Improve your finger dexterity with this 20-minute guitar workout

Developing your fretting skills is part of a bigger picture of simultaneously improving your picking technique. As you gain better coordination you’ll greatly improve your overall speed, accuracy and fluidity – whatever style of music you play, rhythm or lead.

It’s mostly about training your fretting fi ngers to move at a consistent speed, as most mistakes occur due to small inaccuracies between pick and fret hand – this can lead to ‘stumbling’ or rhythmic stutters. Even in the fret hand itself, guitarists often favour the first three fingers and find they neglect the weaker fourth digit.

If this sounds familiar, then this month’s exercises are for you. Each is designed to target the fret-hand fi ngers in a variety of ways, as it’s important not to simply repeat the same exercise. Speed isn’t necessarily the target, although this can come as your playing progresses. Just make sure everything sounds clean, whatever speed you decide to play at.

Picking coordination

This Muse-style riff is based on a challenging line phrased mainly around three-note groupings. With the steady 16th-note rhythm, this means each grouping starts at a different place in each beat. Use down-up style alternate picking and pay attention to the slides, which require greater control over when you are engaging the pick.

Stretches and picking coordination

This exercise will help develop your fret-hand stretching and fingertip accuracy. You need to have a good hand position here, so aim to be in parallel with the fretboard with a good arch in your wrist. This will help prevent your hand angling diagonally in order to reach the bigger stretches.

Neo-classical workout

This is a great Yngwie Malmsteen-style exercise for conditioning your fourth finger. Guitarists often play sequentially (first finger, second finger, third finger etc), so jumbling up the finger order will develop your fret-hand dexterity. It can feel a little off balance at first, so break the lick down into shorter phrases to begin with.

Stretch and slide workout

This Andy Summers-style riff is designed to get you moving along the length of the fretboard, helping you to gain a better feel for those challenging position shifts. The wide add9 chord shapes test fourth finger dexterity in particular. Carefully lift your finger after every note, so that no two notes ring together.

Practice plan

  1. Two minutes: Play through one exercise slowly
  2. Three minutes: Experiment and improvise with the ideas over the backing track
  3. Try the other examples

Once you’ve tried the tab exercises, try moving them to another area of the fretboard to see how they sound at a higher or lower pitch and how they feel played with different fret spacing. Playing in every possible fretboard position is the key to unlocking your potential when it comes to fretting skills. You’ll need to think creatively with the first exercise though – the open sixth string may be tough to transpose.

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