Guitar Exercise Develop Strength & Endurance TRILLS OF DEATH

In this guitar lesson, we will be taking a look at a good old guitar exercise and as you can tell from the title of the lesson, the aim of this particular guitar exercise is to show you how to develop your finger strength and endurance for guitar playing. If you’re looking to improve on these aspects of your guitar playing, this is one hundred percent the exercise for you but head the warning, this isn’t an easy guitar exercise. As you can tell from the caps lock scary wording, this may prove challenging. Furthermore, this isn’t one of those “instant results” BS things that I see all the time either.

Why am I showing you this guitar exercise?

I’m showing you this for two reasons. Firstly, the questions “how do I improve my finger strength on guitar” or “how do I improve my endurance on guitar” are ones that I see and hear asked quite often across the internet so having an answer here at Eat Sleep Guitar Repeat seemed logical. Secondly, this exercise is very effective and I really wanted to share it so here we are.

The origins of the exercise

As much as I’d love to claim this guitar exercise as my own, I can’t. I’ve stolen it from Steve Vai. He didn’t call it the trills of death though. I can’t remember where I saw him demonstrating this but I know it was him. It was many years ago. In fact, it was so many years ago that I started using it myself to develop my own finger strength and endurance and the feedback from me is that IT WORKS. It hurts like hell at first but it does work.

Requirements for this guitar exercise

This exercise is fairly entry level in terms of requirements and it can be tackled by guitarists of any level if you a) have a whole lot of determination and b) know how to perform basic hammer ons and pull offs, you’re good to continue.

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Let’s take a look at the exercise. Enjoy.

The Trills of Death guitar exercise for building finger strength and endurance for guitar playing

guitar exercise trills of death improve finger strength and endurance

The Trills of Death is quite easy on paper as long as you understand what trills actually are. Trills or “shakes” are musical ornaments consisting of a rapid alternation between two adjacent notes, usually a semitone or tone apart. Other names for “trill” are triller, trillo, trille, or trino but these terms are based on different languages and you probably won’t encounter them.

You already know what death is so we now understand what the title of the exercise means. We’re now ready to see how trills can be used to improve your finger strength and endurance. Let’s look at the basic concept for the exercise.

The concept

This guitar exercise consists of simple rapid hammer ons and pull offs between two notes. Your first finger will fret the lowest note and you’ll then trill with the second finger, then the third finger, then finally, the fourth finger.

Here is what the exercise looks like on the high E string starting at the first fret. Notice how we spend a little more time with our tiny finger. This is because it tends to be the weakest and therefore, requires the most attention.

We’re using 16th notes here. That’s 4 notes squeezed into each beat in a 4/4 bar.

guitar exercise trills of death improve finger strength and endurance

One thing I haven’t mentioned is the tempo at which this exercise should be performed. I haven’t mentioned it because it’s not hugely important. Speed is not a factor with this exercise. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be accurate with your timing. I’d recommend using a metronome with this at least at first. Set the metronome to something around 120 beats per minute.

Now that you understand how the exercise works, you’re ready to move onto the full exercise. This is where it gets a little bit hurty.

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The full exercise (sort of)

In our example above, we covered four frets on the high E string. That’s a good start but sadly, it’s not enough. You’re going to need to do a lot more work than that If you want to improve your finger strength and endurance. See the next image. You’ll notice it’s a little more intense. Now, we’re covering more of that high E string. 

guitar exercise to improve finger strength and endurance trills of death

You should feel the burn with this a little more. The idea is that you complete the whole of the TAB above without stopping or breaking the rhythm and without screwing up a single note. Each note should be as crystal clear as the previous one.

Doing the above is a sure-fire way to build your strength and endurance. Give it a try and see the impact it has on you.


You thought that was the end? Nope. Sorry. You still have a little more to do.

Our example only took us up to fret 12 on the high E string. As you know, there are more frets.

I’d like you to continue this exercise across the entire high E string and then, read on. I didn’t provide the TAB for this because I thought by that point, you will have grasped the idea of what was going on and let’s be honest, it’s quite repetitive.

You thought it was all over?

If you’ve followed all the instructions above, you will have covered lots and lots of notes but they were all on the high E string.

To complete this challenge in full, you need to take what you saw above, and apply it to every string. Once you reach the end of the high E string, you need to start all over again but this time, on the B string. Once you’ve completed the B string up to the same position, you start again on the G string and so on until you’ve covered all six of the strings.

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I won’t provide you with all the TAB for this because if you’ve grasped the concept, you shouldn’t need it. You simply do the same thing on each string.

Can you make it through the Trills of Death? Give it a try.


That concludes this guitar lesson on the Trills of Death guitar exercise which aims to improve your finger strength and endurance while playing guitar. I suppose it’s quite a simple concept really but simple doesn’t equal easy. This may hurt a little so enjoy and feel the burn.

In reality, this is a bit of a gimmick. You don’t need to complete the entire thing across all six strings in fact, spending a huge amount of time on one exercise is not something that I’d typically recommend. Especially when the exercise is something that isn’t musical like this one.

Spending just a few minutes on this exercise here and there is plenty if strength and endurance are what you’re working on. Devoting a big chunk of your guitar playing time to this exercise, or any similar exercises may not be a great idea but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do exercises at all because some are very good. This exercise is one of those very good ones.

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