Hand Exercises for Guitarists

Hand Exercises for Guitarists - Improve Strength, Speed and Dexterity

A guitarist needs hands that are strong, flexible, agile, speedy, coordinated and dexterous. Hand exercises for guitarists are essential to reach those difficult chords and use your hands both independently of one another and in coordination with one another. These hand exercises for guitarists focus on these 6 essential characteristics.


Stretching Exercises

Stretching improves the flexibility of the fingers in order to reach the most difficult chords quickly and easily.

 Some of the greatest guitarists believe that flexibility is far more important to playing well than strength or speed, dexterity and agility. 

There are a number of different exercises that are ideal for stretching the hands and fingers.

Hold your hand up at a 90 degree angle to your forearm with the fingers straight up and splayed as far apart as possible. Pull each finger (including the thumb) individually backwards towards your arm to a comfortable stretch, hold for a few seconds and then release. It is key not to stretch the fingers too far back as this can result in injury.

Your wrists and forearms are also important when playing. To stretch these tendons and muscles, place your hands together in front of your chest with the fingers straight and pointing upwards. Slowly rotate your hands and wrists until your fingers are pointing towards the floor. You should feel the muscles and tendons in your wrists and forearms stretching.

 These exercises should not only be performed to improve flexibility, but can also be used to warm up the muscles before playing. 

Stretches should also be performed at 20 to 30 minute intervals while playing to prevent muscles from cramping up.


Strengthening Exercises

There are many ways to strengthen the muscles in the hand to improve stamina and prevent fatigue from setting in while playing.

 However, it is important to keep in mind that hands that have too much muscle can become less flexible - much like a body builder compared to a gymnast. 

It is therefore best to combine strength training with stretching.

A great way to do this is to place your 4th finger (pinkie) on the 6th fret and each following finger on the subsequent frets (ring finger on 7th, middle on 8th and first finger on 9th) on the lower E string. Play the 4th finger and lift it for the duration of the string sound then play the 3rd finger. Repeat this exercise until the 4th finger is tired. Then repeat with the 3rd and 2nd fingers and 2nd and 1st fingers.

As your hands begin to strengthen, you can move them up the frets for greater stretch. You should also progress through the strings to make the strength training a little more challenging. 
 It is not recommended to use hand strengthening tools or equipment unless they provide some sort of stretching mechanism to prevent the muscles from building to a size that they negatively impact flexibility.


Speed Exercises

Speed exercises also improve agility, coordination and dexterity as these three normally go hand in hand when playing.

 There are a number of different speed drills that can be performed with or without the use of your guitar.

Touch each finger of both hands to your thumb in the following order - 1st, 2nd, 1st, 3rd, 1st, 4th, 1st, 3rd, 1st, 2nd and 1st. Do this as fast as you can until you misstep. Then repeat the exercise replacing the 1st finger with 2nd in the order and then the third and then the 4th. This exercise can be frustrating at first, but you will improve with practice. It may be advisable to start with one hand at a time, rather than both simultaneously, when you first start out.

The most common speed training exercise is the 1,2,3,4 method. Basically, it consists of playing 4 notes per string with the use of a metronome to conduct your speed. As your skill level increases, so can your speed. There are different variations of this drill that can be performed as your speed, coordination and dexterity improves.

Trilling is another great speed training and coordination exercise. Place your 1st finger on the high E string at the 5th fret and your middle finger at the 6th fret. Trill between the two repeatedly and then change to the 2nd and 3rd finger placed at the 6th and 7th fret. Follow with the 3rd and 4th fingers placed at the 7th and 8th fret. You can make this exercise more challenging as you become more adept at trilling by swapping between fingers 1 and 3 or 2 and 4 or 1 and 4. It is important to try and maintain the same volume throughout.

 Remember to stretch and warm up your fingers, hands, wrists and forearms before performing the speed and strength training exercises.

This should also be done throughout your training sessions to keep the muscles and tendons loose and prevent cramping.

Hands can become cramped or numb if they remain in the same position on the guitar for an extended period of time. Simply extending your fingers in between songs or sets can prevent this from happening.

 Shaking your hands out every few minutes will also restore blood flow to your hands and fingertips.

Practice makes perfect and it is recommended to use these and other hand exercises for guitarists on a regular basis. 

 However, performing the exercises for extended periods of time is not advisable. The routines can become boring, and continuously performing the same action can have negative consequences such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

Rather, perform a set of these hand exercises for 10 minutes, take a short break and move on to another exercise. This process can be repeated as often as you like throughout the day, but should be performed at least once a day for the best results.