Finger Exercises to Warm Up to Play a Gibson Guitar

Rock'n'roll is all razzle-dazzle debauchery, right? Well, some get away it - we salute your resilience, “Keef Riffhard” and Smokin' Joe Perry – but for many good health means better playing.

We're not too concerned with your lifestyle choices here, though. Mainly tips on warming-up, exercising your digits and muscles, and avoiding nasty anti-playing syndromes such as RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury).

Take these tips, from general to specific, in any order... just try and keep them all in mind if you can. Let's get in the guitar gym!

1. Warm Up, Warm Down

A basic, but key thing, even for everyday practise. 

Don't expect to pick up your axe and immediately go into full-on shredding mode. Releasing any tension in your finger muscles first will make your playing smoother and less stressful.

After playing or practising, do the same... decreasing your speed so your fingers get back to “normal.” This approach alone will pay dividends in your playing. Note! Warming up gradually will also help you develop more speed.

2. Your Heart and Your Art

Even before 1, many experts would recommend getting your heart pumpin' before playing. A brisk walk or jog would do it. Playing guitar is a cardiovascular activity, and your playing won't be your best immediately after falling out of bed.

3. Stretch!

Related to 2, this applies to your whole body. From neck to shoulders to back to arms to fingers, make sure you limber up a little before any playing. A tense player is a bad player. Too much repeated tension can lead to debilitating problems like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

4. Take a Break

In a full-on show, your audience won't forgive you, of course. But when practising, it's too easy to play for hours without any break. 

Gibson-Fatboy-strap

Take maybe 10 minutes (or 2 x 5mins) in every hour and put down your guitar. This will also give your brain a little time to absorb what you've been trying to achieve.

5. Care for Your Hands

If you're in a gigging band, don't go risking your hands just before showtime. A tip we like is to wear work gloves when unloading gear from your van. It won't save your digits from a full amp stack falling on them, but may avoid any unwanted cuts and abrasions that will only make playing uncomfortable, harder or even impossible.

6. Take the Weight

Some guitars are pretty heavy – yep, your favorite Gibson Les Paul may be no featherweight – so to minimize any shoulder/back strain, ensure you use an appropriate strap. The Gibson Fatboy Strap is made with a half-inch of thick memory foam and covered in top-quality, full-grain top leather for the ultimate in comfort and weight relief. Or browse all Gibson guitar straps.

7. Watch your neck!

Many guitarists will spend a heck of a lot of time staring down at their guitar's neck... so watch your own neck! Turning your head in one direction constantly can result in stiffness or even strain so remember to keep your own body's neck loose and limber with a few head-rolling exercises. These will help your back, too.

8. Build finger strength

Different players have different opinions on this one. Some swear by dedicated finger strengthening exercisers for guitarists, others prefer to regularly use a stress ball, Powerball or a Tai Chi Qi-gong ball.

A cheap D.I.Y method some players like is to stretch a thick elastic band over your closed fretting-hand fingers, and then repeatedly expand them... like a flower opening, right? Whatever you prefer, it's good to give your digits a workout away from the guitar if you can.

9. Release the pressure

Despite number 8, you should be wary of applying too much pressure with your fretting hand – it will only increase potential strain on your fingers. Remember: you're only needing to connect string with fret, not grind your strings into the 'board! You may be surprised how light your touch can be, while still making notes ring true.

10. Watch your position

Big topic, but be mindful of your fretting hand's position – extremely bent hand-positions can lead to all sorts of finger, hand and arm problems. Regular wrist curl exercises away from your guitar can help keep your joints supple. The likes of Repetitive Strain Injury are often as much the result of bad position as the repetition itself. Same for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

11. Are you Iron Man?

Some people say pumping iron is a strict no-no for guitarists as it will ultimately reduce your dexterity, particularly in your fingers. The riposte? Mark Tremonti, John Petrucci, Chris Broderick and others regularly pump weights so who knows the definitive answer? We guess balance is the key.

For his part, Petrucci says: “I associate the same disciplines of playing guitar and developing your craft upon the instrument that I do with weight training.”

12. Hydrate

A no-brainer, but before a show – especially if you've had a pre-gig brew – take in plenty of water to keep your body hydrated.

13. Hear to be Clear

There's no point honing your techniques and tone if you're making yourself deaf by constantly playing too loud. Take care of your hearing and you've a better chance of judging your own playing. Simply: get some earplugs.

14. Eat to the Beat

Avoid heavy meals right before showtime, as you'll soon feel like putting your feet up. If you're still hungry after a light meal, stick with grain bars and/or dried fruit and nuts for energy. Likewise, avoid drinks with high sugar content from roughly four hours before a gig. Sure, sugar will give you a pre-gig high, but after those few hours you'll feel tired and sluggish. Not good if you've got a two-hour set. And, as you'll know, too much alcohol will dull your senses and slow down your reflexes.

15. If it Hurts, Stop!

No pain no gain, right? Only sometimes. When it comes to guitar, if it really hurts when you play you should stop. If pain and playing is a repeated problem, see a physio.

There is plenty of information online about hand, arm and muscle injuries that will be of use to guitarists (and keyboard-crunching journalists, for that matter!). Heed it.