Here’s a warm-up routine that works great in the classroom; private lessons; or individual practice. I have also used this in the Teaching Guitar Workshops. In a matter of less than four minutes, this exercise can be performed with great benefit. Some of the things achieved in this exercise include finger independence, coordination of right and left hands; rhythmic practice against a metronome and playing every note on every string on the neck. Many variations of this exercise are possible to challenge all levels.
Can you think of a sport or activity that does not benefit from a disciplined pre-activity warm-up? Take running for instance. I would like to just get out there and run, but I know if I take the time to stretch and warm-up I will have an easier and better run. The batter takes some practice swings; the shooter practices some free throws; the goalie blocks some shots; the forward dribbles and shoots. In guitar we get the same benefit. If we warm-up, we will play more accurately, with more feeling, and feel better about our playing.
Let’s start with a basic 1234 left hand (assuming you are a right handed player) pattern. Finger 1 is your index or pointer finger; finger 2 – your middle finger; finger 3 your ring finger; and finger 4 is your little finger or pinky. You will play this 1234 pattern, ascending across all six strings in a position and then upon playing finger 4 on the 1st string, immediately shift down one position (half step); and do the mirror image of the fingering pattern in reverse – hence 4321.
Start with the metronome set at 60 bpm.
Place your LH in IX position.
Quarter notes (9th and 8th positions) Play with down picking with a pick.
• Play 1234 ascending across all six strings. 6 = C# D D# E and so forth continuing to the first string C# D D# E.
• Immediately shift down one position to position VIII reversing the pattern and play 4321 descending across all six strings. 1 = Eb D Db C. When you reach finger one on the six strings immediately shift down and resolve the last note down one fret to B on the 7th fret, ending with a whole note.
Double Eight Notes (7th and 6th positions) Use alternate down-up picking with a pick.
• Follow the same procedure as above, beginning the ascending 1234 pattern in VII playing 2 eighth notes for every finger beginning on string 6. (B C C# D)
• Shift to VI and reverse the pattern to 4321 across strings 1 through 6. (Db C B Bb)
• Resolve with a whole note to V (A)
Single Eighth Notes (5th and 4th positions) Use alternate down-up picking with a pick.
• Follow the same procedure as above, beginning the ascending 1234 pattern in V playing one eighth note for every finger beginning on string 6. (A A# B C)
• Shift to IV and reverse the pattern to 4321 across strings 1 through 6. (B Bb A Ab)
• Resolve with a whole note to III (G)
Eight note Triplets (3rd and 2nd positions) Triplets should be picked either strictly alternating: down up down; up down up; etc. or each group picked down up down.
• Follow the same procedure as above, beginning the ascending 1234 pattern in III playing 3 eighth note triplets for every finger beginning on string 6. (G G# A A#)
• Shift to II and reverse the pattern to 4321 across strings 1 through 6. (A Ab G Gb)
• Resolve with a whole note to III (F)
Sixteenth notes (1st and 0 position)
• Follow the same procedure as above, beginning the ascending 1234 pattern in I playing four sixteenth notes for every finger beginning on string 6. (F F# G G#)
• Shift down one position so that finger 1 is behind the nut* and finger 2 is on the first fret, finger 3 on the 2nd fret and finger 4 on the 3rd fret. Reverse the pattern to 4321 across strings 1 through 6. (G Gb F E)
• Resolve with a whole note to an E5 power chord (open E on the 6th string with B on the 2nd fret of the 5th string).
• * Note: Students have just practiced playing the 4321 pattern descending in the other positions, so moving behind the nut and actually pressing your 1 finger down in the pattern as if you are fretting is good training for transposing riffs and lines without being disturbed by the open strings.
Well, that’s it! Here are some other tips:
• This exercise can be done finger style. Insist that the thumb (p) play all bass notes on strings 6, 5, and 4 and that the treble 1, 2, 3 strings be played alternating the index and middle fingers (i and m).
• This is such an efficient use of time! This exercise can be played in 3 minutes, 55 seconds when the metronome is set at 60 bpm. The total number of notes played = 534.
• You will see great benefit in your students of all proficiency levels from beginners to advanced students. Control of that little pinky finger is possible!
• Once you’ve had success with the routine of 1234; try applying other finger combinations, perhaps on a weekly basis. 1243, 1324, 2341, etc. Always use the mirror image or reverse of the pattern for the descending exercise. (It really helps if you write the numbers on the board or in a notebook so students can look at what the pattern is as they play.)
When teaching this exercise, stress good holding and hand position. With the left hand, students can pay attention to three areas:
1. accurate finger placement – avoiding buzzing by fretting near the fret
2. put one finger down, lift one up so it is ready to play another note
3. economy of motion – keep the fingers close to the fretboard avoiding lifting the fingers too high
With the right hand, students should play with a rest stroke.
In future lessons, we will learn techniques to make this exercise more challenging for advanced students!
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