Fretboard Mechanics & Beyond: Warming Up Is Important!

(Image credit: Sammi Chichester)

Hello! Geoff Unger here. In this column, I'm going to write about and show you many different concepts of playing the guitar while also trying to help instill confidence in you as a player, all while getting your fingers working in the practice room and then out of the practice room and into the real world of live playing.

It's two different ball games, believe it or not. I'll give you real-world examples that I incorporate live and in my practice and songs that you can hopefully apply to your playing. I'll be running the gamut of techniques and mind sets. And it doesn't matter what style of music you play. It's all how you interpret it and apply it.

Already play live in a band or can add or expand to these concepts I present? Great! There's always something to learn, so please share in the comments section with all of the readers. I encourage feedback and interaction between all of us.

Let's get started. First, I'd like to discuss a very important topic: warming up.

I find it extremely important to warm up, because this will aid in avoiding player injuries. When we play our guitars, we are putting stress on our muscles and tendons, just like athletes.

Several years back, when I was at music school, I had the bad habit of not taking the time to warm up. In turn, because of my, for lack of a better word, stupidity, I obtained a very painful ganglion cyst in my left wrist. It got to a point where it really began to hinder my playing. My finger stretch became very limited, and eventually my pinky finger was pretty much useless and nearly immobile. I continued without resting it. I had to wrap that wrist in support bandages just to do shows. The show must go on, right?

I finally went to a doctor and was told I had two choices to cure the cyst. Surgery, which at the time, I was told, wasn't a guarantee that I'd ever have full mobility again; or use a book. A book? Yes. I won’t go into details about that "procedure." But I did opt for the book. No more cyst. No harm done.

Since then, I like to warm up before practicing or playing a gig. I don't have a specific routine and to be honest, if I did, that would get old quick. One constant, though, is I like to warm up for one hour.

I typically start doing hammer-ons and pull-offs with limited picking, which, in turn, does a couple of things: loosen you up and build left-hand strength. Particularly your pinky.

Here are three exercises I use at the moment to warm up:

Once loosened up, I'll do some string skipping with some tapping. I came up with this sequence (below) using two-note-per-string minor and major seventh-string skipping to aide in getting some minor stretching in to rehabilitate my hand. Eventually, I came up with a sequence I liked:

I also added some tapping to that same sequence. Years later, I incorporated it into part of a solo section in a song called "Trip":

By the time I'm done with those exercises, my left hand is generally ready to go. I then eventually go into picking exercises to warm up my picking hand.

Definitely find your own means of warming up by creating exercises you like. Make up different patterns to keep your warmup interesting. You might just come across something you can add to one of your songs. Most importantly, stay uninjured! I have a lot more to show you!

Geoff Unger is the guitar player and vocalist for three piece, NYC based, metal band Symptom 7. A graduate of Berklee College of Music, Geoff studied jazz arranging and composition while under the tutelage of Jon Finn. Geoff also has appeared in Mike Varney's Hometown Heroes. A multi-styled guitar player, Geoff regularly performs live with Symptom 7 and as a hired live/studio guitar player. Symptom 7 will be in the studio this fall recording the followup to their 2007 debut, Symptom 7 - Vol. 1. Check out Symptom 7 on Facebook.

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