When I started playing guitar the last thing I ever thought about was guitar finger exercises. Much to my surprise, I found out that not only are they helpful for those who want to become advanced players, but they are also a great way of improving your dexterity.
Finger exercises help you get faster and more accurate with your fingers so that when playing you can pick up on the beat more easily. They can also make chord shapes that require extra flexibility or dexterity easier to accomplish over time.
Finger exercises are something that I like to throw into my daily practice routine and are great as a warm-up. While chords, songs, and riffs are all more exciting, few things will help your playing as much as guitar finger exercises!
Why Should You Do Guitar Finger Exercises
While no one will ever compliment you on your finger exercise routine, few things will help your guitar playing more. Finger exercises help you get faster, more accurate with your fingers, and can make chord shapes that require extra dexterity easier to accomplish over time.
The great thing about guitar finger exercises is there are so many ways to do them. I usually change it up every few days but I am almost always working on some sort of guitar finger exercise, even after years of playing!
The metronome is a crucial part of most of this type of training, it will help keep you in time and allow you to track your progress. While all of these can technically be done without, I always suggest having a metronome going while doing them.
Guitar Finger Exercises for Beginners
Now that you understand what a guitar finger exercise is and why they are important, here are a few of the favorites that I give players when I start working with them! Use these as a warm-up before you start working on chords, songs, or strumming patterns!
1. 1234 Exercise
Probably the most common and basic of all finger exercises, the 1234 method is a great place to start! It’s also easy to explain and start, so you don’t need to spend much time learning it!
Start by picking a string. You’ll just be playing one string for this exercise. Use your index finger on the first fret to play that note. Then use your middle finger to play the 2nd fret, your ring finger to play the 3rd, and finally your pinky to play the fourth.
Keep your fingers down as you play each note so that it forces you to stretch and reach for the pinky finger. If this is too difficult, start higher up the fretboard, maybe on the 7th fret, and play 7-10.
2. 4321 Exercise
It’s almost funny how hard this can be the first time you try it. For whatever reason, guitarists are more comfortable working down the fretboard. If you ask them to move backward, or up, the fretboard, it causes confusion and slows them way down!
This is the same as the 1234 exercise, except you’ll be starting with your pinky on the 4th fret and ending with your index on the first.
3. Skipping Frets
Also called a wide stretch, I call this skipping frets because it is as simple and descriptive a name as possible!
In this variation, you’ll be playing the first fret with your index finger, the third fret with your middle finger, and the fifth fret with your pinky. As with the 1234 exercise, if this is too difficult, start on the 7th fret and do 7,9,11.
With many chords, you’ll need to skip frets and this is the perfect way to get your fingers used to stretching while continuing to hold down far away frets!
4. Pattern Mixing
Up until this exercise, everything has been in order, 1234, 4321, or 1,3,5. Now it’s time to complicate things once again! What if you played 1342? Or 3241? This is the next step in improving your dexterity and coordination!
I wouldn’t recommend this until you’re playing the first three exercises with confidence and at speeds greater than 120bpm. That being said, this is a great way to spice up an old exercise while working on improving your finger strength!
Practicing guitar scales is the final finger exercise I would recommend, and the one that will have the most transition into your day-to-day playing. There are plenty of scales for you to learn and play, so this is often what I do to warm up each day!
Just with all the other guitar finger exercises, start with your metronome set at a slow pace and only increase the tempo when you can play a scale several times through without any mistakes!
How do I Improve my Finger Dexterity on Guitar?
Improving finger dexterity on guitar is a slow process but one that anyone can achieve. Moving smoothly between chords and notes is more of an exercise in repetition than anything else. That being said, here are a few things to help you along the way:
- Practice slowly – Practice things with a metronome and only go as fast as you can error-free
- Exercise Daily – Even if you are not able to pick up your guitar, stretch and move your fingers daily
- Play Challenging Things – Many guitarists get to a point of comfort. They can play a few songs or a cool riff or two, and they stop playing difficult things. The only way to improve your finger dexterity is to continue to challenge yourself!
- Repeat, Repeat, Repeat! – Practice makes perfect and guitar is no exception. Rome wasn’t built in a day, powerlifters don’t get strong in a day, you aren’t going to learn guitar in a day!
How Do Guitarists Play So Fast?
Most guitarists who play extremely fast have years of muscle memory built up in their fretting hand. They are able to play fast because they don’t have to think about it. Most players believe you can only play as fast as you can fret, so a lot of time is dedicated to scales and guitar finger exercises to improve dexterity and accuracy.
The Final Note
If you want to play guitar as quickly and efficiently as possible, it’s important to practice these exercises until they become automatic. As with anything, the more you do it, the better you’ll get! The best way to learn guitar and be a better player is to practice, practice, practice!
A ukulele player pretty much from birth, Edward has gone on to play banjo, lead guitar, and bass for a number of bands and solo projects! Edward loves talking, teaching and writing about music!