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My personal guitar warm up routine

Have you ever practiced this exercise?

1234_3

And have you also practiced all the variations?

1-2-4-3

1-3-4-2

2-3-1-4

4-1-3-2

etc. 

Did you play it up and down the neck with metronome?

Did you also find it boring and useless? 

I used to practice above exercises as a part of my warm up routine. In fact, I spent quite a long time with them believing that I will improve my finger independence and speed.

I’ve seen these exercises all over the internet and in every book I’ve picked so I thought it is really important to practice them. Only later did I find that for most aspiring guitar players  they are totally useless. 

Why? 

Couple of reasons:

  1. boring
  2. non-musical
  3. mechanical
  4. mind dumbing
  5. never ending 

I don’t see any real value in them anymore. Yes, you can build some finger independence with them, but by the time it will happen, you will bore yourself to death. 

Moreover, guitar players who practice them usually don’t know how to do it properly, so they practice it with a wrong position of left hand, bad posture and usually too fast. Therefore, they are just acquiring bad habits and not building any independence. 

If you also use these exercises as a part of your warm up routine, please stop. I will show you some better alternatives that are good for your hands and, at the same time, for your brain.

I believe that what you practice and how you practice has to be engaging for your brain. It is your task to keep your brain interested in what you are doing otherwise you are just wasting time with mechanical exercises that will lead you nowhere.

Are you ready for some freshness?

Here it comes.

Warm up exercise that will get your brain going 

For simplicity, we will work in the key of C.

Everybody likes key of C, right? 

Let’s take a simple chord progression: C – G – Am – F (or I – V – VIm – IV. For example Hendrix’s Bold as love.) 

I hope you are familiar with CAGED system, which is basically a really good organization system for guitar. Instead of working with one 22 or 24 fret chunk, you can divide your fretboard into 5 positions and therefore it is easier to work with it.

If you don’t how CAGED works, check out this article. 

The requirement for this exercise is that you know chords that I mentioned above in all five positions. If you are not sure, check out chord diagrams here: C chord, G chord, Am chord, F chord.

The goal of this exercise is to play those chords in all five positions. It should look like this: 

 

C_G_am_F

When it comes to CAGED system, the key for me is to have in every position one usable version of each chord. You can see in the TAB that in C positions of Am (in bar 5) I am using Am7 instead. I find it much easier to play.

Now that you can do this exercise in C major, you can use following variations: 

  • play it in different key
  • play  different chord progressions
  • if you are more jazz oriented, definitely try major and minor II-V-I’s
  • if you are into blues, try I7-IV7-V7 

The goal here is not to memorize those chords. The goal is to get your brain and muscles going.

If you want to see how I use these exercises in my warm up routine, subscribe below and get the bonus video where I walk you through each exercise:

Get your right-hand fingers going 

I made this “exercise” when I was learning Tommy Emmanuel’s song Lutrell.  I find it really good for warming up my right hand. 

It is basically a diminished chord with a fancy picking pattern, as you can see in the TAB below. Diminished chords are unique because you can move them up and down the neck in minor third interval and you still play the same chord. 

dim

Pretty cool, right?

Here’s how you can practice it: 

  • Learn the picking pattern 

There are two ways how I play it: I can either use my thumb, first and second finger, or I can use my thumb second and third finger. Since I don’t use little finger on my right hand, I don’t do any warm up for that particular finger. 

Version #1: If you use your thumb, first and second finger, then thumb alternates between D and g string, first finger is picking b string and second finger high e string. 

Version #2: If you use your thumb, second and third finger, then thumb alternates between D and g string, but now second finger is picking b string and third finger is picking high e string.

 dim_pick

 

  • Play it in one position 

Choose any diminished chord that you like and use the picking pattern. Start with version #1, then try version #2. Then alternate between them.

  • Move it up and down the neck

Now you can start moving the chord up and down the neck in minor third interval. It doesn’t warm up your right hand fingers more, but it is fun, so why not?

 

Synchronize your hands

It is no secret that I like to create exercises out of real music. Regular unmusical exercises really bore me so if I want to keep my focus high, I need to practice interesting things.

For warming up my left hand, getting my picking going and synchronizing my hands (focus shifting in action) I like to use classical pieces. Some of my favorites are Flight of the bumblebee, Rondo alla Turca or Monti’s Csárdás. 

Here’s one of my all time favorites: Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca

 rondo_001

Just these few bars are great for left and right hand synchronization, finger independence and also speed building if you care about it. Try it out!

How to practice:

  • Start very slow with just the first bar. Focus on synchronization of your hands.
  • Change speed and feel if your hands play together. If not, slow down again.
  • Move through the whole piece slowly and check for movements that you find difficult.Practice them.
  • Focus on minimal movement in your picking hand.
  • Work on this until you feel comfortable playing it (it doesn’t have to be in one session).

Left hand stretching and power building exercises 

If you practice like me in the morning you’ve probably found out that your left hand is pretty tight in the morning, especially if you practiced a lot the day before. Therefore stretching exercises for my left hand are a must everyday.

Thanks to the exercises that I am about to show you, my left hand is not only quite flexible but I also have a lot of strength in it. Having strong fretting hand enables you to play with more ease because you don’t need to use larger muscles.

Stretching exercise 

If you just pick one exercise from this article, choose this one. I use this one everyday with myself and my students.

Start  in this position: (Pinky 12th fret e string, ring finger 11th fret b string, middle finger 10th fret g string, index finger 9th fret D string.)

IMG_0275

Thumb of your left hand is in the middle of the neck, against your index finger. Don’t move further until this position feels completely relaxed. Check how much pressure you have in your hand and mentally try to let it go. Also check if you didn’t lower your left shoulder. Sit or stand straight, no bending. Let your fretting hand do the work. 

Now that you feel comfortable in this position, move your index finger to 8th fret D string. Feel the stretch between your first and second finger. Again, check if you don’t put too much pressure. Everything should feel light and easy. At least in your head. 

Once the tension subdues, move your middle finger one fret lower. This is the most difficult part for most people because second and third finger don’t like to be set apart. If you have trouble separating them, use your right hand to stretch them. Do it gently, no pushing. Just a light pull. Mentally let go of the tension. 

If you are comfortable in this position, move your third finger one fret lower, relax, and then move your pinky one fret lower. Now stretch your index finger again by putting it on the 7th fret of D string. 

The distance between frets is bigger as you move down the neck, so the exercise keeps getting harder and harder. Your goal is not to reach the first fret today. Even though eventually you will get there you don’t want to feel the pressure that you need to do it in one sitting. Go as long as your hand keeps stretching, once it is too hard for you stop and relax. Do this everyday for 3 to 5 minutes and you will see a major difference one month from today. 

Strength building exercise 

This is another exercise that I got from Tommy Emmanuel. This one is good for building strength in your left hand. It is basically just one shape that you can move up and down the neck.The closer to the nut you move, the bigger the stretch and the bigger the pain. 

IMG_0276

You can see that we are covering four strings with our pinky. The goals is to make them all sound clean. Not that easy, really.

If you practice this on your acoustic, you get some extra points.

In what order should I practice these exercises?

Students ask me this question a lot.

I always suggest that you go with how your body feels. Maybe your left hand is stiff, maybe your right hand hurts a little bit from yesterday’s workout. You need to learn to feel what you need to work on.

If you are wondering how long you should practice these exercises, the answer again depends on how your body feels. Some days you need just a little bit of warm up and you are ready to go, other days you need to spend more time on it. With practice you will learn what’s best for you.

Don’t rush the process because that pressure will only hinder the progress. Keep everything loose and relaxed. Your body and also your mind.

Not sure how to use these exercises in your warm up routine, subscribe below and get the bonus video where I’ll show you how:

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