Become A Guitar God - First Steps

This is the first lesson instalment in a series which focuses on building all the right habits to ensure you become a guitar god!

Ultimate Guitar
Hello students and welcome the first lesson that the GodlyGuitarGuru is contributing to This is also the first in an on-going series of lessons which have the full intent of guiding your playing to that of legend status. With that in mind please understand that these lessons are set out in a completely progressive format (From absolute beginner to the highly advanced). This first lesson will focus on the biology of how you play and the little techniques that can be used to affect your playing on a muscular level which will in turn better your playing in the long run.

Section 1: Muscular Biology

All guitarists have 1 major thing in common... Muscles. We all use them as we play and our playing improves as our muscles memorize what we are doing. In other words when you are sitting there practicing your scales, not only is your head memorizing the pattern your playing, but so are your muscles. Your muscles undertake this process to ensure that whatever you are doing can be improved next time you wish to repeat it. However this can have a negative affect on your playing too. Say you are sitting there and you are not applying the correct hand positioning or your fingers are extremely tense whilst playing. This information will also be stored within the muscular memory and can lead to both sloppy guitar playing and maybe even more awful consequences like RSI, also known as repetitive strain injury. These consequences can have dire effects on any guitarists overall playing capability and must be avoided at all costs. To do this we must stop and analyse what we are doing when we play the guitar. Our fingers are controlled by tissue known as Tendons and it is these tendons which allow us to play the guitar. These tendons however are moved by a muscle called the Extensor Digitorum. This muscle is located slightly above the wrist and is used to move the fingers into and away from the palm of the hand. It is clearly an important part of any ambitious guitarist, yet it is not considered. It is not consciously thought of and is not considered an aspect of playing whatsoever but from now on... To you... It is god. Think to yourself how horrible it would feel if you could not play, or were limited due to one muscle in your body. Horrible isn't it! An easy way to combat this... WARM-UP. Warming up is another aspect of playing that many guitarists avoid or just plain don't consciously think about, even though it is so important. So to combat this we are going to create you a warm-up schedule section which will ensure that your tendons and muscles are ready to adapt to the information you want to store.

Section 2: The Biological Warm-Up

Are you ready to take your first step towards godliness... Good. Now put your guitar down and stand up. What? Yes you read that correctly, stand up. I want you to stand up and raise your arms to shoulder height at the side of you. Once there I need you to make small circles in whatever direction you choose. Do this for about a minute... Have you finished your minute, now go the other way. This process increases the body temperature between your joints called synovial fluid. This fluid stops your joints from rubbing and lets them move with ease. Now repeat this process but with your wrists. Now that the fluid is warmed up lets start stretching those tendons. Grab the guitar and complete this exercise.
Now I wont lie to you, those chords are both ugly and probably (especially to a beginner) pretty difficult. But you want to repeat that pattern down the neck as far as you feel comfortable to ensure your tendons are flexing. Don't push to hard as that can have negative affects rather than the positive we are trying to install. Lastly we are going to stretch you Extensor Digitorum. To do this we will take your right hand (facing palm down) and grab it with your left hand. Bend it slowly towards the floor until you feel a slight stretch in the wrist area. Hold that for 10 seconds, then repeat with the other hand. Once the biological warm-up is complete you are ready to begin the informational warm-up section of your schedule. This section will be provided in the next lesson installment in this series. Until then, if you have any questions feel free to post them as a comment or message me through my page, until then warm-up and keep playing. Your GodlyGuitarGuru.

12 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Hey, hi. What I wanted to point out was that the flexors are equally important. You need the extensors to lift fingers off of notes but to fret a note you'd need the flexors. Flexors and extensors, generally speaking, are antagonistic to each other. If one does a particular action, the other one opposes it or does the exact opposite action. So the chances of injury to the flexors is equally important. Also you had stated "This muscle is located slightly above the wrist and is used to move the fingers into and away from the palm of the hand." Away from the palm I can understand, as its an extensor muscle, but as far as I know,it does not move the fingers into the palm. Either that, or I misunderstood what you are trying to say by "into the palm". Moving fingertips into the palm or "flexing" is done by the flexors and not the extensor. This is what I thought -as a doctor- was a minor mixup in an otherwise amazingly helpful article. Though, like I said earlier, its been a while since I opened my old anatomy books, and I could easily be wrong. Thank you for your kind words. Please keep posting lessons...i've been doing the warm up routine you taught ever since I read this article and I'll be waiting to read more! Thanks! P.s. I don't intend to be argumentative, and if i'm being so, please do accept my sincerest apologies.
    Hi, The extensor digitorum's action is to extend the fingers...basically to unclench your first, or raise your fingers when your hand is flat on a table etc. it does not actively move your fingers into the palm (making a fist) which is actually done by its enemy, its antagonistic muscles,"the flexors".....also there are many other muscles that help extending the fingers (in our case, raising the fingers from a note on the fretboard when we need to) like the extensor digiti minimi and extensor carpi ulnari. The extensor digitorum is one of the muscles, although I do accept its the major one for this movement. For putting your fingers into the palm, or "flexion", or in the case of guitarists-"fretting a note" or "gripping the neck", its the flexors that come into play, not the extensor digitorum...and there are eight of them badass flexors in the forearm,5 superficial,3 deep. I'm a doc, so I know. I hope I'm right though,about the muscle groups...its been a billion years since I last studied the anatomy of the hand. What I feel is, most of us are used to gripping things since infancy so the flexors are well developed by default. Unless we're hulking out on the fretboard, fretting a note takes only a minimal amount of effort and our fingers are capable of much much more. However we do not use the extensors to actively do skilful things as compared to the flexors. They play more of a passive role, like for letting go of something or countering a flexor action. This is why when we relax our hands, the fingers curl up into our palms, as the flexors are naturally stronger. This also explains why, as beginners, we had more trouble lifting a finger off a note rather than to press a finger into one. Try putting your hand flat on a table and then lifting the ring finger or tapping the table with it...putting the finger down is easy, but lifting it off is hard right? The flexor is stronger. Plus we have more coordination learnt into our flexors...gripping something takes planning, estimation of strength to be applied,judging the shape of the object etc. Letting go is way more simple...just let go! What we need to develop, in my honest opinion, besides the nice warm up routine that the author described, is strength, stamina and coordination in our extensors. How? There's one simple way to help do this. Put your hand flat on a table...tap the table with the index finger. Start with 50 taps then gradually work your way to more. Make no other movement. Only the forefinger should move. Turn by turn, work the other fingers too...the ring finger will be the hardest, probably. So work harder on it. The most important factor is relaxation. Don't tense up. Focus on the one finger that you're exercising and simply ignore the others in your mind. Once you gain a little control over this, you'll see your shredding gets easier, quick chord changes becoming a breeze. Try lifting fingers repetitively on the fretboard too. It helps but not in a day or two. Keep doing it...while you watch TV, listen to songs or even work in the office. A few weeks later you'll realize you're playing more comfortably than before. It has helped me breathe easier while playing things I couldn't play on the past without shitting bricks. Now,lifting fingers off of fast notes is easier and cleaner. I hope this helps!!! Regards.
    Very true my friend, although not completely correct, the extensor Digitorum does (as you stated) act as the main component in extending the fingers, and you are correct there are indeed many flexors that also are called into action when the hands are engaged. However I was pinpointing on the extensor Digitorum as it plays massive part in guitar playing and I was posing a solution for this as I have seen many guitarists suffer from strains to this muscle. I am just beginning to scratch the surface of many things that will improve the playing of my readers. Your contribution is helpful to the readers I am sure, and I am grateful you have commented please keep reading and commenting and I will have another lesson added on Sunday.
    Years ago, i broke my left wrist(my picking hand)and have lost a little mobility from it. Mostly depleted up/down flex movement. Obviously is gonna limit me in some way or other, but to this point i havent seen too much limiting..What kind of trouble do you foresee down the track? Cheers, Great topic.
    Can the author confirm how often are these lessons going to be published?
    Hello students in this comment I will answer the questions posed so far in the comments. J.Gordon - The next lesson will be about the informational warm-up and will be contributed to the site later today. Gladiator2008 - you will experience minimal resistance if you are careful with your playing and do not produce too much tension in your playing. Though you have broken your picking hand wrist (which I have done myself, twice) it will not hinder your playing as long as your practice smartly. Keep rocking. Maeblade - hello and thanks for asking. These lessons will be added by myself on Sunday at 5pm. it will then usually take a day or two for UG to add it to the site. Thanks to all the people who have read the column and to all the people who have commented I missed last Sunday as I was away on holiday but this Sunday will have a double lesson added. Thanks again.
    Hey again shredbanez. I have read the section you are referring to and you are indeed correct I have rushed ahead of myself and written an incorrect piece of information thank you for commenting and correcting a piece of misinformation. please keep reading there will be another lesson added shortly, I have sent the lesson to the site and it should be added any day now.
    You're welcome! I'm glad to have been of some use. cheers! and thanks for the lessons! they're helping. :
    dunno why that stupid smiley got posted...i made happy smiley and got the green one. wtf? anyways, I've read your second lesson. its awesome! thanks and, keep em coming! I've been playing for 13 years now..and since i'm self taught i picked up a lot of bad habits on the way. i'm unlearning those and your lessons are helping!!!
    Nice article. 'Rock Discipline' John Petrucci uses similar exercises and additional stretching. Warming up is an often neglected area and is not just so you can be ready to perform or practice but plays a major role in injury prevention.