One of the most important aspects of guitar playing is the one that is often overlooked by most players. When we start playing guitar we think about songs we want to learn, tones, gear, and even theory sometimes. Warming up usually falls at the wayside. When we pick up a guitar and start noodling around we will tend to just warm up naturally. This is ok, but is usually not the most efficient way, especially when we have a limited time to practice. There are several different warm-up methodologies and I’m going to thru a few of them today. Mix, match, and create a routine that works for you. Use the different methods differently day by day to create a warm up that works for you.
I would recommend some simple hand stretches before starting on the guitar for the day. Nothing major. You can thread your fingers through each other and lightly bend all of your fingers back.
Bend each of your hands back for a few seconds to stretch out your wrists also.
Keeping it simple
One of the more plain warm up patterns that you will see all over the internet is the classic 1-2-3-4 pattern warm-up as shown below.
You can do this one with alternate picking or legato. I recommend you do either or both depending on what you are working on. Once you get the end of the pattern, shift everything up one fret and repeat the exercise. Do this pattern all the way up the fretboard and back down again as long as you feel is necessary. The good thing about this shape is that it is balanced and warms up each finger evenly. The bad thing is it not very musical (unless you really enjoy chromatic patterns) and doesn’t really put anything in muscle memory that you would really want to deploy in an improvisation situation.
I would recommend working this pattern with a metronome and starting at a comfortable pace and bringing it up as you go.
E–1h2p1h2p1h2p1 (using the index and middle finger hammering)
E–2h3p2h3p2h3p2 (using the middle and ring finger hammering)
E–3h4p3h4p3h4p3 (using the ring and pinkie finger hammering)
This is another simple warm-up that can really wake up your fingers on your fretting hand. If you do half step trills for about 30 seconds each it can be a small finger workout. If 30 seconds is too long (or short), change it. This is your warm-up. Do what works for you, but don’t hurt yourself.
The good thing about this one is it warms up the fretting hand pretty quickly. However, this isn’t something you want to do more than a few times per position, but it will build strength in your fretting hand fingers.
3NPS (Note per string) Scaling
If you like to review your scale patterns from time to time then your warm-up will benefit from this too. I try and focus on the three notes per string patterns that repeat in higher octaves further down the fretboard. Plus, if you used to playing linear modal shapes, warming up with these patterns might help break you out of the box (or at least start tying the boxes together).
Here is an example I like to use with the E Minor (Aeolian) scale.
Patterns repeat until you run out of frets…
Then, when you get bored with that and you really want to stretch your hands out try some 4NPS.
These runs are less satisfying due the occasional repeating note in the pattern, but is good for warming up and breaking out of the box. If you need some inspiration for this one just go watch Joe Satriani play legato on YouTube for a few minutes and you’ll really want to get these shapes under your fingers.
That’s basically it. You can warm up with basically anything, but I hope these ideas are useful to you.
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