Note: for an up to date version of this lesson, check it out on my new website at aaronmatthies.com
Who this lesson is intended for
This lesson is intended for complete beginners just starting out playing. However, these exercises can be used from beginners all the way to advanced players as a warm up.
- An understanding of guitar tablature.
This lesson is aimed to give you basic exercises to help you play single notes at a time. As well as being good exercises to start off on, they should also be used as warm up exercises for every time you sit down to practice.
The importance of guitar exercises
Once you know how to hold the guitar and read guitar tabs, you may be tempted to go to a tab website and download a song you’ve been dying to play. If you do this you may experience one of the following thoughts:
- That’s way too hard!
- I keep playing mistakes!
- Nothing sounds right!
Unfortunately, being a complete beginner is the hardest stage of learning guitar. It is a big hurdle to get past and takes some motivation and determination. At this point, don’t try and play anything that looks hard because it will only frustrate yourself. If you stay positive and focus on improving your fundamental skills, you will fly past this tough stage and be well on your way to learning what you want to play.
These exercises are the tools to help you improve your fundamental skills. They won’t be exciting to play but the more you play them, the better you will sound. These exercises give your fingers a workout and builds up strength, dexterity and coordination which you will need later on. If you skip this lesson, you won’t notice it but your learning process will be much more of a struggle.
The importance of warm-up exercises
Before you try playing anything challenging, it is a good idea to warm your hands up. Professional guitarists sit backstage for a long time doing warm up exercises before a live performance. You should do a short warm up each time you start your practice routine. You will find that it will make everything just that little bit easier.
Playing the exercises
It is best to play these exercises along with a metronome which will be covered in a future lesson.
It is always a good idea to have a look at the whole piece you are about to play to get an idea of what is in store for you before you try to play it. The idea in this exercise is very simple: play the first fret on the sixth string, then the second fret, then the third and then the fourth. Then you move to the fifth string and repeat the pattern. You keep changing strings all the way to the first string.
Finger numbers (for your fretting hand):
1 – Index finger
2 – Middle finger
3 – Ring finger
4 – Pinky
As written above play the first fret with the 1st finger (Index), the 2nd fret with the 2nd finger (middle), the 3rd fret with the 3rd finger (ring) and the 4th fret with the 4th finger (pinky). Simple? If you follow what is written, then yes it will be. You may find it hard to play the notes using the 4th finger, but don’t cheat – keep practicing with the pinky. This is the purpose of the exercise – to make you comfortable playing with all your fingers.
Start off very slow and make sure you play every single note perfect. If the note makes a buzzing sound or doesn’t ring out enough, start again. You don’t want to be practices mistakes or bad sounding notes – you want to be practicing perfect sounding notes. As the corrected saying goes – ‘perfect practice makes perfect’.
Now once you can play it comfortably you can proceed to the next step. Adding one more condition to the exercise will help your fingers stretch out. Follow the instructions below to get the best workout for your fingers.
1. After playing the first fret, leave the 1st finger in place.
2. With your 1st finger still in place, play the 2nd fret and keep your 2nd finger in place.
3. With your 1st and 2nd fingers still in place, play the 3rd fret and keep your 3rd finger in place.
4. With the first three fingers still in place, play the 4th fret with your 4th finger.
By the end you should have all four fingers pressing down on the fret spaces. Depending on the size of your hands this may be very awkward or simple. Either way it will prepare you for later on when you need to stretch your fingers out.
When you are very comfortable playing it and can play it perfectly with ease, slowly build up the speed. Over time you will be able to play faster and more accurately.
This is the opposite of exercise 1. Start each string with all four fingers placed on the frets and then remove one finger at a time.
Try these four combinations in the same way as the first two exercises. Come up with your own combinations and play them all over the fretboard. The more awkward it is to play the better workout you will give your fingers.
Remember to keep playing each fret only with the finger written above. Playing everything with your index finger would be completely useless.
I have created a video that explains step by step the above lessons and demonstrates them. Have a look at the video after reading the instructions above. When you feel comfortable playing the exercises, have a go playing along with the video. Save the video in your favorites if you want so you can play along with it at a later date. I am not very good at video lessons yet so don’t worry I will practice to give you better quality lessons in the future. If you have any suggestions or requests, please let me know.
Although they aren’t fun to play, exercises are essential to developing good fundamental skills. Spend a lot of time on them at first and as you move on to learning songs and other complicated material you can move on to more complicated exercises. I will be adding more exercises for every technique that will be covered.
If you want to find out how to use exercises like these and others to improve your guitar playing and learn a wide range of chords, check out Tempo Music Cards – a site where I write lessons for beginners like this one. At the Tempo Music Cards website you can even get packs of Guitar Flash Cards containing 50 Essential Chords that have been chosen for beginners as they are easy to learn and very common in songs.
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