When you start out playing a new instrument, you’re asking your body to move in a way you probably haven’t asked it to before. If you’re picking up the drum kit, you’re asking all four of your limbs to operate independently of each other. If you’re picking up a brass or woodwind instrument, your going to be using your lungs, lips, and jaw muscles in ways you didn’t know you could.
With string instruments, you’re asking your fingers to stretch, twist, and grip these tension tuned rods against a piece of timber. Before we start with the finger exercises below, I recommend you to watch this video on hand and finger stretching which will help you release muscle tension, relax your fingers and hand muscles and enable you to play longer without any pain or injuries.
The article below is essentially my lesson plan for a full on fitness class for your fingers. Start incorporating these into a daily warm up for yourself, find the movements that give you the most trouble, and start out every playing session with a minute or so of practicing the exercise of your choice. These are exercises that, after 25 years of playing, I still find incredibly useful to warm up with.
Spending a half hour a day for just a few days with these exercises, I find that my speed and articulation have greatly improved.
This is a series of exercises designed to warm up both your fingering, and alternate picking. The exercises are all built upon one concept, becoming more difficult as you progress. I suggest using a metronome: if you are on your laptop, you can use the Google’s in build metronome or you can download the Uberchord App (click for free download) which also has a proper metronome along with some other chord exercises. Best advice is to start off at around
65 BPM and increase in increments of 5 BPM as you feel like your timing and form are solid at the current tempo. Playing with a metronome is a thing most guitarists struggle with. It’s a struggle to keep up when the tempo is too fast, and harder to keep pace and not run ahead when the tempo is too slow. A few pointers before we begin:
1. These exercises are designed to create muscle memory, and therefore are pretty dry, take them in shorter stints, maybe 3-5min a day.
2. Use your fingertips, your fingers should be curled in a cupped position, not laying flat against the fingerboard.
3. Don’t worry about perfect form early on, the most important thing is to teach your fingers how to move on your instrument, minimising fret buzz, keeping your pick from hitting only the string that your fingers are on, and muting other strings with your fingertips will become easier over time.
Start with the high E, dedicating a finger per fret, playing the notes chromatically, i.e. first finger plays the first fret, second finger on the second fret, and so forth. Once you get up to your pinky, play the note twice, and reverse the order back downward. Once you’ve played back down to the first fret, slide your first finger up to the second fret and play the second through fifth frets. This should be repeated through to the top of the neck. Play a note with each beat of the metronome, pick downward with each beat as in figure 1a:
This should be repeated for each individual string. Once you are fairly comfortable with the tempo, add alternate picking, playing a second note with an upstroke on the “and” of each beat, as in figure 1b:
Once you’ve made your way through all six strings, try one more variation. Only play the off beats, all upstrokes. This is deceptively tougher, so be patient with getting this one right. I suggest just counting out at least 8 bars with your metronome going before playing your first note to make sure your in time.:
The second variation of this exercise is to stay in a position, (in this case we play the first position, frets 1-4), while playing chromatically through all six strings, in ascending order only then moving on to the next position (we’ll move to the second position in the example, frets 2-5).
This is a good exercise to test your speed. Play through to the 7th position (playing frets 7-10), and come back to the first position. Up the tempo by 5 BPM and repeat.
Start with the same concept as in exercise 2. This time, change positions while changing strings, moving one fret higher as you go. When you get to the high E, instead of going back to the Low E (as in exercise 2) move to the B string, then to the G, then to the D, A and E:
Exercise 4 (a)
Go back to exercise 2. This time, invert your order, starting with your pinky on the forth fret of the low E string, work your way down to the first fret playing it with your pointer finger. As in exercise 2, stay in a position, playing through all six strings before moving on to the next position.
Exercise 4 (b)
Another variation is to combine exercise 3’s walking progression, and apply the inverse movement of exercise 4a, changing position as you change strings.
The final exercise breaks from the chromatic lines of exercises 1-4, by playing each position in the order of pointer, ring, middle, pinky (1/3/2/4). Applying the same logic as the first few exercises where each finger is dedicated to the fret immediately following the finger before it. 5a will be a variation of exercise 2, and 5b, a variant of exercise 3: