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Single-Note Guitar Warm-up Exercises

The point of a warm-up is to get your hands and fingers moving on the guitar from a cold start. Physically, you’re simply stretching the muscles (or muscle-tendon units) and enabling blood to flow more freely through them. You don’t need to play a masterpiece to do that. In fact, you shouldn’t play anything too taxing, strenuous, or complicated when warming up.

Single-note exercises have the advantage of getting your left-hand fingers moving one by one. This helps the fingers warm-up by making them go through the same type of motion you use to play scales, arpeggios, and their corresponding sequences.

Take a look at four different warm-up exercises that get the fingers moving in slightly different ways. The two types of movements in these four figures require going across the neck (which means you don’t change positions) and diagonally (which means you change positions by going up the neck while also going across).

Because these are exercises for the fingers, there’s nothing musically meaningful about them. They’re all just about the pattern. So here’s a hint: Look only at the tab to see the patterns more easily.

Practice the warm-up in the following figure using your 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fingers to play the first four frets on each string. Moving along the string one fret at a time, in half steps, is known as playing chromatically.

An “across the neck” chromatic warm-up.
An “across the neck” chromatic warm-up.

The exercise in the next figure shows a warm-up with a diagonal pattern. This pattern requires a shift, or a move up to a new position. Again, play the first four notes with the first four fingers. But on the fifth note, which begins at the 2nd fret on the 5th string, start with the 1st finger so you’ll be in 2nd position and can play frets 2, 3, 4, and 5 with fingers 1, 2, 3, and 4. On the 4th string, play frets 3, 4, 5, and 6 with fingers 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on. Here’s a simple way to think of it: Start each new string with the 1st finger.

Diagonal chromatic warm-up.
Diagonal chromatic warm-up.

The next two warm-up exercises are variations on the across and diagonal movements that were presented in the previous two figures. The following figure places a fret in between each played note (two frets equals a whole step; thus the name “whole step warm-up”). You have to stretch a bit to play these notes, but that stretch is part of the warm-up process. Remember the battle cry of personal trainers everywhere when your fingers start to burn: “No pain, no gain.”

“Across the neck” whole step warm-up.
“Across the neck” whole step warm-up.

The following figure takes the whole-step stretch presented in the previous figure and applies it to diagonal movement.

Diagonal whole step warm-up.
Diagonal whole step warm-up.
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