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Published on January 28th, 2013 | by Sam

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Essential Guitar Warm Up Exercises

Here’s a short story on my guitar playing history and my journey with guitar warm up exercises:

As a young player I used to obsess over things like scales.  I needed at least 30 minutes to warm up and would go through a plethora of scales, exercises, and arpeggios.  Of course any time I only had 45 minutes to practice was ‘a waste of time’ because I would only get about 10 to 15 minutes in after the long warm up routine.

As I went through college I became a little self-conscience of the whole thing.  I got a big head about it and decided I’m too good to have a warm up routine.  Besides if I’m not playing regularly enough to always be warmed up I would need to practice more.

As an older player I have come to a balance between the two extremes.  I decided I needed a warm up routine to address certain issues and physical aspects of playing the guitar.  I’ve been humbled by playing way too many sloppy gigs to continue thinking that I’m so good that I don’t need to warm up!

I asked myself what was so sloppy about my playing and thought of certain things to play that would address those issues.  The guitar warm up routine had to be relatively short because sometimes I only get to gigs 30 minutes early.  Plus it needed to be something easily memorized.  Here are the guitar warm up exercises I cam up with.

Left Hand

The first thing I do is aimed at warming up the left hand.  I do this by playing simple finger exercises moving up one fret at a time.  Then I go back down the same ‘scale’.  I usually do this one just until the hands are feeling loose and ready to go.

Guitar Warm up Exercises 1

Example 1

Next I try to mix things up with another simple finger exercise.  In example 2 you’ll see that it simply goes pinky, middle, ring, and first.  I take this down all the strings.  Then completely reverse the pattern (example 3) and move up the strings.  You can also play the ascending pattern descending on the strings (ex 4), and vice versa – descending pattern ascending the strings (ex 5).  The purpose of this exercise is just to get some movements that are not in order, or to mix the fingers up a bit.

Example 2

Example 2

Example 3

Example 3

Example 4

Example 4

Example 5

Example 5

Right Hand

The main issue with the right hand is coordination and moving from string to string.  The right hand series starts out with a simple exercise with alternate picking.  First descend the strings and the pattern (ex 6), then ascend both (ex 7).  These do not have to be played on these two strings or frets, you can really use it as a jumping off point and play the exercises anywhere on the neck.

Example 6

Example 6

Example 7

Example 7

The next step is to get your hands used to switching strings on both up strokes and down strokes.  Exercises 8-11 are designed to address all of the combinations of string switching.  You can (and should) also change these to skip a string in order to get warmed up with skipping strings and on an upstroke or downstroke.

 

Example 8

Example 8

Example 9

Example 9

Example 10

Example 10

Example 11

Example 11

The Spider

Finally the last exercise is called ‘the spider.’  This one comes from a classical guitar text, though I can’t remember which one!  The idea with the spider is that you must keep 2 fingers down all the time.  Start with first and ring.  When the middle finger comes down your first finger can come up, so middle and ring are down.  Then put the pinky down, ring comes up.  Make the last two moves and you’ve gone through the cycle.  This exercise really helps with control in the left hand.  It also generates a lot of heat in the hand to loosen everything up one more time.  It’s also a good idea to put a string, or 2, or 3… between your fingers to get an even bigger stretch.

warmup 12 spider

Example 12

warmup 13 spider

Example 13

 

That’s the guitar warm up routine!  Total time should be around 5 to 10 minutes.

Now I used to use a metronome for all of this stuff.  It became sort of a hindrance though.  If I could play these all faster one night and slower the next I would immediately get down on myself.  Or even worse, would try to match the metronome markings even if my hands weren’t ready or warm enough to do so.
Again, try experimenting with changing the actual notes played and moving it around the neck.  Each area feels a little different so you should move it around to get your hands ready to play in any area of the neck.

Let me know in the comments some of the things you use in your guitar warm up routine.

 

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