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Get gig-ready with these 10 essential guitar warm-up techniques

Close-up of man playing electric guitar
(Image credit: David Herraez / EyeEm)

BACK TO LIVE: Apart from some notable online collaborations (cat-based heavy metal anyone?) there has been a distinct lack of opportunity over the last year or so to get out there and strut our stuff in real time. Be that in a rehearsal room or on stage. Playing or practicing while binge-watching TV on the sofa, will no doubt have helped some improve their game. But how relevant will these improvements be when we’re back standing in front of an amp, drumkit and audience? These are the concerns I’ll be addressing in this article. 

The areas covered here will also be helpful to those who have decided to go back out into the world and start or join bands. At the risk of stating the obvious; it’s incredibly useful to develop our skills in isolation. But what sounds great at home may not translate to the outside world; and even seasoned pros will need to approach their first day back in the saddle with appropriate caution. 

But first I’d like to emphasize the kind of considerations you don’t always read about in a feature like this, such as: have you been practicing exclusively in a seated position? This is fine if that’s how you perform, or if you wear your guitar high on the strap – ie, in a comparable position for your hands and arms – otherwise, it may be time to dust off  the strap and reacclimatize. 

U2

If you still haven't found the chops you've been looking for, keep practising – even the world’s biggest acts will need to hone their skills returning to the stage.  (Image credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

Have you been playing through an amp, or unplugged on the sofa? Acoustic practice is very valuable, but the skill to control a distorted tone is not something to be neglected either. When plugged in, do you use a pedalboard or plug straight into a driven amp and control it from the guitar?

Whichever way you approach this, it’s worth re-familiarizing yourself with the kind of switching and on-the-fly adjustments you’ll need to be able to do automatically while playing a solo and cueing the singer to come back in. Steering things back towards the technical exercises; do make the time to practice these examples with the backing tracks provided, or to a click.

As much as we are not machines and ‘feel’ is important, we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t realize that playing with bad time will just make our playing sound sloppy. This is especially true if you count yourself as a ‘professional’ musician. And if you’re a semi-pro playing functions, remember that the person who booked and paid you is probably in the audience assessing your performance.

Therefore if rehearsal rooms open before your first gig, why not book a day on your own, to play at stage volume; and another for the band to try the old songs again or, better still, learn a few new ones. And why not record yourself? It’s so revealing that you’ll soon discover if you really are ‘gig fit’.

I hope these exercises will be part of an exciting preparation to get out there playing again. All the best and have fun.

Exercises 1-5: Warm-ups

(Image credit: Future)

(Image credit: Future)

(Image credit: Future)

We start simply and become progressively more tricky. These exercises are all about alternate picking (Ex 5 is a little different) and consistent tone and timing.

Be as conscientious as you can bear, staying in with the timing of the drums, referencing the kick, snare and occasionally hi-hats on the busier lines.

Even the triplet-based licks coincide with these at key points. Stay relaxed, with a loose wrist; remember to breathe, and don’t hunch those shoulders!

(Image credit: Future)

Examples 6-10

These examples are all about fretting-hand control; pitching bends correctly (especially the unison ones) and paying attention to your timing on position changes. 

(Image credit: Future)

(Image credit: Future)

There’s a nod to stamina in Example 9 and 10, but these are also aimed at getting your timing as accurate as possible – surprisingly challenging when the fretting-hand often wants to rush. So really listen hard to the drums; if you’re ahead of the beat then concentrate on pulling back on the reins.

(Image credit: Future)

(Image credit: Future)
Richard Barrett

As well as a longtime contributor to Guitarist and Guitar Techniques, Richard is Tony Hadley’s longstanding guitarist, and has worked with everyone from Roger Daltrey to Ronan Keating.