Saturday, 23 February 2013

Confession #6 - Warm Up! - Exercise #1

When you are young, your body will let you get away with a lot.  I'm sorry to tell you that as you get older, it won't do that anymore.  If you are an older player, you need to warm up before playing.  If you are a younger player, it's a good habit to get into now, rather than trying to break 20 years worth of bad habits when you are older. And yes, even the pros warm-up before a gig.

Also remember to take a short break every 45 minutes or so and give your fretting a hand a rest.


Playing guitar can be hard on your fretting hand, especially if you are playing songs with lots of barre chords. Barre chords require you to hold your hand in an awkward position  and then squeeze with a lot of force. That can be hard on your wrist.  So rather than starting by picking up your guitar and slamming out The Ramone's Blitzkrieg Bop, take a few minutes to warm up your hand first.

I'll talk more about barre chords in a future Confession.

First, Some Single Notes

I have a few different exercises that I use for warm-up.  They can be played anywhere on the fretboard, but I usually start them in 5th position (i.e. at the 5th fret).  This is because 5th position is probably the post comfortable position to play at on the whole guitar.  Your wrist is not cocked one way or the other, and the spacing between the frets is just right.

Warm Up! - Exercise #1 is a simple chromatic run.  It doesn't sound particularly musical, but that's not its purpose.  Play it slowly.  As your hand limbers up, you can gradually increase the tempo.  Remember, the point is to warm up, not to shred.  Also, use light pressure with your fretting hand.  Don't try to strangle the guitar's neck!  Using light pressure will also benefit you by forcing you to be more accurate about your finger positioning behind the fret.

Warm Up! - Exercise #1
(Click to Enlarge)

 I actually like to start by playing each note twice, like this:

Warm Up! - Exercise #1 playing each note twice
(Click to Enlarge)

This slows down the changes and gives your fingers a chance to get up to speed.  Then I do single notes.

The other benefit of Warm Up! - Exercise #1 is that the descending phrases (i.e. 8-7-6-5 etc.) help develop your finger 3-4 independence (finger 4 is your pinky).  I'll talk more about finger 3-4 independence in a future Confession.

Now Some Chords

When playing the single note warm up exercises, only one finger is under tension at a time.  After I've finished my single note exercises, I like to switch to some open chord work. This will put 2 or 3 fingers under tension simultaneously.  So pick your favourite strumming song and gently play through it.  Your fretting hand should be warmed up now.

Mix It Up

Warm up exercises get boring fast!  When they do, your mind starts to wander and then you start making mistakes.  So don't stay on any one exercise too long.  Mix it up!  I'll provide some more warm up exercises in future Confessions.


Dunno if its just me, but my shoulders sometimes get stiff when playing.  So I like to do some stretches beforehand.  Stand up straight with your arms at your side.  Keep your arms straight and raise them to the side until  they are pointing at the ceiling.  With both arms up over your head now, grab one hand with the other and gently stretch.  Release and slowly lower them back down at your side.

(If this causes you any pain or discomfort, stop immediately!)

Next Week's Confession - Use Pivot Chords!

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