The Do’s and Don’ts of Guitar Finger Exercises – Roadie’s Guide to Guitar Warm-ups

by Alec Plowman, Jul 22, 2019 . 5 min read

The Do’s and Don’ts of Guitar Finger Exercises – Roadie’s Guide to Guitar Warm-ups

Finger stretches for guitar: do them right, and they’ll unlock next level playing.

Get them wrong, however, and you’re in for a world of hurt.

Guitarists recognize the importance of guitar finger exercises, but that doesn’t mean they do them properly. 

In this article, we’re going to show you the right way to warm-up, and dispel some myths in the process. Speaking of which, let’s start by talking about guitar finger strengthening exercises.

Forget What You Think You Know About “Strength”

When it comes to hand and finger exercises, many assume that “strength” is king. But, this assumption is a troublesome one that could lead to problems down the line. As Digital Music News notes, “the emphasis [on strength] is typically happening at the expense of flexibility, which can create serious long-term consequences and reduce playing capabilities. The result is that hands become cramped and imbalanced over the long-term, a situation that can seriously restrict your playing ability.”

Why are we so obsessed with “strength” training for our hands, then? As Practice Guitar Now notes, most people feel like they need to become stronger in their fretting hand  “because they use way too much tension in their hand, to begin with – causing their arm to become fatigued from playing a lot faster than it should.” 

The solution, they continue, is to “learn to optimize the amount of effort you use in the fretting hand so that excessive tension doesn’t accumulate in your hands (and the rest of the body) as you play. It is the lack of control over excessive tension that causes most guitarists to become tired while playing – NOT ‘lack of strength’ (or endurance).” 

Warm-up Your Whole Body

When we think about warming up for playing guitar, we tend to think about our hands. The sound, we’re told, “is all in the fingers.” But, according to physiotherapist and member of the Performing Arts Medicine Association Vicki Hawkins, we should consider a whole-body workout before focusing on our digits.  

“Warm-up before playing is very important… It should include three to five minutes of moderate cardiovascular activity, such as stairs or a fast-paced walk around the room. This should be followed by some large movements of the larger joints – shoulder and elbow – then smaller movements of the wrists and digits.” 

This might come as a surprise to some of you. But as Guitar Player reasons, it makes sense when you “consider the fact that increased cardiovascular activity results in increased blood flow to your muscles.”

“Guitarists need to focus on strengthening the shoulder and stabilizer muscles and the core stability muscles in order to support their playing,” Hawkins continues. “These exercises may need to be completed daily for a period of time in order to build strength.”

Include Finger Stretches In Your Routine

One of the most significant mistakes guitarists make is not thinking about their playing as strenuous physical activity. But, in reality, it is. And, when it comes to warming up, the same rules apply as in sports and athletics. But don’t take our word for it. Here’s what guitar maestro Marty Friedman has to say on the subject: 

If you were playing baseball you wouldn’t just get up there and start hitting balls with all your strength — you’d swing the bat a few times before you tried to hit a home run. So I believe it’s important to warm up before you do pretty much anything on the guitar, be it recording, playing a gig or rehearsing. There are many bones, tendons, and muscles involved in moving your fingers around, so before you start flailing ’em around recklessly, you should really do some form of warm-up.”

What that form of warm-up is will depend on what sort of guitarist you are. However, this video on essential hand stretches for guitarists is a pretty good place to start:

From there, there are handy exercises you can check out on UberChord, Fret Jam and Justin Guitar. Friedman even offered up his own warm-up routine in his classic Guitar World column back in the day. 

Basic Warmup Example [15 minutes]: 

If you have no idea where to start, follow this plan the next time you pick up your guitar:

1. Warm up your body by just walking around the room or up and down the stairs. Do some circular movements to stretch your shoulders [5 minutes]

2. Stretch your hands and fingers following the video above [2 minutes]

3. Slowly practice your fretting and just get your fingers moving on the fret board [3 minutes]

4. Practice more advanced scales, and pick up the pace with licks or some improvisation [5 minutes]

How do you warm-up before playing the guitar? What hand exercises would you recommend? Let us know in the comments. 

Further Readings – The Ultimate Guide To Guitar Practice



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