Dansm's Acoustic Page
Dansm's Warm-Up Exercises for Acoustic Guitar

Welcome to Dansm's Warm-Up Exercises! I have started thinking about warm-up exercises lately, and subsequently searched the web for various ideas regarding warm-up. Here is a compilation of the exercises I found. I have designed them specifically for fingerpicking guitarists. Use these both as warm-up exercises and as practice exercises to improve your playing.

Why Warm Up?
Why warm up, you ask? Well, there are basically three reasons for spending some time warming up before you jump into your songs. First, your fingers and hands need to be loosened up before you begin playing more difficult guitar parts. If you do not stretch out your hand muscles, you risk serious injury and possibly an end to your guitar-playing days. Would you consider running 2 miles without stretching? Then you shouldn't play guitar without stretching either. For more information on guitar-related injuries, see Dansm's Guide to Hand Care. Second, playing guitar requires adequate circulation in your hands. Warming up with these exercises ensures that you get enough blood flowing into your finger and hand muscles before you begin playing. This also prevents cold hands, which are the worst thing that can happen to a guitarist. Third, warming up familiarizes your hand with the motions it will have to make while you are playing songs. Therefore, if you are going to play a song or a solo, your hand is already prepared for the motions you have to make because it has already done them while warming up.

I would suggest spending at least 4 or 5 minutes on these exercises before playing a song. This will allow plenty of time for your hands to get used to playing and for circulation to improve. If you don't want to spend this much time, at least run through one or two of the exercises before starting to play. Your hands will thank you for it.

These exercises were originally invented with the flatpicking guitarist in mind. However, I don't ever play with a pick and therefore wanted to modify these exercises to somehow accomodate fingerpicking. Each exercise will have a suggestion on which fingers to use on which strings, so make sure you note these before you start playing the exercises.
Scales: The Ultimate Warm-Up
My first suggestion for warm-ups is scales. If you don't know them already, scales will improve your playing immensely. I have a page on guitar scales that will teach you most of the scales you need to know. Once you know them, run through several (perhaps the seven modes of the major scale) as a warm-up exercise. This is a great way to repeat them every day without getting sick of them. This is a great way to make warm-up a learning experience as well.
Warm-Up Exercise #1
This exercise is a simple introduction and a very good warm-up. The basic pattern looks like this:

Continue by moving up to one fret until you get up to the twelfth fret. For example, the next pattern would be 3 4 5 6 on all strings, then 7 6 5 4 back down. When you play each string, use the picking finger shown to the right of that string, and use all four fingers in your fretting hand.

Warm-Up Exercise #2
The second exercise is very quick, and is great if you are looking for a short but effective warm-up:

Use the fingers shown to the right of each string.

Warm-Up Exercise #3
The next exercise is basically a variation of exercise 1. This exercise is great for improving finger dexterity in your fretting hand. Shown below are 24 combinations of possible patterns for exercise 1. Play each one on each string once, going up and back down. You should actually just choose a few to do, since doing them all would take forever. Just pick three or four each day and zip through them. Another option is to move these up the fretboard like you did with #1: take them to the twelfth fret and then come back down.

1)1-2-3-4dansm 7)2-1-3-4dansm 13)3-1-2-4dansm 19)4-1-2-3
2)1-2-4-3dansm 8)2-4-3-1dansm 14)3-1-4-2dansm 20)4-1-3-2
3)1-3-4-2dansm 9)2-3-1-4dansm 15)3-2-1-4dansm 21)4-2-1-3
4)1-3-2-4dansm 10)2-3-4-1dansm 16)3-2-4-1dansm 22)4-2-3-1
5)1-4-3-2dansm 11)2-1-4-3dansm 17)3-4-1-2dansm 23)4-3-1-2
6)1-4-2-3dansm 12)2-4-1-3dansm 18)3-4-2-1dansm 24)4-3-2-1

For example, the fifteenth example would look something like this:

Warm-Up Exercise #4
Here's an exercise that will stretch out your fingers as you warm up. Play this one up all six strings and back down (I only have the first half notated here):

Use the fingers shown to the right of each string.

Warm-Up Exercise #5
This exercise is a variation on #4 that will stretch out different fingers. Again, play this up all six strings and back down (I only have the first half notated):

Warm-Up Exercise #6
This exercise is designed to confuse your hands. Well, not really, but once you master it this one will really help your finger-hand-eye coordination. Play this up all six strings and back down (I only have the first part notated here):

Warm-Up Exercise #7
This exercise is based on the G major scale. Basically, you jump up a third, then you come down a second. Click here for the shape of the G major scale. You can and should try this in other keys by changing where you play the pattern.

For fingerpickers: use the fingers shown below each note to pick that note.
T=thumb, I=index, M=middle, R=ring

That's it for warm-ups for now. Remember that these are also very good practice exercises, so work on them and try to understand what you are doing in terms of the notes you are playing. Have fun, and enjoy these exercises!
Keep playin'!
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1998 Daniel E. Smith. Last updated 1-8-98