This article will demonstrate a few techniques to help strengthen your digits, extend their flexibility, and increase endurance. Fingerstyle guitar play is an strenous mode of play that will constantly test your finger dexterity and endurance so make it a habbit to warm up and protect your hands before playing. Waming up limbers up your hands and help prevent playing related injuries.
Most times, as long as it is warm and I’m well hydrated, I can go right into playing with little to no damage to my hands while playing. There are time a guitarist may play out doors in cool weather or have to recover from wrist injuries (like I’ve had to do 3 times) where these exercises will provide great support and help playing feel more comfortable and easier over time.
The ‘Air Grab’ exercise is great for those who struggle with either wrist or finger flexibility. This exercise is very simple to perform and can be done virtually anywhere; I often do this when sitting at my desk or driving on long car rides. Start out with your hands closed into a fist. Next, as quickly as you can without strain, open you hands all the way til your fingers are fully extended and then close back into a fist. Repeat this exercise around 30 to 50 repitions a couple times. Feel free to take a short break between sets. Discontinue this exercise if it becomes uncomfortable or if you feel you no longer benefit from it.
The Air Grab will slowly strengthen your forearms and continue to tone your finger and wrist strength. For anyone who has had to recover from an injury, you understand the benefit of strengthening your auxillary muscle groups to support a recovering area. If you haven’t had an injury, this exercise is still great to help improve your overall hand strength and build a bit of dexterity.
The ladder climb is a simple linear travel up the fret board and back down. It may not be the most soothing to listen to, but it does a great job of limbering up your digits and sharpen your dexterity.
Start at the top E-string and pluck the open string. Next, place down your Index finger just behind the first fret (on the headstock side of the fret) and stike the string. Then, place your Middle Finger on the second fret and play the note followed by your Ring Finger on the third fret and playing that note. Finally, you put your Pinky on the fourth fret and strike that note.
That’s the essence of the ladder. Next, you drop down and do that same for each string all the way to the bottom string. This will help you become more familiar with the fret board, spacing, and timing between your left hand and your right. Give your self the extra challege and go the opposite direction on the ladder from the bottom e-string back to the top E-string. The only difference is, instead of going ‘up’ the ladder by playing open then 1st fret, 2nd fret, 3rd fret, and then the 4th fret you will do the opposite.
From the bottom e-string you play the 4th fret then the 3rd fret, 2nd fret, 1st fret, and then open before going back ‘down’ to the B-string and repeating this process til your reach the lowest E-string. Give yourself the extra challenge of using down and up strokes with your ‘strumming’ hand and eventually you’ll be able to play 1/8 notes and riffs faster!
Since I fingerpick with all five fingers, I use my thumb on the bass E and A-strings while my index plays the D-string, middle plays the G-string, ring plays the B-string, and pinky plays the e-string. Practicing this exercise with your right hand playing each string will greatly improve your finger picking ability. Performing ‘up’ and ‘down’ strokes with your fingers seems impossible at first but with just a bit of practice it pays off tremendously once playing patterns. I cannot suggest it enough!
One of the techniques I use frequently to warm up my hands is to place them under a tap and let warm water slowly ease the temperature of my hands up. If you ever get to play outside during the cold, you’ll begin to notice how much more difficut it is to articulate notes and a general slowing of your dexterity. The root cause of this has to do with the interworkings of your hand being cold, making your hands feel stiff.
When my I’m about to perform or practice in an area below 70 degrees and I have chilly hands, I warm them under the tap for 1-2 minutes to allows the muscles to slowly warm and relax. Be sure to dry well to lessen the amount of heat loss due to convection!
Completing scales are also a great way to warm up your hands before diving into intricate and complex play. I often stick to the g-major and e-minor scale but any of the scale work the same by waking your hands up, accentuating punctuality, and bring to the forefront any technical deviations you need to work on.
Why we Warm-Up
Warming up your hands is a good idea regardless of your experience or intensity of your play. For beginners, warming up give your hands a bit more time to become accumstomed to tonal locations and sounds. For novice players, it brings to the forefront the areas you need to work on when playing scales or accentuating notes. And for expert players, it gets those old hands limber and ready for the next jam session.
When you are playing in a cold area, I highly suggest warming up your hands and limiting the intensity of your play until you’re in a warmer place to play or your hands are thoroughly warmed up. Irritiated digits often feel like a tightening or burning sensation around the knuckles and playing should be stopped if you feel this. If your hands continue to ache while playing, I suggest seing a hand specialist or chiropractor who can address your particular symptoms.
Thanks for reading!