Warming Up on the Guitar

You may have noticed a few times that your hands do a much better job on the guitar toward the end of your playing time. That’s because once you’ve been playing for a few minutes, your hands and arms have “warmed up” and are able to move better.

Let’s define what “warmed up” means for playing. When your muscles begin an activity, they are usually a bit cold and don’t flow or move easily. The more you move your body, the more your temperature rises. This is good for muscles, because it brings the fluids into your muscles and other body parts that they need to move at their best. Cold muscles don’t move so well. This means when you start a physical activity, your body needs a few minutes of an easy movement before it’s ready to start playing full out.

When you first pick up your guitar, your hands aren’t warmed up on the instrument yet, so your fingers are not ready to move at their fastest, strongest or most relaxed. Fast, strong and relaxed are all good things for guitar playing, so having a proper warm up will improve your playing and make everything you play easier.

Before you pick up the guitar, in your left hand, make a fist and then spread your fingers out wide. Repeat this combination five times in a row to get some blood flow into your hand and arm. In your right hand, bring the tips of your fingers and thumb together, press and hold for one second and release them. Repeat that combination five time before putting a pick in your hand. Once you get both movements learned in your left and right hands, do them at the same time every day right before you pick up your guitar.

The best warm up routine for your practice on your guitar starts slow and gradually builds as your hands and arms relax and feel more powerful.  Pick your easiest song to start. If you are learning drills or melodies that include individual notes in the left hand, put those drills first before anything that involves a lot of strength from the hand.

Since the rest of your body beyond your hands is also involved in your playing, your warm up has to include checking things like:

  1. Am I sitting comfortably? Do I need to move slightly on my seat to get more comfortable or have my guitar positioned better?
  2. Is my leg relaxed? (…especially if you use a footstool to prop your leg while you play.)
  3. Is my back and my body posture comfortable while I play? Do my arms and shoulders getting more relaxed as I work through my five minutes?
  4. Am I leaning my body on my guitar as I play, or am I supporting myself and holding my guitar correctly?

Let yourself get into the habit of asking these four questions every day during that five-minute warm up at the beginning of your practice time. You will find that within about two weeks of doing those mental checks during your first song of the day that all of your playing gets better and you relax faster during your warm up time.

If your daily practice sessions are thirty minutes, consider the first five minutes of that time your warm-up. That means that by the end of five minutes of playing an easy song or drill, you will notice your hands feel stronger and are playing more accurately than when you started.

If you know how to play chords and are working on a song that uses them, pick the easy chords to start with. Jumping right into a difficult chord that requires lots of finger strength and hand support can cause your hand to cramp. If you want to practice difficult chords during that session, start with the easy ones first! You don’t want to ruin a whole day of practice by drilling a tough chord or skill right away and cramping your hand within the first five minutes.

Design your practice routine to start with some hand drills off the guitar, add a slow song or exercise that uses individual notes in the left hand and easy strumming or picking in the right hand, and progresses to your more difficult pieces at the end. If you get into the habit of putting things in that order, you will always be warmed up properly by the time you need your hands to handle the challenging pieces in your study. Your hands will get stronger, your playing will improve faster and you will enjoy your playing much more if you follow that simple warm up and practice routine.

Phil Barrow

Phil Barrow

Phil is a guitarist and Director of Resound School of Music, a music school specializing in at-home music lessons. Phil's passion is helping others to discover their lifelong love of music, and he writes about a variety of topics aimed at helping you to become a better musician.

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Resound School of Music was started in 2009 with a vision of providing the finest music instruction available from the comfort of your home. But don’t be mistaken; we’re not your typical, stuffy music conservatory, nor do we want to be. Instead, we are the music school that was designed with you in mind.