In my twenty years of playing guitar I’ve witnessed enough injuries to know that they’re no joke. And although the picture here of gnarled fingers is a joke, the constant repetition of a specific motion for hours and hours can turn into tendonitis if you don’t warm up before an intense practice or performance. Implementing the habit of warming up every time is a key element to preventing these injuries, and the earlier that you start, the better.
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There are many warm ups and stretch exercises that we can use, although the vast majority of guitar players tend to practice Chromatic and Semi-Chromatic scale exercises. Although they have some differences, these two “four note per string” scales are quite similar, and both of them help us exercise our four fretting fingers.
The Semi-Chromatic scale is based on the physical location of your fingers, rather than on music theory. It basically consists of playing four consecutive notes on each string in the same position. This is a scale mostly used as an exercise tool, rather than as a melodic element.
The Chromatic scale has twelve notes, each of them are a fret apart from the next one. We can play this scale starting from any fret on any string, since each note can be the root. This scale has the same fingering as the Semi Chromatic scale, but we will move the fingering to different positions in order to maintain the sequence of all half steps. Each pattern of four notes starts one fret lower than the previous string, with the exception of when we pass from the third to the second string, where we will stay in the same position, due to the tuning of the guitar.
The Chromatic scale is one of the scales that you will learn in Course 1.
Now that we are familiar with these two scales, let’s learn some basic warm up exercises. Most of these exercises can be layered based on the amount of notes repeated, the rhythm patterns that we use, etc… for example, we can use always the same scale, but the first time we will play each note four times with eight notes, then, when we feel comfortable we can play each note twice at the same speed etc…
Each of these exercises is intended to be played as a warm up, in the beginning of your practices. Depending on how much time you have, you will be able to play one or all of them, but make sure that your entire practice is not dedicated to playing these exercises or challenge yourself on how fast you can play them.
Exercise 1: Play the Semi-Chromatic scale starting in 12th position, all the way to the 1st position. We will play each note once with all downstrokes. Start by playing at 80 bpm and move up or down depending on how comfortable you feel. Slow tempos might be challenging when playing the low positions, since you will have to hold the stretch for a little bit of extra time.
Exercise 2: Now, let’s play each note twice, alternating between downstrokes and upstrokes. For the first two times that you practice it, hold your fingers down after playing each fret.
You can dive deeper into alternate picking in Course 3 Lesson 42 in the Rock Prodigy app.
Exercise 3: Now, let’s spice it up a little bit. Let’s anchor the index finger and play combinations with the other three fingers.
Exercise 4: Play each note on the semi chromatic scale four times, with alternate picking. Hold the fingers after playing each note the first couple of times you play this exercise.
These are some suggested warm up exercises, but please feel free to experiment with them as soon as you get comfortable with each pattern.
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These scales are also used to build speed in your picking, fretting and coordination. You can explore this by just keep pushing your metronome tempo up, until you reach John Petrucci’s speed.
Ok, I was kidding. Please don’t push yourself with these exercises in any way. Just use them to warm up and prevent future injuries. There is always time to build dexterity and speed, and we will definitely talk about it pretty soon.
In the meantime, stay in tune.