Train Your Hands With Guitar Dexterity Exercises

Russel Wolfe

If you find your hands “tight” and unresponsive, then maybe you should try a few dexterity exercises. These are also good if you want to increase your playing speed. They also help to improve technical ability and accuracy, on both hands (fretting and strumming). Make sure you follow each step carefully, especially if you are a beginner guitar player.

One thing to note is that you need to relax your hands when playing guitar, as the tighter your hand is the less dexterity you’ll have, so work on relaxing first.  This mostly affects the fretting hand so work on relaxing it and you’ll find it easier to play.

The exercises are all variations of each other. I’ve put in a few variations just so that you can see what is possible.  The combinations are quite limitless, and I’m sure you can develop some of your own.

When trying these exercises, make sure you picking motion alternates between up and down picks of the string. Picking in one direction causes hand strain and also limits the speed of your picking.  It’s worth spending a bit of time getting this right. It can be awkward at first if you haven’t tried it before, but trust me the dividends are well worth it.  When I first started playing guitar I only picked downwards and I suffered hand strain and also got to the limit of the speed I could pick at.  I had to then change over to alternate picking, which was quite hard as I’d done it the other way for so long. It took one full week of around five hours of practice per day to get used to it (5 hours general playing, not 5 hours of these exercises!).  Within that week I stopped suffering hand strain and could play much faster at the end.

Guitar Dexterity Exercises

Exercise 1.  The first exercise concentrates on working the index, middle and ring fingers of the fretting hand and general picking speed.  Choose three frets together, let’s say 7th, 8th & 9th. We will do this on the Low E string first. All you do is play one note at the 7th fret with the first finger, one at the 8th fret with the second finger and one at the 9th fret with the third finger and repeat.  Do this nice and slow at first and try to get into a rhythm. Practicing this for a minute before you start normal playing/practicing should help you to loosen up. As you get better at it, speed it up slightly, but always at a comfortable speed. Going too fast may cause damage/problems, but I’m talking about extreme speeds.

It’s important to concentrate on getting both hands working at the same time.  Make sure you are hitting the notes correctly before speeding up.  If you do this exercise without the notes ringing out clearly or mismatches between fretting and picking, etc, then there is no benefit.  Practice may make perfect, but it’s better to think that only perfect practice makes perfect.

Exercise 2. Now try the same again, but moving through the strings. Play the three notes on the low E, then A, D, G B and high E strings. Now come back down in the same sequence. Repeat.

Exercise 3.  Now move through the strings in groups of three:  Low E, A, D – A, D, G – D, G, B – G, B, High E.  Now come back down from high E to low E. Repeat. This helps to develop jumping between strings.

Exercise 4. Starting at the first fret, play the 1st, 2nd and 3rd frets on the low E string and then repeat on the A string.  Move now to the 2nd, 3rd and 4th frets on the low E and A string.  Keep incrementing by a fret until you get to the other end of the fretboard.

Exercise 5.  Rather than picking all three notes, only pick the first and hammer on the second two.  This really helps for fast playing, where you may not want to play all the notes as it would slow you down.

Exercise 6. Try any of the above, playing the notes in reverse order; 9th, 8th and then 7th fret.

Exercise 7. Try the exercises above, using four frets and add in the use of your pinky.

You may wish to try these exercises in sets of ten, ie, do exercise 3 at the 7th-9th frets ten times over.  It will get you into a rhythm. Then you may wish to do it ten times at the 8th-10th fret, etc.

In all of these exercises, it’s worth noting that it makes a difference on where you try them.  The frets of the guitar are closer together the higher up in pitch you go.  So it would be easier to play at around the 7th to 9th frets than it would at the 1st to 3rd frets.  Playing at the lower frets helps to develop your stretch, but be careful.  If you find that you can’t manage the stretch, then don’t practice it.  Instead of developing the stretch you’ll cause damage to your hand.

If when trying these exercises you experience any pain or discomfort, stop immediately.  You can damage your hands very easily.  I do these exercises myself, but I always go easy.  I don’t do them for long periods, maybe only for one or two minutes during a practice session.  I never dwell at the lower frets as my hand can’t cope with the stretching.  I usually do these from the 5th fret upwards.

These exercises are boring, but they work!

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