3 October 2008

Guitar Warm Up to Build Finger Strength, Stretch and Control

This lesson shows you a simple guitar warm up exercise that gently builds strength, extension and independent control of your fretting fingers. The beauty of this warm up is that you can focus entirely on your finger movements instead of thinking about scale patterns or chord positions.

If you are thinking about scales or chords you will focus less attention on your finger placement. This exercise is so simple you can give all your attention to good finger placement and individual finger movement.

Keep this in mind as you perform the exercise. Its primary purpose is to develop good finger placement so focus on that. Make sure you press the strings with the finger tips and not with their fleshy pads.

The exercise

The exercise couldn't be simpler, but don't let this deceive you. You simply play the notes on four consecutive frets using one finger for each fret.

Start on the sixth string with your index finger at a fret of your choice. Spread the three other fingers of your fretting hand so they hover above the next three frets of the same string. Your thumb should be behind the neck roughly opposite your second finger.

Now press the index finger onto the string and pick the note. Then place the second finger on the next fret, same string and pick the note again. Continue like this with the third and fourth fingers.

When you have played all four frets, move the index finger down one string on the same fret. Press the string and pick the note. Now walk up that string, one finger and one fret at a time just like you did for the sixth string.

Repeat the whole exercise on each string up to the first string. Now it's time to descend back down to the bass note where you started. This time you start each string with the fourth finger (your pinky). Play the note and then release the fourth finger to play the next fret down with your third finger. When you have played the first finger's note move up one string and repeat the process starting from the fourth finger each time.

At the end of the exercise you will finish on the bass note on the sixth string where you started from.

That's all there is to the exercise. It gives your fingers a good work out and plenty of opportunity to focus on good placement. Now let's take a look at some tips to help you get the most out of it.

Start high up the neck

When you first start you may have trouble stretching your fingers across four frets. That's why you should start somewhere high up the neck where the frets are narrower. You might start at the eighth or tenth fret, for example. As you improve you can move down the neck.

Leave your fingers on the frets

As you walk your fingers up the frets, leave each one in place on its fret. This obliges you to minimize finger movement and ensures your fingers really do stretch across the frets.

When you walk down the frets, try to place all four fingers as you move to each new string. Then you release the fingers one by one to play their respective notes.

Move one finger at a time

Try to move only the one finger that you need to press or release to play the next note. This might be hard at first, other fingers will move as well. Work very slowly to learn how to control your muscles so that only one finger moves.

Use a metronome

Perform the exercise with a metronome to keep you in time. Pick either once or twice per beat, you can use just down strokes or alternating picking. Start out very slowly to ensure accuracy, but as you get better you can increase the tempo. If you are into blues or jazz you can also pick the notes in triplet time.

OK, so there you have all you need to perform this simple warm up and get great benefits for your fretting finger technique. Let's review what we've discussed to help you fix it in your mind.

The exercise, walk four frets of each string with your fingers, up then down.
Start high up the neck if you are unable to stretch four frets.
Leave fingers on the frets, to ensure they cover the four frets.
Move one finger at a time to develop muscle control of each finger.
Use a metronome to measure and gradually increase your speed.

If you are serious about building your finger technique you'll find this exercise is a great tool. It takes only a minute or two to perform as a warm up. Try it every time you practice for the next two weeks and it will become a habit you don't even need to think about anymore.

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Oswald said...

great post!

Unknown said...

great technique!!
up and playing in no time

Gary Fletcher said...

Hey Jinga, thanks for the encouragement. Glad the exercise helped you.

Anonymous said...

No one ever talks about thumb movement up and down the neck. I'm not talking about thumb position starting out, because you already said to place it behind the middle finger, which would mean behind the 2nd fret if you are starting at the top of the neck. But at what point do you move the thumb up or down the neck? Does it stay in the exact same spot for all 4 notes? In general, beyond this particular exercise, do guitarists tend to leave the thumb in the same spot for every group of four frets on the keyboard, moving it up and down the neck only when they are move to a different position or group of frets, like 1st position, 2nd position, etc? I'm not sure I'm using the right terminology, but I think a 'position' is each group of four frets on the fretboard. Correct if wrong. I just don't know how active the thumb should be in relation to finger movement, that is, when a move up or down is justified, and when it should stay in the same spot when possible. It seems no one ever talks about this they way they analyze other aspects of hand position. It's as if everyone is just using a 'you do what you have to do' when it comes to movement of the thumb up and down the back of the fretboard.

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