Guitar Finger Exercises

Whether you’re new to playing guitar or are just stepping up your practice routine, you might have found that your fingers can’t seem to move fast enough. Or maybe you experience finger fatigue and muscle tension when barring chords or running through scales.

That’s where guitar finger exercises come in. It might sound too good to be true, but incorporating these exercises into your playing (and even just for 10 minutes a day) can dramatically improve your skills on guitar.

The Best Guitar Finger Exercises

Practicing scales and practicing progressions with complex chords are both effective finger-stretching exercises. But most guitarists want to learn another exercise or two to further develop their playing.

For beginners and experienced players alike, exercises might not seem like fun. But you’ll be able to watch the results of your hard work as you progress. Here’s a free guide to a few great finger exercises to start with.

1. Prioritize Stretching

Guitar Finger Exercises

A lot of players don’t take finger-stretching exercises seriously. But when you think about it, you realize that playing guitar uses your whole body. That’s why finger stretches incorporate your whole hand. After all, you use your four fingers for fretting notes and your thumb to stabilize your hand on the neck.

Your posture can influence your guitar playing, too. That’s why some players develop pain in their wrists or even in their shoulders. As a disclaimer, if you experience pain doing any of the following stretches or exercises, be sure to stop and talk to a doctor! It’s worth it to be careful.

It’s always a good idea to warm up with some finger-stretching exercises where you don’t need a guitar at all. A classic exercise is gently pulling each finger backward until you feel a stretch in your palm. Hold each one for around 10 seconds.

Another good stretch really incorporates your wrists. Put your hands together in front of your body in a prayer-like gesture. Keeping your elbows outward (perpendicular to your hands), press together until you feel your wrist stretch. Hold this one for about 10 seconds as well.

You might wonder, how long does it take to stretch your fingers for the guitar? Hand and finger stretches don’t take long at all. Even a few minutes at the start of your practice session makes a difference! Here’s one of the better videos showing you a good hand stretching routine.

2. The 1-2-3-4

Any experienced guitarist will tell you that finger exercises really do work. It lets you move one finger away from the other fingers without disturbing your whole hand. Once you’ve done some hand stretching, you’re ready for some finger exercises. We’ll start with the “1-2-3-4.”

This exercise is one of the most common for beginners. It’s also a good warm-up for experienced players to get some stretching in before playing.

For the first note, start with your index finger at the first fret on the low E string and play the low E string. Then place your middle finger at the second fret, making sure to keep your index finger in place, playing a note here, too. Now place your third finger on the third fret, keeping your first and second fingers in place. Then strike the string again. And lastly, place your pinky finger on the fourth fret, playing a note.

Continue this on the other strings, too. Repeating it on all six strings might seem tedious. But if you do it from the low E to the high E every day, you’ll be amazed at the muscle memory and flexibility you’ve gained.

This exercise has a couple of purposes. For one, it helps you remember that each finger gets its own fret. It also lets you practice stretching your entire hand across the fretboard while keeping each finger in its correct position.

***As a side note, if the stretch is too much at first, you can practice this exercise further up the neck where the frets are smaller. If you’re a very new player, it’s normal to feel pain in your fingertips, especially from the B string and high E string. But as you develop calluses, that will go away! And as for the stretching of your hand that you do in this exercise, you may feel it. But it shouldn’t be painful. You can check your technique with this online tutorial.

3. The Spider (With A Twist)

A “spider exercise” on guitar definitely makes your hand look like a spider! And this version of it is a little more challenging, as it involves all six strings. You can divide it into two parts: ascending and descending. Here’s how to play it.

For the ascending part, play notes in this order:

  • First finger – 1st fret of 6th string
  • Middle finger – 2nd fret of 5th string
  • Third finger – 3rd fret of 4th string
  • Pinky – 4th fret of 3rd string
  • Third finger – 3rd fret of 2nd string
  • Pinky – 2nd fret of 1st string

For the descending part, play notes in this order:

  • First finger – 1st fret of 1st string
  • Middle finger – 2nd fret of 2nd string
  • Third finger – 3rd fret of 3rd string
  • Pinky – 4th fret of 4th string
  • Third finger – 3rd fret of 5th string
  • Middle finger – 2nd fret of 6th string
  • First finger – 1st fret of 6th string

Start out at a slow tempo with this one, and make sure you can play it accurately before speeding up!

This challenging exercise will help out your playing in a few different ways. It’ll help you isolate one finger from the rest. Plus, it helps you work on stretching your hand across the fretboard. If you want to start with some spider exercises that don’t use all six strings, check out this helpful resource.

Ideally, you’ll do this exercise using alternate picking. Alternate picking means that you alternate between upstrokes and downstrokes.

This method can give you a sharp attack and more control over your sound. And as with all guitar-playing techniques, it’s best to start learning it early on. That way, it will eventually become a muscle memory. Want some similar finger stretching exercises? This video helps explain why exercising each day is essential and takes you through some good ones.

4. The Mountain Range

In this one, each of the four fingers gets its own string. We called it the “mountain range” because the tab for it looks like a series of mountains!

Of course, you can always move down a string or two and repeat, so you cover all six strings. But this exercise is also designed to help your fingers get used to playing up and down the neck. Here’s how to do it:

For the ascending part, play notes in this order:

  • First finger – 1st fret of 6th string
  • Second finger – 2nd fret of 5th string
  • Third finger – 3rd fret of 4th string
  • Pinky – 4th fret of 3rd string

Now for descending:

  • First finger – 1st fret of 3rd string
  • Second finger – 2nd fret of 4th string
  • Third finger – 3rd fret of 5th string
  • Pinky – 4th fret of 6th string

You then repeat that up the neck. As always, start slowly and only up the tempo when you’re ready. Check out this video for some exercises and to see how fast your playing could become!

5. The Finger Isolation Exercise

This is a really good exercise for finger isolation and dexterity. It also strengthens your fingers, and it’s a great warm-up.

Start with four fingers on the low E string: 1st finger on 1st fret, 2nd finger on 2nd fret, 3rd finger on 3rd fret, and a pinky on 4th fret. You’ll then move your index finger down to the A string (fifth string) while keeping the other fingers in place.

Now, keep all fingers in place (including the one you just moved) and move your middle finger down to the A string as well. Repeat with your ring and pinky fingers, and then move down another string.

You can let your fingers “climb” back up the fretboard when you’re done. When you begin to get the hang of it, you can try it on different parts of the neck. As you can see, this is a great exercise for developing finger independence. And if you’re more of a visual learner, this video will talk you through the exercise.

6. The Two-Finger Exercise

This exercise lets you practice using your fingers in sequence. It also helps you learn to move cleanly from string to string — something many newer guitarists struggle with. Here’s how to do it:

Use the first fret and second fret to start out. Place your 1st finger on the 1st fret of the low E string and your 2nd finger on the 2nd fret of the same string. Repeat that pattern on each string down the fretboard and then back up.

You can hammer on the second finger if you want to work on a more legato technique. You can also repeat this exercise with your third and fourth fingers to strengthen the muscles in them as well. Substitute your ring finger for your index finger and your pinky for your middle finger. For some more strength-focused guitar exercises, check out this video!

7. Building Speed

Any of the above exercises would make a great warm-up before a practice session. But what if you want to use them to get faster all down the neck? Many newer guitarists — especially those playing rock or metal — understandably want to focus on speed.

You can certainly use each exercise to get faster. But it takes a lot of practice, and it’s ideal to have a metronome handy. If you don’t have a physical metronome, you can easily find a free metronome online or via a smartphone app.

Make sure you start with a slow tempo. Once you’re comfortable, you can begin to increase the tempo on the metronome (usually, about 5 BPM is a good interval to use). If you find yourself playing wrong notes or struggling to keep up, bring the tempo back down. Any guitar teacher will tell you to value technique over speed.

After all, if you accustom yourself to playing fast solos with many wrong notes, it can be disastrous for your playing down the line! As always, make sure to keep your whole body relaxed as you play — it’s easy to tense up without realizing it when you’re speeding up your playing. And for a guide to breaking your own speed barrier, check out this helpful tutorial.

Want to Learn More?

If you’re a self-taught guitarist, you might periodically run into a plateau in your progress. That’s where an online guitar course can be helpful. Online courses can help guitarists with more than just their ability to play. Whether you want to develop a great practice routine, brush up on theory, or learn some more stretching techniques or finger exercises, an online course just might be what your guitar journey is missing!

Final Thoughts

Do guitar finger exercises work? As you’ve learned, guitar finger exercises can help you prevent injury, improve speed and dexterity, and work on finger independence. And while exercises might sound boring, there’s a whole world of them out there. When you make stretching and exercising your fingers an integral part of your practice routine, you will likely see your guitar abilities develop faster than ever!

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