5 Effective Finger Stretches For Guitar

Keeping our fingers limber and flexible is important – We’ve put together our top five finger stretches for guitar to help you stay sharp!

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • 5 effective finger stretches
  • How to properly roll your finger joints to loosen muscle tension
  • The importance of seeking medical advice for your muscles
  • The importance of good posture

Caring For Yourself As Much As Your Instrument

The guitar is an instrument that causes you pain the first day you play it.

Everybody remembers feeling like the guitar string is slicing a finger open before that finger develops a callus.

  • The guitar can cause discomfort so many ways!
  • The strap cuts into your neck. Barre chords make your hand do weird things.
  • You lose sensation in your fingers. Your forearms hurt. Your shoulders slouch.

You may have read about guitarists who come back from horrible injury to reclaim their successful careers – Pat Martino, Larry Carlton, Ani DiFranco, etc. – but, for obvious reasons, you hear significantly less about people who got hurt and had to give up the guitar.

Today we’ll get into some easy ways that you can retain and improve flexibility, endurance, and dexterity so that you can enjoy playing the guitar and avoid unnecessary pain and injury.

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Doing finger stretches for guitar will improve the circulation in your hands and forearms and help you stay flexible.

  • Although the focus is on the fingers since that’s what we use directly on the guitar, what happens elsewhere in the body impacts how effectively we use them.
  • For that reason, our finger stretches for guitar also include some posture-improvement stretches and general exercises to maintain strength and movement.

Do these finger stretches for guitar regularly, and you will be happily playing guitar as long as you like!

Just don’t overdo them!

finger-stretches-for-guitar

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Finger Stretches for Guitar, Before You Pick Up the Guitar

There are a few things that some guitarists do almost constantly, even when they’re nowhere near their guitars.

  • Hand massages are amazing. You can do them at any time, anywhere, and it keeps your hands loose and ready to play.
  • An awful lot of us spend our non-guitar time at the computer or on the phone or doing other things with our hands that can cause the types of discomfort or injury we’re liable to experience playing guitar.

Fold some of these techniques into your finger stretches for guitar and you’ll have a routine that keeps your hands and arms feeling good!

finger-stretches-for-guitar

Finger Stretches For Guitar: Hand Massages

Your hands have two main muscle groups, as you can see in the diagram above.

One is between your thumb and first finger, and the other goes up the pinky side of your hand.

  • When we play the guitar, we’re gripping chords or notes with the fretting hand and gripping the pick or fingerpicking with the other hand, so those muscles need some love.
  • Spend all the time you like massaging these muscles and gently moving the joints of your thumb.
  • The thumb muscle group in particular gets a lot of work and no praise when we play the guitar!

To keep your wrists healthy, gently massage the area where your hand meets your wrist, but be sure not to use too much force.

The goal is mobility and openness!

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Finger Stretches For Guitar: Injury Prevention For Your Finger Muscles

That hand diagram doesn’t show much in the way of finger muscles. Weird, right?

  • That is because your finger muscles attach at your forearm, and that is where the business end of those muscles is.
  • One of the most common career-stalling problems for a guitarist is tendinitis.

Tendinitis is an inflammatory condition that locks up your forearm, feeling a bit like a permanent muscle cramp. without some care, it can make it very painful and difficult to play the guitar.

You can keep your forearm muscles and tendons functioning smoothly by administering self-massage to your forearms, near your elbows.

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Look at everything going on in your forearm!

  • There are four layers of muscles, all of which are heavily involved in playing the guitar.
  • This is where finger stretches for guitar extend far beyond the fingers themselves.
  • Use your thumb to gently press into these muscle groups, feeling for anywhere that feels sore or tender.

Again, do not apply too much force, especially to any tender areas.

Those areas may benefit from fascial release, which you should learn about with the help of a bodywork professional.

We are not in the business of advertising products, but if you do have a case of professionally diagnosed tendonitis, you may want to consult with your provider about getting one of these little life savers: the Armaid.

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Pro-Tip: We’re experienced guitar players and teachers, and we’re interested in your health and longevity as a musician!

We are not, however, medical professionals. If any part of the finger stretches for guitar or the self-massage techniques we’re describing feels in any way painful or wrong, please get off the internet and go see a live person who has a degree or two in how your body works!

Finger Stretches For Guitar: Preparing The Fingers

There are plenty more finger stretches for guitar that can prepare you for a pain-free and exhilarating practice session, jam, or gig.

Hand and forearm massage prepare your body by improving the circulation in those muscles and loosening everything up before you pick up the guitar.

There are similar things you can do for your fingers to prepare to play.

Rolling Finger Joints To Improve Circulation

The first is the time-honored technique of rolling your fingers.

  • Take each finger and thumb, one by one, between your other thumb and first finger and gently roll back and forth at and between each joint.
  • You have plenty of blood vessels in the fingers, and gently rolling at each joint helps you check your mobility and get the blood flowing.
  • Spend a little extra time at each fingertip, especially where your calluses are on the fingers of your fretting hand.

You’re not after cracking your knuckles here; keep the rolling gentle.

You just want to warm up your hands and fingers and help your circulation.

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Your First Stretch

Once you’ve got your hands and forearms nicely massaged, it’s time to get a little more specific with the fingers.

  • To begin, you can do a little basic mobility exercise with your hands.
  • First, clench your fists, keeping your thumbs on the outside. Hold for a few seconds.
  • Unroll your fists so that the bottom joints of your fingers are straight, and hold for a few seconds again.

Finally, unroll your fingers all the way and extend them as straight as they will go.

Hold that for a few seconds, and repeat the whole thing five to 10 times. Here’s a great illustration!

finger-stretches-for-guitar

Actual Finger Stretches for Guitar

First, put your hands together in front of your chest, in “prayer position,” fingers pointed upward.

  • Keeping your palms and fingers together, move your elbows gently upward and away from your body.
  • You should feel a little stretch in your forearms. Your fingers may begin to point toward your body. That’s okay, but keep it gentle.
  • To intensify this stretch, release your hands and take the fingers of one hand in the other hand.
  • Extend the elbow of the held fingers so your arm is straight in front of you, and gently pull your fingers down.

Here’s what this should look like. Make sure you don’t hyperextend your elbow or cause yourself discomfort; we’re just going for a stretch here and not a full realignment.

guitar-finger-pain

Now you can do a similar exercise, but for each finger individually. Take one finger at a time and pull it back, making sure that the arm you’re working on stays relaxed.

  • You should feel the stretch in the palm side of your hand this time, more so than in your forearm.
  • Remember to stretch, not pulling too quickly or forcefully.

To stretch the outside of your hand and wrist, do similar stretches with your hand, palm side down, as shown below. Then take one finger at a time and pull it down toward your forearm.

You should feel this stretch on the knuckle side of your hand.

guitar-tendonitis

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Finger Stretches For Guitar – With The Guitar

You can really improve your guitar playing by staying flexible, using the finger stretches for guitar discussed above whenever and wherever you can get to them.

Once you pick up the guitar, here are a few finger stretches for guitar that you can use to improve your “wingspan” (how far apart your fingers can spread), and increase your reach across the frets.

  • You can play this exercise anywhere on the fretboard, but you may want to start up the neck, around the 9th fret.
  • As you increase your wingspan, you can back it down to the 5th fret and eventually the 1st fret, where it’s the most difficult to play.

You’ll park your first finger at the 9th fret, use your ring finger at the 12th fret, and use your pinky at the 13th and 14th frets. Try it on all six strings, starting at the high E string where it’s easiest.

guitar-exercises

Here’s a favorite dexterity exercise that will stretch your fingers out and improve your functional skills on the guitar.

  • It feels a little bit like doing jumping jacks on the guitar.
  • You’ll use two fingers at a time.
  • Start with fingers 1 and 2, then fingers 2 and 3, and then, if you’re feeling up to a challenge, fingers 3 and 4.

You’re essentially hopping your fingers back and forth across the strings. There are many variations on this exercise, but this is a good one to start with.

You can also do this anywhere on the neck of the guitar; we’ll start at the seventh fret because it’s relatively easy to reach.

guitar-warm-up

stop guitar pain

Posture Stuff

Writer’s Note: If there’s one thing that guitar playing promotes that I wish it wouldn’t, it’s bad posture. It feels so nice to sit cross-legged on the floor playing guitar for hours, until I try to get up.

Guitar slouch is real, and it is easily preventable! The first step is to try whenever possible to avoid hunching over to try to look at your hands.

Also, create a space to practice your guitar that promotes good posture.

Pro Tip: The couch is not it.

There are some great practice stools on the market, and having a stand keeps you from having to stare at the floor to see your music!

  • Here is a wonderful stretch that you should put down your guitar and do right now.
  • If done correctly, it’s a great posture enforcer as well as one of the best finger stretches for guitar.
  • Standing or seated, make sure your back is properly straight.

Put your arms straight out, palms facing the floor, so your fingers are pointing at opposite walls. Then extend your wrists so your fingers are pointing at the ceiling.

From there, gently move your arms back until you feel a stretch from fingertip to fingertip.

Plenty of guitarists practice standing up (especially electric guitar players), because it’s easier to control the height of the guitar with the strap than it is when it’s sitting on your lap.

  • If you practice seated, try not to slouch over the guitar to look at your fingers.
  • It’s helpful to try to get the guitar at a comfortable height so you can sit up straight and play.
  • For many people, this involves either crossing your legs to raise the guitar or using a little footstool, classical-guitar style.

Keeping everything where you can reach it without craning, drooping, or twisting is the best way to prevent guitar-related injury. For more on posture, here is an excellent video!

Making The Most Out Of Your Finger Stretches For Guitar

Here’s a little list of wonderful things you can do for your body to extend your life and enjoyment as a musician:

  • Yoga classes of any kind. You can keep your whole body in alignment with a good yoga teacher.
  • The Alexander Technique, or Feldenkrais, two whole-body ways of examining how you move functionally.
  • Regular massage therapy by a licensed bodyworker.
  • Always stretching, and taking breaks at least every hour on the guitar to move around.

Recommended resources

If you enjoyed this free guide to finger stretches for guitar, you’ll love these other lessons we have for you below!

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