- Michael Gumley
Do you have a vigorous routine of stretches and strength building exercises at the start of each practice session? Do you mindlessly run through scales until you feel ready to begin practice in earnest? Do you ever feel like you’re not getting the most you can out of each practice session?
Chances are you’re wasting a good chunk of your practice time warming up. If you’d like to make the most of your warm up and squeeze every second out of your allocated practice time this article is for you.
There is a common misconception that you need to warm up before playing guitar and although the idea has some merit when launching right into a vigorous high speed routine or preparing for a performance, spending 10 minutes of a 30 minute practice session is simply an ineffective use of your time. Let's do some math for a moment. If you spend 10 minutes warming up every day it adds up to 70 minutes a week, 5 hours a month, 2 and a half days a year and 100 days over a 40 year period… stunning numbers.
Do you think you would improve with an extra hour of practice a week? What about an extra 60 hours per year? It all adds up. The key to getting massive results in a short period of time is effective time management during your practice routines and making the most of time allocated to warming up. Chances are like most people your warm up involves playing mindlessly through scales without any purpose or thought of improving. What I would like to present to you are several concepts that you can focus on during time normally dedicated to your warm up that don’t require great physical demand. This will simultaneously improve your technique or knowledge of the guitar whilst getting your hands warmed up to tackle some more intense practice later on.
Learning or revising new shapes.
Rather than warm up with some scales and then spending time later on learning new ones, why not use your warmup time to slowly play through a new scale, arpeggio or set of chords. This way your hands will warm up as you slowly play through the material effectively killing two birds with one stone and giving you more time to invest in another area of your playing. You’ll be amazed how quickly your fretboard knowledge developed if you dedicate the 10 minutes you’d normally spend warming up each practice session to getting to know the guitar.
Building muscle memory involves you playing through licks, scales or exercise at super slow speeds to refine your technique. If you’re trying to reduce the distance your pinkie finger lifts up each time you play a legato phrase or are trying to articulate the first 16th note of each grouping in a scale you’re going to need to practice it a thousand times at a slow tempo to ensure you’re getting the perfect movement before you ever worry about playing it at a high speed. Instead of warming up allocate the first 5-10m of your practice to developing the muscle memory of specific licks or techniques you're working on and come back to practice them at faster speeds during the next part of your practice.
Play standing up or Playing without looking
If you struggle to play standing up or without looking you can make a warmup exercise out of it. Take a simple chord progression or scale sequence and practice it slowly while standing up or without looking. Speed shouldn’t be a worry here so it doesn’t matter if you’re not warmed up. By the time 5-10 minutes are up not only will you have improved your ability to play standing up but you’ll be warmed up and ready to dive into the next area of your practice.
Starting practice by jamming along to a backing track is a great way to work on your creativity while warming up. Put on a short track and focus on playing and developing melodic ideas rather than cramming in as many notes you can with speed runs and flashy licks. You can also target chord tones try and match arpeggios to the chords depending on your skill level. The point is you’re not warming up for 10 minutes to tackle something that didn’t require you to warm up in the first place.
Hopefully by now you’re starting to think of how you can take this idea of replacing your warm up with practice that doesn’t require anything technically demanding and can personalise it to your daily and weekly practice routines. I want to reiterate that 10 minutes a day doesn’t seem like much but its 33% of a 30 minute practice session and adds up to over 100 days of practice over a 40 year period. Take these ideas on board and if you come up with any exercises you can do in place of your warm up I’d love to for you to reach out and tell me about them.
About the Author
Michael is a shred fusion player from Melbourne, Australia. He plays in heavy metal outfit Hybrid Nightmares and is the owner and head teacher of Melbourne Guitar Academy. If you’re looking for a Guitar Teacher in Strathmore to help you achieve your guitar playing goals, get in touch.