How many of you warm-up before you play for an extended period of time?
Let me rephrase the question a bit. Have you ever picked up the guitar cold and just started playing? If you’re like me, it probably doesn’t feel all that great. In fact, it can be downright painful and frustrating. Unless you are super-fit and have conditioned your body to a point where you can move effortlessly with a minimum of preparation, it is vital that you incorporate a warm-up routine to your playing.
Proper warming up of the joints and muscles will not only prevent a crappy performance due to slow hands (sorry, Clapton!) but it will also improve your posture while playing, get the blood and oxygen flowing to increase stamina, and allow you to concentrate on the performance rather than your cramping hands and shoulders.
You may not have to go full-on Yoga to get a good warm-up going, but at the very least you should get your upper body prepared before you pick up the guitar.
Here are some exercises both with and without your guitar that you can use to help your playing and add into your practice sessions:
First, check out my friend Jon’s article “Fitness at Work?” on his Warrior Fitness blog. You don’t necessarily have to worry about the “Core Exercises” for the purposes of this warm-up, but you can certainly include them if you want. The point here is to loosen up your head, neck, shoulders, wrists, and fingers. They are all interconnected, and tension in one area will affect all others. A stiff neck will cause tight shoulders and bad posture which, in turn, affect your hands and fingers. Get the idea?
Work through the exercises slowly and efficiently. They should not take more than a few minutes to finish. I do these exercises every morning when I wake up (in addition to before a practice session or gig) and it really helps!
Once you have your body loose and feeling good, you should pick up your guitar and do some more warming up. Just because your fingers are loose and you might be feeling ready to go, you still need a few minutes to acclimate yourself to your instrument. Your guitar needs to warm up a bit, too; you shouldn’t pick up a cold guitar and just start hammering away at it. The following exercises are called “gymnastics.” They are designed to gently stretch the fingers further using specific fingerings that you will encounter while playing. My suggestion would be to get a metronome and start at a medium tempo. Start on the first fret, high ‘E’ string and play the exercises descending to the low ‘E’ string. When you get there, move up to the 2nd fret and repeat the gymnastic in the opposite direction (moving back to the high ‘E’ string). Then move up to the 3rd fret and descend, etc. You should do this all the way up to the 12th fret and then back down again.
You can do this with alternate or economy picking. Sometimes what I will do is perform the gymnastic up to the 12th fret using strict alternate picking, and then descending back to the 1st fret using strict economy picking.
Only one gymnastic – if done properly – is sufficient for each practice session, but I’m including a few so you have some to start with. I recommend you purchase the book “Guitar Lore” by Dennis Sandole for more gymnastic exercises that you can incorporate.
Here are some to get you started; pay close attention to the fingerings (click to enlarge):