Like all other stringed instruments, the guitar is difficult to start off on, easy at the intermediate level and hellish on the professional levels. We have provided a number of exercises both with and without the guitar, for you to be at your dexterous best whenever you pick one up.
To start with, I’ll just add a note, that the exercises will be different for different levels of guitar playing and different for chord play and lead play. But it wouldn’t hurt to practice them all, in a progressive manner.
Off-Guitar Finger Strength
There are some things you can do to keep your fingers strong and limber when you’re at school or at work, basically when you’re not on your guitar, but are thinking about it. The only issue is to not overdo it. You just might end up stressing your fingers a bit too much, causing them to stiffen up when you play your guitar. Apart from that, just use these to stretch your fingers around every once in a while.
I. Basic Finger Stretching
The first one is to just get warmed up. You can do this just before you pick up a guitar and play. Place your hand across a vertical, sturdy surface like a wall. Spread your fingers in all directions. Then take your palm away from the wall and keep your fingers stuck to the wall. You will feel a slight stretch on the back of the fingers as you pull the palm away. The trick is to do it slow enough for your fingers to ease out along the wall and not to strain the muscles. Do this very gently and hold for 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat the procedure two more times. Your fingers should be feeling a little warm with the blood flow now.
II. Finger Strength
You can do this anywhere, whenever you got free hands. Place your hand on the table. With your palm and your wrist in the same line, lift your palm up, with your fingertips still touching the table. Now, maintain that state and lift your index finger. Lift it as high as you can, hold it there for 2 to 3 seconds and then place it back. Now move to the next finger and do the same. Start over again after the pinkie. In the second part, do this a little faster and alternate the fingers. Start out with the index finger, pull it up gently, hold it for a second, place it down and pull up the ring finger. After the ring finger, pull the middle finger and then the pinkie. You can choose any pattern you want, the aim is to increase hand control.
Apart from the two, you can also hold your hand flat out and stretch the fingers to the farthest they can go, slowly but surely.
Finger Exercises on the Guitar
When you pick up the guitar, there should always be a small exercise routine to help you warm up and stretch your fingers to their limber best. This not only ensures you playing better, but you’ll also notice your fingers won’t get as tense as they would be after playing, if you had not warmed up before. So this is useful to prevent any future problems. I know we all can get impatient to just start playing on the strings, but it would be wise to just do these exercises before you start.
Since you’re a beginner, there are three things you will constantly need to take care of –
- Your posture with the guitar and your holding of the pick.
- Your fingers as they move across the strings, including the thumb behind the fretboard.
- Your sense of timing.
You will always have to work on all these with every breath you take on the guitar. These are the things that may not come to you naturally, which means you’ll be likely to develop bad habits that may hamper your playing in the long run. As you move along the fretboard, you will be taking care of these things:
- The way you hold your pick. Hold it the precise way and don’t be lazy with the plucking. If you loosen the grip on the pick, you’ll lose it, on stage even, if you make it into a habit.
- The way your thumb travels along the back of the fretboard. Make sure your thumb doesn’t stick to one place when you move your fretting fingers, but also make sure your thumb doesn’t float in the air, you’ll lose hold on the fretboard.
I. Your first exercise would be the simplest. You just have to roam the fretboard, one fret at a time, one finger at a time.
e : —————————————————1-2-3-4-|—————————————————2-3-4-5- (……)
B : —————————————–1-2-3-4———–|—————————————–2-3-4-5———–
G : ——————————-1-2-3-4———————|——————————-2-3-4-5———————
D : ———————1-2-3-4——————————-|———————2-3-4-5——————————-
A : ———–1-2-3-4—————————————–|———–2-3-4-5—————————————–
E : -1-2-3-4—————————————————|-2-3-4-5—————————————————
Keep moving to the twelfth fret, after which you will travel the fretboard in reverse.
e : -12-11-10-9————————————————————————————————————
B : —————12-11-10-9———————————————————————————————
G : —————————–12-11-10-9——————————————————————————-
D : ——————————————-12-11-10-9—————————————————————–
A : ———————————————————12-11-10-9—————————————————
E : ————————————————————————12-11-10-9-(……)—————————-
II. Your second exercise would be to increase your overall finger strength. You may get a little tangled at first, but stick to it and you’ll get great finger control in no time.
e : —————————————————————————————–3-4-1-2—|——————-
B : ——————————————————————3-4-1-2——1-2———–3-4-|——————-
G : ———————————————-3-4-1-2——1-2———–3-4———————|——————-
D : ————————–3-4-1-2——1-2———–3-4—————————————–|——————-
A : ——3-4-1-2——1-2———–3-4————————————————————-|——————-
E : -1-2———–3-4———————————————————————————|——————-
Travel the fretboard to the twelfth.
For your fretting hand, start off by maintaining each note before you proceed to the next note. You will feel the pressure on the fingers every once in a while. Don’t let it get too tough, stop and take a break to loosen your fingers before starting out again. Then, you can let go of a note, making a slight pull-off to the previous note before you proceed to the next one. Keep trying new ways like this. If you believe in training the hard way, every time you miss a note, start over, without changing the speed. For the strumming hand, keep the plucking alternating between down and up at all times. You can also start all down or all up to strengthen your strumming hand. Just remember to not break out of the prescribed method of holding your pick.
Always remember that at this stage, it is not about speed. Trying to play these exercises super fast is not going to get you anywhere. Just start out at one note per two seconds. Hold the note, let it ring and see what the difference is when you hold the fret nearer to the bar, away from the bar, in a lighter or more firm grip. Once you figure the best place and have the strength to hold a note perfectly, you will automatically gain comfort and consequently, precision and speed. As you progress, speed up to one note per second and then half a note per second. Your main motive is to gain control and to create the right habits. You will soon become comfortable with the guitar and will eventually develop your own style of playing.
This is the breeziest part of guitar play. Just kidding, actually it isn’t. You should possess the right finger strength by now, which makes it all the more important to keep experimenting here. You should be having good finger flexibility and strength, but somewhere in between technical knowledge and speed, which is what you should be working on now. As you take up theoretical knowledge, you will concentrate on improved control and start concentrating on speed. Also, once you’re comfortable with normal play, try palm muting when your play each note.
I. The first one aims to help you increase your judgment between picking alternate strings and fretting on alternate strings.
e : ——————————————–2—-4-|———————————————–3—-5-(….)———-
B : ———————————2—-4-1—-3—-|————————————3—-5-2—-4——————-
G : ———————–2—4-1—-3—————|————————-3—-5-2—-4——————————
D : ————-2—4-1—-3————————-|————–3—-5-2—-4—————————————–
A : —2—4-1—-3———————————–|—-3—5-2—-4—————————————————-
E : -1—3———————————————|–2—4————————————————————–
Your timing needs to be perfect here, or you’ll hear a lot of weird notes flying around. As you get more comfortable, start to build up speed.
The next two exercises aim to widen your limits across the fretboard. Take it slow, hold every two notes and feel your fingers stretch. Hold the first and the second note, then release and hold the third and fourth. Follow the pattern and avoid jumbling your fingers.
The pattern for fretting here is- 4=3=2=1 one after the other.
e : ————————————————————————9-12———————————————-
B : ——————————————9-12——————–10——–11—————————————–
G : ————-9-12——————-10——–11————11—————-10—————8-11—————-
D : ———10——–11———–11—————-10—-12————————9———9——–10————
A : —–11—————-10—12————————9———————————–10————–9———-
E : -12————————9————————————————————11———————8(…)—
Here, your fretting fingers will go like this- 4=2 and then break, before going to 3=1.
e : —————————————————————————————————————————
B : ——————————————-9-12————————————————————————–
G : ————-9–12——————-11——–10———————————————————————-
D : ———11———10———–10—————-11—————————————————————–
A : —–10—————–11—12————————9(….)———————————————————
E : -12————————-9——————————————————————————————–
The next one is for stretching your fingers over a string.
e : ————————————————5-3-5-7—————————————————————-
B : ————————————–5-3-5-7————————————————————————–
G : —————————-5-3-5-7————————————————————————————
D : ——————5-3-5-7———————————————————————————————-
A : ——–5-3-5-7——————————————————————————————————–
E : -3-5-7—————————————————5-7-9(…)—————————————————
Take this one beyond the twelfth fret. Speed it up as you get better.
e : -5h6p5———–5h7p5———–5h8p5———–5p9p5————5h10p5———–5h9p5(…)———-
B : ———8-7-6-5———-8-7-6-5———8-7-6-5———-8-7-6-5———-8-7-6-5————————–
G : ————————————————————————————————————————-
D : ————————————————————————————————————————-
A : ————————————————————————————————————————-
E : ————————————————————————————————————————-
These exercises are not in scale and are just meant to get your fingers up and ready to play. Learn more and more on music theory and use various patterns on each scale. Once you do, try variations inside the scales that you think are difficult for your fingers. I would rather let you figure out a pattern you like, rather telling you to play on a specific scale and in some precise manner. Also, remember that no matter what your level of skills get to, you can never be above a good warm up, so don’t skip them. No matter what, always take out ten minutes to stretch out your fingers before you play, be it a gig or at practice. And also never forget to have fun playing!