10 Guitar Warm Up Exercises To Get You Ready For Action

If you’ve found your way here, it’s likely that you already have an idea about how important it is to include guitar warm ups in your practice routine.

Warming up is an essential pre-practice routine for several reasons.

Why Do Guitar Warm Up Exercises?

It Prevents Injury

Nobody thinks it’s going to happen to them, but unfortunately guitar playing – especially fast, repetitive styles like shred – can cause Repetitive Strain Injury (or ‘RSI’).

This occurs when passages are repeated and repeated, in an attempt to get them right. It can occur when muscles are tense, and when muscles haven’t been stretched before playing.

So, it makes sense to loosen up and stretch a bit before you start practising, doesn’t it?

It Prepares Your Fingers

Before practising, it makes sense to have fingers which are prepared for playing the guitar.

Control exercises, like telling your little finger what to do, will get your fingers ready for doing as they’re told within songs and pieces.

You don’t want fingers that are surprised and waving all over the place when you ask them to do something new.

It’s Low/No Pressure Playing

It’s unlikely that you’re going to get stressed out and start shouting at yourself for messing up on a warm-up routine. They’re not even supposed to sound particularly good. 

This relaxed way of training your fingers doesn’t carry the same frustration as trying to get a piece correct over and over, and over again.

It’s just a scale. Whatever. Try again.

It Works As Practice In Itself

As well as preparing you for your practice session, a lot of the warm up exercises you will do actually count as practice in themselves.

Scales, finger exercises, chord and picking exercises will all improve your technique in the long-run. If you make them a part of your daily warm-up, imagine how speedily you’ll progress. 

A few minutes, every day, on these techniques will soon add up. They contribute towards your mastery of your instrument.

picture of guitar over shoulder

So, now you know why to warm up, let’s take a look at how to do it.

10 Guitar Warm Up Exercises For Beginners

1. Literally ‘warm up’ 

Literally warming up your hands is a sure way of getting the blood flowing in the right direction.

Nobody can play their best with cold hands!

Heading to the nearest sink and running your hands under some warm water will prepare you for playing. It will also ensure that your hands are clean, which will protect your strings.

picture of someone washing hands

2. Become A Star

If you were about to go for a run, or do some other strenuous physical exercise, you’d start by stretching your legs and other muscles first, right?

It’s no different when you’re about to exert your fingers in this way. Stretching them apart, into a star shape, and then releasing them, several times in a row, will help to prepare them for the activities ahead.

You may as well do this with both hands, even if you’re planning on using a pick. It will prepare your fretting hand for those fiddly twiddly movement, and your picking hand for either fast moving whilst gripping a pick or the more dexterous hybrid picking or finger picking.

 

picture of stretched out hands

 

3. Squeeze

Similarly to the star routine, squeezing on things exercises your hand’s muscles and gets them ready to do the things you’d like them to do.

You can get ‘grip master’ devices which will help to strengthen your muscles, or you can squeeze on things like tennis balls to get a similar effect.

This part of a physical warm-up is particularly effective as it uses all of the muscles you need to warm up, at the same time.

Again, you might as well do it with both hands, although it’s especially beneficial to your fretting hand.

picture of hand squeezing tennis ball

4. Twist Your Wrists

To strengthen the tendons along the sides of your wrist, try putting your hands together in front of you in a closed position like this:

picture of praying hands

 

When you’re in this position, then slowly rotate your hands 180 degrees so that they are facing the ground. Repeat several times. This strengthens your tendons to help prevent pain from intense strumming or picking routines. It can also help to increase speed.

5. Chromatic Exercises 

Now you’re physically warmed up, it’s time to pick up your guitar to play something.

Chromatic exercises are an excellent way of getting your fingers under control as they use every single finger.

A common warm-up is the A chromatic scale. It starts around the middle of the neck and gets you moving up to fret one as the strings progress. This has an added bonus of building your awareness of the fretboard.

It can be played ascending and descending, as shown in the TAB below:

chromatic scale TAB

If you’re not sure how to read these TABs, check out our guide on how to read guitar TABs and their corresponding symbols.

To get your fingers even more under control than in the simple ascending and descending chromatic pattern, you can mix it up a bit.

Instead of using your fingers in order: 1-2-3-4, 4-3-2-1, you can use the chromatic scale to move in more advanced patterns. Here’s an example of something you can try:

chromatic warmup tab

As long as you are using all 4 of your fingers, these exercises will do a great job of getting your fingers ready to do as they’re told. Make sure to alternate pick as you go!

6. Chord Jumping

There’s more to guitar playing than ripping out lead solos. Of course, chords are a huge part of any guitarist’s repertoire.

Chord jumping is what it sounds like: jumping from chord to chord. This gets your fingers prepared for playing those shapes.

You can choose chords you’re currently learning or have learnt, or chords that are in a specific piece that you’re in the process of nailing.

Here’s an example of a chord jumping exercise which helps to prepare the fingers for common chord shapes:

chord jumping exercise tab

7. String Skipping

So, now your fretting hand is pretty much under control, it’s time to give some more attention to that picking hand.

String skipping exercises exercise the picking hand by making it follow patterns which are less obvious than going in order. They also encourage alternate picking, which gets you ready for speedy lead playing.

Like with the fretting exercises, it’s all about getting control and building your brain-hand relationship.

String skipping exercises can be tricky to get right. However, the frustration you experience will be rewarded as you start to find your actual pieces easier to play.

Here are a couple of string skipping exercises to tackle at a speed that suits you:

string skipping exercise 1 tab

string skipping exercise 2 tab

8. Scale Sequencing

Scale sequencing works as both a musical warm-up and a fingering exercise.

It involves playing a bit of a scale, going back on yourself, then playing a bit more. An A minor example is in the TAB below:

scale sequencing tab

Like string skipping and chromatic exercises, playing scales like this will get your fretting hand under control and your picking hand used to alternate picking, speed and precision.

Sequencing also has the added, musical benefit of training your ears to recognise scales.

Exercises like the one above and the one below are cool-sounding, fun to play and a useful part of a guitar warm-up.

You might even decide to use chunks from them as part of solos.

scale sequencing tab 2

9. Get Into The Groove

To get yourself rhythmically ready, you can put on a piece of music you love. Tapping along to the rhythm is a great exercise to do.

If you want a bit of a challenge, you can try a variety of rhythms. For example, start by tapping quarter notes, progress to eighths, move on to 16ths and maybe even incorporate some triplets.

If you want to get really on the ball, rhythm flash card can be an excellent part of your warm-up routine.

Along with your favourite song, either tap increasingly complex rhythms, or play them on a note of your choice on the guitar.

This will truly get you in the groove and ready to play at your best.

You can get rhythm flash cards here, or make your own.

10. Improvise

Our final musical warm-up, which will tip you right into the ready-to-rock stage, is an improvisation exercise.

This can go with any song that you either currently love or are currently learning. Forget everything you know about the song, put it on and play along – with your own part.

If you already know which key the song’s in then cool, you might have a scale up your sleeve, but if you don’t, no problem. You don’t need to. Just play.

Get into the creative mindset. All the notes are there at your fingertips, find out which ones you like in the context of the song you’re listening to. Have fun!

“Experience first, then intellectualise.” – Carl Orff

Final Thoughts

Depending on your personality and set of priorities, some of these warm-ups might seem more important than others.

There are physical warm-ups, which will help to protect you from serious injuries like RSI, which can be an unfortunate reality in guitar playing. These warm up routines also loosen and warm your hands up so they’re ready to play the guitar.

Once you do grab your guitar, there are exercise-based warm-ups, which involve taking known scales and using them to get your fingers ready to play more interesting patterns.

As well as being great for brain-finger control, these technical exercises double up as scale-learning tasks, and we’d encourage going beyond the chromatic scale here.

Once you’re physically ready to play, it’s time to warm up your musical muscles. This can be done by tapping or playing along to your favourite tunes, or to pieces you’re learning.

It’s heavily improvisation-based which is an important skill to exercise, and doing so in a relaxed way as part of your warm-up can help to build your confidence when doing similar in different settings.

Check out our ultimate guide to guitar practice for some more tips on how to improve your practice routine.

Roz is a music teacher and our go-to person for anything music theory! When she’s not teaching or writing for Zing, Roz writes and plays in alternative/ psyche /art rock band The Roz Bruce Infusion.

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