular, and now that it's the soundtrack to Budweiser's cute Super Bowl puppy-and-horse-are-buddies commercial, the hugeness will only expand.
For the past year and a half, I've been shooting footage for a video-based beginning guitar course I'm calling "Rob's Totally Awesome Guitar Crash Course." The course won't be done until this fall, and in the meantime, I'm hungry for feedback.
So I've decided to shoot some free song lessons on the side: Stuff I can release, and get feedback on, now. Any feedback y'all give me on what's working and what's not would be tremendously helpful. Should I make more of these?
Words of encouragement motivate me to make more free lessons like this one. Share with your musical friends, and thanks for checking this out.