Playing the guitar is clearly not as easy as it looks. You don’t have to hold the guitar long to realise this! However, there are some simple ways to break down difficult techniques. Towards this end, we have put together some guitar fingering exercises that will help you master basic movements along and between the strings.

These will help you play scales and chords comfortably, which will eventually build a good foundation for playing those songs that inspired you to pick up this rockin’ string instrument in the first place. 

You may have a number of questions when practising the guitar at home, especially with respect to fingering for the guitar. How can you play longer? How can you flex your fingers in different formations without cramping your muscles? (Perhaps you have now discovered some hitherto unknown envy for a certain crustacean- yep, the crab’s pincer-like claws!) What level of pain is normal, if any? Do I need to have longer fingers?!

It is natural to wonder about these things. You will find your answers to all these and more questions that may pop up within you in these simple exercises. They will help you play longer, without pain, and maintain posture as well as finger positions. So, don’t wait, go ahead and include them as a part of your daily practice.

Are your fingers long enough for the guitar?

Almost everyone feels they would be better string instrumentalists if they had slightly longer fingers, so, if you feel that way with the fingering exercises for the guitar, don’t despair! The trick is to know how to stretch your fingers to the maximum and change chords with dexterity, adroitness, and flexibility. Yes, it is possible, irrespective of how short or tall you are.

Improving reach, fluidity, and strength of your fingers is a function of practice. Start slowly but practise regularly. 

Before you begin playing the guitar, make sure that you prepare your body for the music workout. Just as you would for any sport. 

Warm-up exercises before practising the guitar

To make your hands looser and more flexible, do these finger stretching exercises. It will improve your motor skills. 

  1. Rub your palms together to generate heat so that your muscles are flexible and move as you would like them to.
  2. Massage your palms, hands, and wrists with the thumb of your other hand. 
  3. Shake your hands in all directions, relaxing your wrists, hands, and fingers.
  4. Open your fingers out and stretch them wide for 5-10 seconds. And then relax, and shake off the tight feeling.
  5. Stretch your hand before you with your palm lifted (as if you are asking someone to stop) and bend the fingers backwards with the other hand. Maintain this position for 5 seconds. Repeat with the other hand. You can do this with each finger separately as well. 
  6. Bend and flex each finger forward, one finger at a time, and then all together making a fist and opening it out. You could practise this with full finger exercises as well as bend your fingers at the joints.
  7. Stretch your hands in front of you, lock the fingers of both hands with each other with your palms faced outwards and stretch. Do this with your hands raised above your head as well.
  8. Shoulder and elbow rotations and wrist flexors are also good exercises.

Finger exercises for the guitar 

1-2-3-4 exercise

Variation 1

This exercise will help you stretch your finger span (you will be satisfied with the length of your fingers once you practise this well!)

Keep the thumb of your non-strumming hand behind the neck of the guitar. Curl the four fingers preparing to place them on different frets. With your strumming hand, pick on the guitar with alternate down-up-down-up motion. Like this:

  1. Keep the first finger on the first fret (down pick) of the high E string (the first or lowest string), the second finger on the second fret (up pick), third finger on the third fret (down pick), and the fourth finger on the fourth fret (up pick). 
  2. Now, move each finger to the corresponding frets of the B string and pick the guitar similarly. Move this way all the way to the low E string. Now move back down. You can practise this slowly at first and then slowly gain speed. 

2. Variation 2 

  1. Slide your fingers up a fret so instead of 1-2-3-4 frets, you play on 2-3-4-5 frets, placing your first finger on the second fret, second on the third fret and so on. Again, move from high E string to low E string and back.
  2. Keep moving up a fret till your first finger is on the 12th fret and the fourth on the 15th fret. Now move backwards. This exercise is a great way to learn to slide and switch fingers between frets and strings. 

If you feel like you would like some active guidance, feel free to reach out to SaPa’s guitar expert through online guitar classes.

Quick tips when practising guitar fingering exercises 

  1. Play the guitar fingering exercises in 60-80 BPM (beats per minute) – in one-fourth or quarter note.
  2. Start practising one string at a time.
  3. The palm of your hand should not touch the fretboard but it should be very close to it.
  4. The curl of your fingers will increase as you go to higher note strings (i.e there will be more of a curl when you are on the higher E string than lower E string).
  5. Maintain an appropriate gap between your fingers when you place them on the fretboard, avoid scrunching them together. And it is natural for your fingers to experience cramping. 
  6. Rather than long practice sessions twice a week, make a little time every day, to enable muscle memory to set in.
  7. Also, instead of guitar fingerpicking, use a plectrum (pick) to strum to get a good sound. 

II. One-string exercises

  1. Starting with the high E string, play with your first finger (index finger) on the first fret while you only use down pick with your strumming hand. Then, place your second finger on the second fret and repeat the down pick. And then, the third finger on the third fret and the fourth finger on the fourth fret, and then descend similarly. Repeat this pattern with all the other strings.

E|–1——–2——–3——–4——–3——–2——–1–

B|———————————————————–

G|———————————————————–

D|———————————————————–

A|———————————————————–

E|———————————————————–

→ Down plucking only

  1. Starting with the high E string, play with your first finger (index finger) on the first fret while you alternately pick with your picking hand – alternate picking (down-up). Do this 4 times as per the tablature. Then, place your second finger on the second fret and repeat the alternate picking. And then, the third finger on the third fret and the fourth finger on the fourth fret, and then descend similarly. Repeat this pattern with all the other strings.

E|–1—–1—–2—–2—–3—–3—–4—–4—–3—–3—–2—–2—–1—–1–

B|———————————————————————————–

G|———————————————————————————–

D|———————————————————————————–

A|———————————————————————————–

E|———————————————————————————–

→ Alternate picking (Down-up) 

  1. Starting with the high E string, play with your first finger (index finger) on the first fret while you alternately pick with your strumming hand – alternate picking (down-up-down-up). Then, place your second finger on the second fret and repeat the alternate picking. And then third finger on the third fret and fourth finger on the fourth fret, and then descend similarly. Repeat this pattern with all the other strings.

E|–1–1–1–1–2–2–2–2–3–3–3–3–4–4–4–4–3–3–3–3–2–2–2–2–1–1–1–1–

B|————————————————————————————–

G|————————————————————————————–

D|————————————————————————————–

A|————————————————————————————–

E|————————————————————————————–

→ Alternate picking (Down-up-down-up) 

Pain associated with fingering & picking 

When you press the strings of the guitar hard and repeatedly, you might experience soreness, numbness, and calluses. This is normal and you will get used to it with practice. Most guitarists start off with acoustic guitars that have copper, brass, or phosphor bronze strings which are soft. (Other types of guitars like electric guitars have nickel strings.) Attempt to produce a good sound with a lighter press to reduce pressure on the tips of your fingers. 

III. Chords

This is the part of guitar exercises that makes you feel closer to playing songs. Here are some basic chords that you can start practising. Master them well, so you can play them on the open string or use your fingers as you move along and between strings.

i) C Major Chord

This chord comprises C, E, and G. Here you use only 3 fingers of your left hand (the non-strumming hand) but you pick or strum on five strings with your right hand (strumming hand). It is a beginner chord, so, will be simple to play and is a good way to start off practising chords. 

Here, place your first finger on the first fret of the second string, your second finger on the second fret of the fourth string, and your third finger on the third fret of the fifth string. You can pick the open first string (E) and open third string (G).

Note: Don’t play the open sixth string though it is an open E string which is part of the C Major chord. This is because it is a bass note and would not sound harmonious when played in consonance with the other notes.

ii) G Major Chord 

This chord comprises G, D, and B. Here you use only 3 fingers of your left hand (the non-strumming hand) but you pick or strum on all the strings with your right hand (strumming hand).

Place your first finger on the second fret of the fifth string, your second finger on the third fret of the sixth string, and your third finger on the third fret of the first string. Play on the open strings of the second (B), third (G), and fourth (D) strings.

Again, this is a good chord for beginners. You can practise switching to the C Major chord from this chord.

iii) A minor chord

This chord comprises A, C, and E. This is one of the first minor chords beginners learn. Minor is denoted as ‘m’. Here, you use only three fingers of your left hand (non-strumming hand) and you pick or strum five of the six strings with your right hand (strumming hand) 

Place your first finger on the first fret of the second string, your second finger on the second fret of the fourth string, and your third finger on the second fret of the third string. Pick the open first and fourth strings. Do not pick the sixth string. 

Tip: For all these chords, try to take your fingers off the string and then place them exactly as they were on the string. For this, ensure that you keep your fingers in the same shape. This will help you build muscle memory. The more you practise it, the simpler it will become. 

Remember that at this stage of learning, the goal is to gain control rather than speed. Once you feel fairly confident that you have got your placement right with the guitar fingering, you can move on to different speeds. Keep at it and you can realise your dream of playing the guitar in front of an audience sooner than you think!

Explore some more fingering exercises. Feel like you still have some doubts and would like a bit of guidance? Join LIVE classes for the Western guitar with experienced teachers, who are also performers at SaPa. 

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