It is second nature for us to stretch and warm up before exercising or sports. It makes the muscles more pliable and reduces injury. When it comes to our practice routine as musicians, however, we often neglect to properly stretch and warm up our hand and finger musculature. As a result, musicians are very prone to injuries like tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Using guitar finger exercises as an example, here are a few preventive steps and finger exercises that you can take to minimize the risk of these often career-ending injuries.

Warm Up Exercises

Before you even reach for your instrument, you should make sure that your hands and arms are warm. In this case, I literally mean “warm”. I like to hold my hands under running warm water for about 30 seconds. Just let the water run over your hands, fingers, and forearms. This step is not as important if you live in a warm climate (like Southern California), but I personally like it because it feels good, and it gives me a few moments to clear my mind before ‘officially starting’ my practice routine.

Next, find a comfortable upright seating position on your practice chair and take a few cleansing breaths. The most important thing is to be relaxed. You can start a rep of 10 shoulder rotations forward and then 10 shoulder rotations backwards. Follow this by 5 head rolls to the right and then 5 to the left. Finish the upper body relaxation routine with a few more cleansing breaths.

Wrist Exercises

You continue with your hands-and-forearm routine. Let your hands dangle by the sides and make 10 wrist-circles with both hands. Then lace the fingers of your left hand with your right hand and push your palms out away from your chest. Try to stretch the hands as far as you can, but don’t overdo it. Listen to your body. When it hurts, stop! Now shake your hands out and let your muscles relax.

Stretching Exercises

To stretch the fingers, start by curling your right arm in front of your chest. If you are familiar with the famous Rodin sculpture, ‘The Thinker’, you already know the pose. Make sure you are not hunched over, and your hand should not touch your face. Now CAREFULLY pull down on your right hand pinky finger with your left hand and hold the stretch for about 3 seconds. Then SLOWLY release the finger and repeat this stretch with all the other fingers of the right hand and the left hand (pulling with your right hand). When performing this stretch, it is most important to execute everything slowly and carefully and not pull through pain in the upper forearm. Letting the finger “snap back” or pulling too much can cause serious injury.

Shake out your hands and then stretch in the opposite direction. To do this, hold your right arm in front of your chest as if you are carrying a serving dish. The palm faces upward. Now pull your fingers backwards one at a time, stretching the flexor muscles in your hands and forearms. Again, execute this stretch slowly, and avoid too much pain. Afterwards, shake out your hands and arms. You are now ready to proceed with your instrument.

Finger-Fretboard Routine

You might have your own preferred finger exercises, depending on your instrument or instructor. Here are the guitar finger exercises that work for me:

Place your left hand in the first position of the guitar fingerboard. Start playing the note on the first fret of the sixth string with your first finger, then the note on the second fret with your second finger, then the note on the third fret with your third finger, and then the note on the fourth fret with your fourth finger.

Then move to the 5th string and repeat; then to the 4th string, then the 3rd, and so on. When you reach the last note (the fourth finger note on the 1st string), move the entire hand into the second position and play in the opposite direction: fourth finger, then third, then second then first, 2nd string fourth finger, third, and so on. When you arrive at the first finger note on the 6th string, shift the hand into the third position and continue the guitar finger exercises up the guitar neck.

Guitar Finger Exercises example

Guitar Finger Exercises

Guitar Finger Exercises

Remember: this is not a brain exercise. It is not important to think about the note names in this case. Concentrate on clear and even execution of the notes. These guitar finger exercises will help you with finger dexterity and left-hand-right-hand-coordination. If you want, you could make it into a picking exercise: you could practice alternate picking, down stroke only, or up stroke only, or any picking combination you like. Personally, I prefer not to get too complicated with these guitar finger exercises. Let’s not forget, it is only part of your warm-up routine. Your actual ‘practice time’ comes afterward.

Your combined warm-up/stretching/finger-fretboard routine should not take more than 5 minutes before each practice session. Combine this guitar finger exercises routine with proper technique, relaxation, and frequent breaks (especially when you feel your hands becoming tense), and you will be able to avoid injuries and also progress quicker on your instrument.

– Written by Wilfried Geck

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