Guitar Warm-ups: Why and How?

Want to play guitar for many years? Learn why guitarists warm up, and how to warm up properly.

Countless times I’ve played with other band members, and we often try and play without warming up.

So why warm up in the first place? To answer this question, some people will use a sports analogy (running without warming up, etc.), but I’ll use plain English.

We warm up before playing because:

Too often I jam with guitarists who don’t warm up before practice or even playing live. I play sloppily if I don’t warm up.

In any lesson I’ve done, I always tell the student to warm up first, and cool down after playing is done.

I also recommend keeping nails short.

My warm-ups last anywhere from 2–5 minutes, including stretches and a few guitar exercises.

Sometimes I warm up for 30 minutes. It all depends on how long you plan to play!

When playing guitar for a prolonged time, one can easily feel cramps, tight fingers, sore hands, and inflexible movements. Without proper warm-ups and stretches, complex movements become harder to do over time.

“So if all of this is true, how should I warm up?”, you might be asking.

Here is what I recommend below:

Start with Stretches

Stretching includes your fingers, between your fingers, your hand, wrist, and even arm. I recommend stretching the shoulders and neck as well.

Sometimes a jam session can last hours. As you get older, you’ll realize that playing guitar can do a number on you:

If you’re a new learner, it may be hard to play complex movements without warming up and practicing properly.

Here are a few points to keep you on-track with warming up:

Younger folks can feel pain too, if you’re a guitar junkie. Build some good habits early, yeah?

Your body will high-five you later.

Next, Do Dexterity Work

Once stretches are good to go, do a bit of dexterity work to get the hands and body used to the constant movement (and slouching over the guitar for a while).

You can do this as little or as much as you need. I usually warm up according to how long I plan to play.

For a short session, I warm up very briefly.

Here are some exercises that work for me:

The faster you play, the sloppier it’ll get. That means syncing your hands should be a priority at those speeds.

Note: players don’t need to do all these exercises. Just pick a few that may be challenging, and work through them a bit every day!

By committing to somewhat challenging exercises, players can improve over time.

Those exercises should help you play a little more cleanly during your session, as well as over time.

After Practice, Cool Down

Just do some light stretching so your body isn’t tight at the end.

No need for dexterity work here.

Taking regular breaks is a good idea, too. Shake the tightness out of your hands and wrist wherever you can.

Let me tell a quick story about how not warming up can be detrimental:

I had to see a chiropractor and a physiotherapist during the pandemic. All I did was work on my laptop and play guitar, day and night. I played at least 1 to 2 hours a day. Sometimes much longer (it can be an addiction).

I had posture pains and hand cramps. Stretching and light exercise before and after playing guitar worked for me.

For the gym junkies out there, that applies to you, too. Working out makes you tight, and doubly so if you play guitar.

Warm up and take care of the fingers and hands! Just use some sense and take care of your body, that’s all.

Warming up regularly can help you improve your play over time, prepare your body for a longer session/practice, and keep your hands loose and limber.

Remember: tight, strained hands play sloppily.

With all that said, keep jamming folks.

The world needs music, and you can become the culture that we need.

’Til next time, see you in the next blog!



Guitarist, TEFL certified English teacher, writer, freelancer, and a dude with experience in many careers.

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Gil the Guitar Guy

Guitarist, TEFL certified English teacher, writer, freelancer, and a dude with experience in many careers.