Guitar lesson 1: Basic finger exercises

Practicing technical hand and finger exercises is very important for developing a good technique.

The first exercise in this tutorial focusses on developing the flexibility of your fret hand. This will help you to avoid back problems as well as overstraining the hand while at the same time making it much easier to play chords or lines in a relaxed and fluent manner. After this, there are two simple but important exercises for both the fret and pluck hands, which if practiced regularly will help you to develop fluency and precision in your playing.

Girum Mezmur.
Girum Mezmur.

Exercise 1: Fret Hand Wrist Flexibility

Sit in an upright position and hold the nut fret of the guitar with your first finger and thumb.  Move the elbow of your hand in circular motion as indicated on the diagram below while loosely holding the nut fret with your finger and thumb. Repeat the circular motion until the Fret hand is relaxed, wrist loosens and the movement feels effortless. Put the following diagram under the elbow of your left arm and match the movement of your elbow to the arrows moving in clockwise direction.


Exercise 2: Down-Up picking exercise

In addition to finger picking, the plectrum or 'pick' is widely used when playing acoustic and electric guitar. It has become customary for guitar players to use both their right hand fingers and the pick to strum and pluck the guitar. Use down and up picking consistently for the following excercise.

Note: Π = Down, V = up

Hold the pick lightly between the thumb and first finger of the right hand and play gently. Now start to gradually tighten your grip on the plectrum. Notice the change in volume and intensity of the sound you produce. Then gradually loosen your grip while still playing until the pick is about to fall out of your hand and and observe the change in volume. Keep repeating this exercise until you have established good right hand flexibility and can control your dynamics by tightening and loosening your grip using the plectrum. Pay attention to keeping the tempo consistent!


Exercise 3: Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs - left-hand plucking exercise

Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs (also known as Guitar Slurs) are very important techniques for creating a smooth transition between two different notes.

  • Hammer-On: After a note is plucked the next note will be hammered or slammed on the fingerboard by another finger of the fret hand.
  • Pull-Off: Position the two active fingers in the fret hand on the fretboard and after plucking first note pull finger down to produce the next sound.  

To prepare independence and flexibility in the fret hand, we start with a short pulling exercise on the E string (1st string).


                     1                      2                       3                    4                                 4                       3                     2                       1


Exercise 4: Hammer-On & Pull-Off exercise for the fret hand in 4/4

Both Hammer-On and Pull-Off techniques can be done between any two finger combinations.


If you spend a short amount of time practising these exercises regularly, you will loosen and relax your fret hand and will soon notice a noticeable improvement in your playing technique. Exercises that are limited to one or two strings are worth doing at all stages of your development as a player.

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