Warming up on the guitar is an important part of my practice routine. Not only does it get my hands ready to play, I also use the time to clear my head before working on new music. While it’s entirely possible to warm up with scales and arpeggios, I always begin with these non-musical exercises so I don’t have to think about what key to warm up in, or what kind of arpeggios to play. All I have to do is pick up the guitar and start playing these patterns to warm up all my fingers and picking hand equally.
Click on any of the TABs below for a larger image.
The simplest of the simple, just to get your fingers used to touching the strings. Start with adjacent frets and move across the strings. You should dedicate one finger to each fret (ie. 1st finger = 5th fret; 2nd finger = 6th fret; etc.). Try to only move one finger at a time
You can vary this up by changing position with each string:
Or skipping a fret between two fingers, giving you a little extra stretch:
The diagonal crawl.
While this exercise works both hands, your picking hand will get a good alternate picking workout because you are constantly changing strings. The pattern may seem awkward at first, but once you understand how the diagonal shape is moving horizontally across the fretboard, it’ll make perfect sense. You can invert and reverse this pattern as well, just to change things up from time to time.
An excellent finger independence exercise for your left hand, and string skipping exercise for the right. Start very slowly and build up speed as your hands get used to the pattern. Once you can do it quickly, your fingers will kind of look like the legs of a spider crawling along the wall.
Classic finger independence.
Another finger independence exercise I picked up from one of my classical guitar teachers. This one employs the concept of only moving one finger at a time. By learning to move only the necessary fingers, you’ll be able to change chords much faster.
Once my hands are warmed up, I warm up my brain with some free improvisation to a metronome. This connects the sounds in my head to the sounds coming from the instrument, and gets some of that desire to noodle out of the way so I can focus on whatever I need to practice that day.
Finally, you should gently stretch your hands so they are nice and loose. Here are a few stretches I do each morning.
- Hold your arm straight out in front of you with your palm facing forward, fingers up. Gently pull your fingers back with your other hand. Then point your fingers down and push the back of your hand towards you.
- Next, use the thumb and forefinger of one hand to gently push two adjacent fingers apart on the other hand.
- Finally, stretch your fingers length-wise from your hand by slowly massaging them outward with the tips of the fingers on your opposite hand. Imagine that you are releasing the tension from each knuckle and elongating each finger.
Now, you’re ready to practice!
*I made the names of these exercises, but I don’t think they have formal names. You can call them whatever you want, like: Cameron’s Warm Up Exercise 1, Cameron’s Warm Up Exercise 2, Cameron is such a great guitarist, etc. and feel free to modify and adapt each exercise to suit your warmup routine.
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