How to Warm Up to Play Guitar

Warming up to practice guitar is one of the best habits we can develop as guitarists. In this tutorial, we are going to cover some of the basic elements that make up a good guitar warm-up.

You can start by using this basic routine and then move forward and develop your own. Doing the same routine every time we pick up the guitar can become a little repetitive, so it’s a good idea to shake things up now and then.

Table of Contents

The Right-Hand (Or Picking Hand)

Our right-hand does a lot of work that we tend to forget about. It is constantly jumping all over the strings to play the notes that we are fretting with our left hand.

We need to make sure to start our practice slowly to get the right hand warmed up.

My favorite way to start is to play the open strings of the guitar. As a classical guitarist, I use my fingers to play the open strings, but you can substitute a pick and play open-string notes.

guitar warm up open strings
The open strings of the guitar

If you are using a pick, begin with alternate picking, which is plucking up and down on the open strings. You don’t have to do it for long. A minute or two is enough to get things moving.

Remember that we are warming up and getting the blood flowing. We do not have to warm up for hours at a time.

The Left-Hand (Or Fretting Hand)

Chromatic exercises are an excellent choice to begin our warm-up. If you aren’t familiar with chromatic exercises, you can learn more about them here.

The benefit of chromatic exercises is that the pattern is simple and lets us focus on what’s going on with our hands. We don’t have to worry about getting the right notes in a scale or other exercise.

guitar chromatic exercise free
A chromatic exercise on 2 strings

When warming up with a chromatic exercise, focus on a light touch. Many guitarists use too much pressure when fretting notes on the guitar. This fatigues our hands and can also lead to possible finger injuries.

You can play a simple chromatic exercise all over the guitar fretboard. That allows us to warm up and get used to playing notes all over the guitar neck.

Fretboard “Walking”

This exercise is one of my personal favorites and is popular with guitarists all over the world.

fretboard walking exercise guitar
Fretboard “Walking” Exercise

As you can see, the exercise lets us “walk” up and down the fretboard. This example is at the 5th fret but can be done anywhere on the guitar neck.

The basic finger combinations that you can use are fingers 1-2, 2-3, and 3-4.

Make sure to move slowly and place each finger correctly. Each note should ring clearly as you “walk” around the fretboard.

Using Scales to Warm-Up

The next step in our warm-up is using scales to get our fingers moving more fluidly. You can use a major scale, a minor scale, or any scale you are familiar with.

Some scales that you might be familiar with include the A minor pentatonic scale, the C major scale, the G major scale, or some variation of any of these guitar scales.

c major scale guitar warm-up
The C Major Scale in the first position

Any scale will be helpful for our guitar warm-up. Changing up the scale you use to warm up will keep things fresh.

Using Chords to Warm-Up

Chords are another option we can use to warm up our hands. Shifting between a couple of different chords will get our hands ready to play pieces, songs, or whatever else we are currently practicing.

If you are new to the guitar, you can use chords such as the D major chord, A minor chord, or E major to warm up. Focus on moving slowly from chord to chord, keeping the fingers relaxed, and getting each note in the chord to ring clearly.

For more advanced players, you can use arpeggios (chords that are plucked one note at a time) to warm up. There are several different patterns you can use. You can create your own patterns or use arpeggios from the music you already know.

The key is to play slowly and keep things nice and easy.

The composer Mauro Giuliani composed 120 right-hand studies for guitarists. These are fantastic for warming up and learning new arpeggio patterns. You can get the music and tabs for them here.

Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs for Guitarists (Slurs)

Slurs (known by guitarists as hammer-ons and pull-offs) are one of the best exercises to add to our warm-up routine. They are a bit more taxing on the hands, so it is best to not begin the warm-up with them. You should work on them toward the end of your warm-up.

Below you will find a combination of our earlier exercise, the chromatic exercise, with hammer-ons and pull-offs.

You can play around with different finger combinations such as 1-2, 2-3, and 3-4.

The pull-off will be the reverse. 2-1, 3-2, and 4-3.

hammer-ons pull-offs exercises warm-up
Hammer-ons on two strings

Feel free to experiment with all sorts of different combinations. Some will be easier than others, so make sure to focus on tackling different combinations.

We have now covered some of the essential elements to include in our guitar warm-up. If you do a little bit of what we talked about here your fingers will be thankful.

Remember that having a solid warm-up routine will prepare you to have a productive practice session, so don’t skip it!

If you have any questions or comments, you can reach out to us here.