Before I figured out how to execute an effective guitar warm up I used to either not warm up at all before practicing the guitar or else, play the same chromatic exercises over and over with no particular purpose.
In this article I will explain why it is important to warm up before a guitar practicing session, and how to link it to the goals of that practice session.
This way, warming up on the guitar, won’t be a waste of time, but a fundamental part of that practice session.
As a case study I will use the guitar practicing session I just had before writing this article, which lasted for one hour.
As you’ll see, your guitar practicing goals are going to be completely different than mine.
Do not copy the exercises given here for your guitar warm up. Instead copy the process I’m using to have a guitar warm up that prepares me for what I’m trying to achieve in the practice session.
Why warm up before practicing the guitar?
Before you spend precious practicing time doing it, why should you warm up on the guitar in the first place?
The reasons are two:
- To get blood flowing into your hands and fingers.
- To get your brain tuned in and focused.
The first is important in order to be able to execute stuff on the guitar, especially if what you’re going to practice is complex, fast, or if the temperature is cold.
Warming up your brain is equally important since effective guitar practicing requires all of your attention. (It’s much better to spend 20 minutes of deliberate, focused practice on the guitar, than noodling around aimlessly for an hour)
In the example we’ll go through below, we will be achieving both, as well as preparing for the rest of the practicing session.
Guitar warm up case study
Practice session time: 1 hour
Main goals for the session:
- To learn how to play accurately and on time the guitar solo I’m writing at the moment.
- To improve on the specific guitar techniques used in the solo.
- To continue the solo.
The following is the guitar solo in question – as far as I had written before the practice session.
As you will see, my guitar warm up is going to be based on different components of this solo and the goals I want to reach with it.
You may want to learn the above music excerpt if you’re an intermediate guitar player or more advanced. However the main goal here is to notice how I extracted different aspects of this solo and turned them into warm up exercises to prepare me to play it.
If you’re a beginner guitar student you can apply the same process to your practice without learning the solo itself.
Guitar warm up exercise 1: Slides
The solo given above makes frequent use of slides, thus I created a simple exercise to practice slides on.
I played this exercise slowly at first so that my brain gets tuned to practicing slides accurately. Then I incrementally increased the speed up to a moderate level.
Play the first part of the exercise with your ring finger, and the second part with your index finger.
Guitar warm up exercise 2: Practicing the scale
The entire guitar solo is planned to be in the key of A minor natural.
Thus I practiced the three note per string pattern of A minor in all positions to cover the entire neck.
This helps refresh my memory of all the note options over the guitar fretboard I have available for this solo, as well as achieve the other goals of warming up both my hands and my brain.
Note: Playing scales up and down is ideal as a warm up exercise, but not the best way to learn guitar scales.
Guitar warm up exercise 3: Hammer ons and pull offs
The solo excerpt above makes frequent use of hammer on and pull of technique, sometimes with many notes in succession.
Thus I practiced this simple exercise which is nothing more than cycling around two strings of one of the scale patterns I’m using.
You can apply this exercise to any two adjacent strings on any three note per string scale.
Go to this lesson for more hammer on and pull off exercises to master this useful technique.
Guitar warm up exercise 4: Vibrato and string bending
By now the blood has already started flowing into my hands and fingers and my brain is already getting focused.
It’s time to start tuning in my ear.
Though string bending and vibrato need the right physical technical abilities to execute like all other techniques, they also require some extra work from our ear.
When bending strings, our ears detect whether we’re reaching the exact pitch we intend, and they will also tell us if our vibrato sounds sloppy.
Thus, in most guitar warm up sessions, I spend some time on these two techniques to also warm up my ear.
Using simple exercises like this one:
Guitar warm up exercise 5: Single note triplets
In the last exercise I’ll focus on the part of my body I haven’t given much attention to so far: My right hand.
Since the solo uses guitar triplets I simply play repeated triplets on one note, gradually increasing the tempo. (It is important to practice an exercise like this using a metronome).
Conclusion: Creating your own guitar warm up routine
By the end of this warm up, blood is freely flowing through my hands, my brain is tuned and focused and so is my ear.
Better still, I’ve already been through different aspects of what I’m about to practice.
The above case study should give you an idea on how to create your own guitar warm up exercises, keeping in mind these two things.
- Start with your practicing goals first. Anything you do during the practice session should be directed towards reaching these goals.
- That said, don’t obsess too much about having everything in line during the warm up. In the above case study I linked every practice item to the goals of the session but this may not always be the case. For instance when I learn a new scale, or chord progression, I tent to play that pattern of notes or chords in successive guitar warm ups whether they’re related to the goals of that practice session or not.
After a thorough warm up, everything you’ll do in the practice session will be more effective and feel much easier.
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