First Real Finger Workout

Are you ready to rock?
Maybe not just yet. Let’s get your fingers moving on the guitar neck first.
One of the biggest reasons that guitar is my favorite instrument is that it’s completely and totally upside down and backwards. As the guitar sits on your lap, the skinny string that sits closest to the floor is the first string. And, ironically, the top string. The thick string closest to your chin is the sixth string. You guessed it. It’s also the bottom string. So…the top is on the bottom and the bottom is on the top.
Why? Because we go in terms of pitch, not in terms of what strings sit where. The highest sounding string is the top string and the lowest sounding string is the bottom.
Probably the first step is to tune the guitar. There are several ways that we can tune, but for now we’ll start with some tuning notes.
As a general rule, I dislike tablature. A lot. I really feel that tablature is incomplete and even inaccurate. However, that fancy interweb thingy has given us a plethora of tabs from which to choose. Almost any song you can think of is available in some sort of tablature format.
There is a lot of information that is missing from most tabs. They are missing timing, key signatures, sharps and flats. Above all, they are missing the notes. While note reading may seem unnecessary because of tabs, it’s not. I’ve run two experiments on my students over and over with the same results.
The first experiment is that I will give them tabs to a song that I know they know. But I won’t tell them what it is. I’ll sit back smugly smiling to myself as they struggle through trying to get the song. When I tell them what the song is, they never believe me. When I play it for them, they suddenly recognize it. I will often then give them just the notes for the same song. And wouldn’t you know it? Every single time, they can figure out the song.
Experiment number two is to wait until a student is relying more on tabs than notes. After letting the student struggle for awhile, I’ll either block the tabs or if we’re using software of some sort, hide the tab portion. Guess what? The rhythm comes together, the notes come together and the song starts sounding like a song.
The final nail in the tab coffin for me is that you just don’t know who wrote it. Or when they wrote it. Or if they can tune their guitar. I can’t tell you how many tabs I’ve found that are just inaccurate or are unnecessarily tabbed in some weird tuning just because someone was either out of tune or forgot they were in an alternate tuning when they started.
In the end, however, tabs present an ever-present cheat to learning songs. Because of that, I do feel it’s important that you learn to read them.
There are 6 lines in tablature. Each line represents one string – and this is important – according to PITCH. Yes. Pitch. Not where the string is physically located, but how high or low the string sounds.
The top line represents the top string (the little skinny one) and the bottom line represents the bottom string (the big, thick one.)
Each number represents a fret. Keep in mind that frets are much like the strings – the lower the fret number the lower the note. Moving DOWN the neck is actually moving toward the NUT. Moving UP the neck is moving toward the BRIDGE. The number “1” is the first fret, “2” is the second fret, “3” is the third fret and “4” is the fourth fret.
For now, the finger number and the fret number will be the same. The first finger (index or pointer) will play the first fret. The second finger (middle) will play the second, third (ring) plays the third fret and fourth (pinky) plays the fourth fret.
Take a look at the line below:
First, play the first fret of the first string. Next, play the second fret of the first string, followed by the third fret of the first string and finally, the fourth fret on the first string. Remember that the finger number equals the fret number – for now.
Ideally, we’d like to introduce a metronome right about now. A metronome is a must-have for musicians. You can use a software version (I use Guitar Toolkit – Don’t worry, I actually paid for the app; I’m not getting anything at all for plugging them) or an actual physical metronome, but this will help you keep the time.
Set your metronome at a very slow pace. Seriously slow. You can always speed up later. Play one note on the first string for every click you hear on the metronome.
Now – here’s the tricky part. You want to strike your note at the exact same time as you hear the click on the metronome. Keep playing those four notes on first string over and over with the metronome until you can play it five times in a row with no mistakes.
Got it down yet? Great. We’re going to do the same thing at the same, slow speed on the rest of the strings individually until you have them down.
And now – the moment you’ve been waiting for – and the reason we’ve been keeping everything super slow until now: Putting all the strings together. We’re going to start at the first string and go down to the sixth.
Be careful to stay in beat when you change strings! Once again, make sure you can play this five times in a row without mistakes.
Lastly, we’re going to start at the sixth string, play our warm up all the way up to the first string and back down again.
Once you have that 5 times in a row with no mistakes, you can start speeding up the metronome. If you find that you’re having trouble at a particular speed, take the metronome back to the next lower speed and work it some more there.
Now we start to mix things up. The warm-ups in this and subsequent posts are designed to be part of a progressive warm-up. Personally, I take about an hour to warm up on an average day and an hour and a half on a really GOOD day. I’ve taken my warm-up routine and broken it down for you, so each week will build on the weeks prior.
The key here is “progressive.” So next week, you’ll keep playing this week’s warm up along with the warm-up from next week.
For the next two months or so, the goal is going to be to develop finger independence and strength. After that, we move into developing more dexterity.
We’re going to revisit last week’s 1-2-3-4 exercise, and then we’re going to mix up the fingers: 1-2-4-3, 1-3-2-4, 1-3-4-2, 1-4-2-3 and finally 1-4-3-2.
I would start the metronome at about 60 (that’s beats per minute, by the by…) I am particularly fond of the number 5. After you play each and every finger exercise 5 times through nearly perfectly, it’s time to speed up the metronome. Usually, I recommend increments of 5 beats per minute (BPMs) but you can do less than that, if you’re not sure of yourself.
Notice – I did not say, “You can do more than that.” Patience is a virtue.
Play in the Key of YOU!

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