Whether you’re playing the blues, or any other type of music, the importance of guitar warm up exercises must not be underestimated. I’m often asked by students what blues guitar warm up and drills I can recommend, or what heavy metal scales are good for warming up your fingers before a performance. My answer is to say, “Hold on a second”, don’t forget to warm up even before you pick up your guitar!” And this is my advice to everyone. Always start off with a few joint rotations and stretches before moving on to playing a guitar warmup – whether you choose to play some blues guitar warm up and drills or any other kind of exercise, I always recommend loosening your fingers and arms off first.
The Importance of a Warmup
So what’s this about special guitar exercises and a warm up for guitar playing? It’s not like it’s the most strenuous pastime on earth and I can’t say I get all out of breath or “feel the burn” like down at the gym. So why do I need to warm up?
Simple. To prevent injury and to improve your coordination, accuracy and ensure you can put in a good practice session without paying for it later, you should always start your practice with some gentle guitar exercises to warm up your fingers, wrists etc.
Use these simple guitar exercises in your warmup each time you play and you’ll really feel the benefit.
A friend of mine used to play without a warm up all the time and one day, after half an hour of intense practice (he was trying to nail a particular lead part and playing the same section over and over) his whole hand cramped up. He literally had to prise his fingers away from the fretboard using his other hand. Man, did he learn his lesson! He now warms up carefully with a few guitar exercises before each playing session. And it’s a good job too, because the consequences of not warming up can be dire. My first guitar teacher was was a busy composer and session musician who often had no time for a proper warm up, and he paid the price big time. After years of playing he developed tendinitis in his left hand, which pretty much meant he could no longer fret properly. He was faced with a stark choice, either learn how to play left handed or give up his beloved guitar altogether. He chose to learn to play left handed, which he found incredibly frustrating and, even after years and years of trying, he never reached the standard he was at playing right handed before.
So be warned – warm up with some simple guitar exercises before each time you play!
So what guitar exercises do I recommend? Well, I like to start with some joint rotations and stretching (bear with me here, I know this sounds like a gym class, but the principles are exactly the same). I like to do a few shoulder rotations and elbow rotations before rotating my wrists and finally moving my fingers.
Don’t go mad with this, you’re just getting the circulation going so 10 times in each direction with the rotations is enough. For the fingers, I’ll make a gentle fist and open my hands a few times until they feel loose and slightly warm.
After that, a few stretches are a good thing to do. Simply pull each finger in turn gently back and hold the stretch for a count of 6. You can also gently spread your fingers apart with your other hand to increase their reach on the fretboard.
Now shake of your arms and fingers gently and you’re ready to continue your warm up some guitar exercises on the guitar itself.
There are many, many guitar exercises that you can incorporate into your warm up. I usually start off by playing a few open chords to get my fingers used to the different positions on the neck. Then a few bits of lead – playing scales is a good guitar exercise. Finally, I’ll play some barre chords in different positions up and down the neck and using different shapes (major, minor, seventh etc). This not only warms up my fretting hand but gives the strumming hand some gentle exercise too. If you feel tightness or tiredness in your hands during the warm up, simply stop for a few seconds and then ease back in gently.
Gradually build up the intensity of your playing over the course of about 3 to 5 minutes.
That’s it – if you warm up with these guitar exercises before each practice session, you’ll be ready to play anything.