For beginner guitar players, one of the most frustrating aspects of many songs are the large stretches they require.
Whether you need to learn how to stretch out your fingers vertically to nail solo notes or want to increase your reach horizontally to smooth out tricky barre chords, learning how to stretch your fingers out properly for guitar is absolutely an essential skill.
Even a quick warmup routine can improve your playing and prevent long-term repetitive use injuries before they have the chance to develop. Check out the strategies in this article to stretch out your fingers and boost your overall technique.
Scales and Arpeggios
Simply put, scales and arpeggios are the foundation of any proper warmup to stretch your fingers. The distinct nature of individual scales will give you experience stretching between two, three, and even four frets at a time.
This warmup also adjusts perfectly to your playing level; simply adjust the tempo to increase or decrease the difficulty depending on your skills.
If you don’t already practice it in your daily routine, you should start running through the major scale as part of your warmup. Take it as slow or as fast as you need to, just prioritize hitting the notes accurately over blazing up and down the scale.
It’s okay if you need to take each note one at a time; as you practice consistently, you’ll be able to speed up a bit and play more legato notes. No matter what speed you play at, remember to keep your fingers in the proper position — resist the temptation to slide into different notes right next to each other, as this will prevent you from getting your fingers properly stretched out!
When done properly over two octaves and through the circle of fifths, the major scale will stretch your fingers out with simpler, basic reaches and get you more comfortable sliding into and out of different notes. That makes a great first primer before you explore more complex scale patterns and work on some arpeggios.
Along with the major scale, the natural minor scale is another great pattern to stretch out your fingers with. The natural minor scale incorporates the same spacing but in a different order than the major scale to help you loosen up your fingers even more.
If you want to build out a more complex stretching routine, you can also play the different modal scales (for example Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, and Locrian).
Scales are a great first step to get your fingers limber for your ordinary practice routine. Where scales incorporate more chromatic notes, however, arpeggios emphasize greater leaps and force you to stretch out your hands a tad more.
Standard arpeggios include the first, third, and fifth notes of each octave of the scale. Try playing the major and minor arpeggios, along with some seventh arpeggios (dominant seventh, major seventh, and minor seventh) if you feel up to it.
These slightly more complex arpeggios also include the seventh note of each scale, which forces you to move from large jumps to short chromatic hops throughout the arpeggio.
If you don’t feel like your fingers are sufficiently fluid after playing through your scales and arpeggios, you can try a few extra stretching exercises to get extra blood flowing to your hands and prep you to start playing in earnest.
Playing four chromatic notes in quick succession can be a great warmup tool. Just pick a note to start on — it can be anywhere on the fretboard, though lower notes will force you to stretch slightly farther — and play four total notes, rising one fret from the last each time.
Use all four of the fingers on your hand; don’t just slide your index finger up each time to make it easier.
As you grow more comfortable, speed up your playing, and work on hitting each note with the proper timing and accent. This tool will stretch your fingers to play short, fast jumps between notes without problems.
If you want to work on larger leaps, the pentatonic scale is an easy choice that will also pay dividends for your improvisational skills. Play the scale up and down the neck and increase your speed as you go; remember to use the proper fingering for each string.
Because the pentatonic scale incorporates more jumps of multiple frets than other scales, it’s one of the best ways to get more comfortable with bigger gaps and longer stretches.
If your fingers feel great when you play single notes, but you struggle to nail trickier chords, a few simple warmup exercises can help you even out both skills.
Practicing your barre chords with a method like the CAGED system will help you make dependable progress in both your knowledge of different chord structures and the ability to play them.
Work first on the classic “E” and “A” shape barre chords, which are the most common chords in rock and blues styles, then move to the more complex “C,” “G,” and “D” shapes. These secondary shapes also require greater stretches, which makes them better suited for more experienced players with larger hands.
Even if you can’t play barre chords consistently, you can still stretch your fingers horizontally by laying them in a basic barre across the strings. Practice picking each note individually and press your finger down into the fretboard to avoid muting any strings by accident.
Working on your barre chords in a vacuum will certainly help stretch your fingers. Changing between different barre chords and playing some basic rhythms will stretch them out even more. For a more advanced routine, practice switching between different barre chord shapes as you strum and maintain a groove as you warm up.
Find some rhythms common to your genre, and use them to warm up. Rock and roll guitar players, for example, can practice the classic rhythm alternating between a standard E7 barre chord and stretching to fret the sixth note of the chord (two frets up from the fifth) with their pinky.
Stretching your fingers out before you jump into your practice routine is crucial for safety reasons as well as practical ones. Not only will taking the time to warm up properly improve your playing when you sit down to learn new songs, but it will also keep you safe from stress injuries caused by poor form over time.
Carve out a few minutes at the start of each practice session to stretch out your fingers with both single notes and chords. When done properly, it shouldn’t hurt your hands and will help you develop your playing skills faster than you would otherwise.
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