Class Guitar—Content Rich Warm-ups

by Alan Hirsh
Most guitar teachers would agree on the importance of starting a class or lesson with warm-ups for limbering up joints and reinforcing a technical concept.   In fact, the warm-up can accomplish so much more, such as developing movement vocabulary, visualization, and sustained playing.   Think of warm-ups as content-rich, guided workouts that condition and prepare students on multiple fronts.


To illustrate, consider a beginning class just introduced to i-m free stroke on adjacent strings. Before applying technique to music, a right-hand skill set (movement vocabulary)  is needed, one that includes follow through, uniform direction of joint movement, maintaining hand/arm alignment, etcAll of this is introduced on open strings, to focus solely on the i-m free stroke.

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When students begin demonstrating control, use this as a core warm-up, amplified to include left-hand finger development and visualization.  Consider the following:
  •  After securing p on (4), students play dyad patterns (on adjacent strings) with i-m free stroke, emphasizing the follow through of all the fingers and uniform direction of joints. Left-hand patterns are not read by the student; rather, called out by the teacher (note names and possibly string/finger numbers) requiring students to visualize shapes before playing.
  • Students play a loop of two or more dyads shapes: 8-, 6-, or 4-per dyad and when secure, 2-, and then 1-per dyad.
  • Students play first on string set (3) & (2), then (2) & (1), and finally patterns that alternate between both string sets. Following is a suggested list of possible dyad patterns that excercise a variety of left-hand finger independence.
Repeat signs suggest looping two dyads at a time, but a routine could be created with a continuous variety of dyads, announced “on the fly” by the teacher.  No matter what the routine, students should initially watch their hands for accurate movement, and when secure, be encouraged to visualize, to play without looking.

Other warm-up applications could be created to develop coordination for an upcoming piece.  For example, consider a left-hand challenge in Music Box, p. 54 from the Shearer Method Book I  where  fingers 1 & 2 remain during a right-hand string crossing.

Extract and isolate the challenge as:

Music Box, mm. 3-4

Students then learn this movement without the distraction of reading.
Finally, to make any warm-up musically interesting, teachers may want to add an improvised strummed accompaniment of popular chords.  Consider the following pattern:

Adding rich chordal strumming helps to make this repetition more enjoyable to the student, accomplishing the goals of the warm-up, while making it feel like a jam session.

In short, content rich warm-ups, unencumbered by music reading, allow students to focus on the objectives of technique, develop multiple levels of coordination, as well as visualization.  If practiced in 5-10 minute intervals, students become accustomed to sustained playing.  Moreover, practiced every day in classroom guarantees students play nearly an hour of warm-up every week!  Lastly, consider warm-ups as previews of coming attractions, where technique is introduced slightly ahead of your method’s sequence. This offers a chance to learn new movement vocabulary, so that its eventual musical application including pre-reading and visualization is much easier.


  1. Pravin

    I was struggling to play the guitar for a very long time and then I came across this article. All the warm-ups mentioned in the article helped me master the chords of the guitar very well. I have forwarded this article to my fellow musician friends and it helped them a lot.

  2. alntom

    So glad to hear! Visualization is such a powerful tool!

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