As any singer and they’ll tell you that warming up their vocals is the only way to keep your voice sounding decent over the long term. Well, the same thing goes for guitarists: you have to limber up before you take to the fretboard.
Do you really need to bother? Well, nobody thinks it’s going to happen to them, but unfortunately playing fast, repetitive styles (especially shredding) can cause Repetitive Strain Injury (or ‘RSI’). This happens when muscles are tense and haven’t been stretched before playing.
Good warm-ups, while they won’t guarantee it not happening, lessen the risk.
In this post, we’re going to share with you our favorites (note: you should build a few of these into the beginning of your practice routine too).
Best Guitar Warm Up Exercises
1. Heat ‘Em Up!
The simple act of running your hands under warm water is a simple way of getting the blood flowing and loosening up your limbs. It will also make them squeaky clean and remove any sweat, dirt or grease, helping to protect your strings and increase their longevity.
2. Star Stretches
Making a star shape and then releasing, repeatedly, is another great finger stretching exercise. Do this with both hands, even if you are planning on using a pick. It will prepare your left hand (i.e. the one you use for fretting if you’re right-handed) for playing scales etc., and nicely prepare your right hand (that you use for strumming/picking) for fast picking or more dexterous fingerstyle technique.
3. Squeeze Me
Similar to the star routine, squeezing on things works your muscles and gets them ready for action. You can get ‘grip master’ devices which will help to strengthen your muscles, or you can squeeze on a tennis ball to get a similar effect. This is particularly effective as it uses all of the muscles you need to warm up at the same time. Again, you should do it with both hands.
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. When you’re in this position, then slowly rotate them 180 degrees so they are facing the ground. Repeat this several times. This strengthens your tendons and prevents pain from intense strumming or picking routines. It can also help to increase speed.
Chromatic exercises are an excellent way of getting your fingers loosened up as they use every single digit. A common one to use 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 chart below. It doesn’t sound particularly tuneful, but it’s effective. It’s also good to use a metronome to help improve your timing in the process.
A nice variation on this is to go up and down the same strings: 1-2-3-4, 4-3-2-1, etc.
As long as you are using all four of your fingers, these drills will do a great job of getting your fingers ready to do as they’re told. Make sure to alternate pick as you go.
Note: If you’re not sure how to read these TABs, check out our guide on how to read guitar TABs and their corresponding symbols.
6. Chord Jumping
Chords are a huge part of any guitarist’s repertoire, and building them into your warm-up is a good idea too.
Chord jumping is what it sounds like: jumping from chord to chord. This gets your fingers prepared for playing those chord shapes. Choose ones you already know to begin with, and then mix in some newer shapes.
7. String Skipping
String skipping is a great strumming/picking hand exercise that gives your brain a work out too. By following irregular patterns which are less obvious than going in order, it helps to improve brain-hand coordination. It also encourages alternate picking, which gets you ready for fast lead playing.
Try these two on for size:
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. Sequencing also has the added benefit of being a pretty good scale work out too.
Heres an example in A minor. Play in all scales and don’t be scared to go beyond the 12th fret:
We hope you’re tempted to try out some of these, they really do help.
There’s no need to do them all, but for balance, I would advise doing at least one general ‘stretchy’ warm-up exercise (e.g. the squeeze me or star one) and a couple of finger workouts (e.g. the chromatic or scale sequencing patterns). That way you should be nicely limbered up. And wash your hands, your strings and guitar will thank you for it in the long run.
Now you just need a tennis ball 🙂