Finger Independence Exercises

Unlock your brain - throw away those useless 1234 exercises and defeat the evils of noodling.

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Ultimate Guitar
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The purpose of this article is try help you break outside of the world of boring noodling, and give you some real finger independence. Throw away those useless 1234 exercises and defeat the evils of noodling. A lot of people will sit for hours and practice and exercise like this:
----------------------------------------1-2-3-4-
---------------------------------1-2-3-4--------
-------------------------1-2-3-4----------------
-----------------1-2-3-4------------------------
---------1-2-3-4--------------------------------
-1-2-3-4----------------------------------------
Now this is all good and dandy if you're a brand new guitarist and you can bearly hold a note. But if you keep practicing this forever this is all your fingers can do. These exercises will add new muscle memory to your playing and you will truly play outside the box, so lets get this started. Here is the first one, make sure you use ALL FOUR FINGERS, don't neglect your pinky, most players do and they are limiting themselves by 25% of the notes that could be played. When you do this one keep shifting up a fret till you get to the end of the neck.
---------------------2-4---------------------
-----------------1-3-----1-3-----------------
-------------2-4------------2-4--------------
---------1-3--------------------1-3----------
-----2-4----------------------------2-4------
-1-3------------------------------------1-3--
Now flip it in reverse and repeat:
---------------------4-2---------------------
-----------------3-1-----3-1-----------------
-------------4-2-------------4-2-------------
---------3-1---------------------3-1---------
-----4-2-----------------------------4-2-----
-3-1-------------------------------------3-1-
Now I will show you a whole bunch of them, do that same thing you did with the first one, keep shifting up a fret till you cover the neck, then do the same exercise in reverse.
---------------------2-3---------------------
-----------------1-4-----1-4-----------------
-------------2-3-------------2-3-------------
---------1-4---------------------1-4---------
-----2-3-----------------------------2-3-----
-1-4-------------------------------------1-4-

---------------------3-4---------------------
-----------------1-2-----1-2-----------------
-------------3-4-------------3-4-------------
---------1-2---------------------1-2---------
-----3-4-----------------------------3-4-----
-1-2-------------------------------------1-2-

---------------------4-2---------------------
-----------------1-3-----1-3-----------------
-------------4-2-------------4-2-------------
---------1-3---------------------1-3---------
-----4-2-----------------------------4-2-----
-1-3-------------------------------------1-3-

---------------------3-2---------------------
-----------------1-4-----1-4-----------------
-------------3-2-------------3-2-------------
---------1-4---------------------1-4---------
-----3-2-----------------------------3-2-----
-1-4-------------------------------------1-4-

---------------------4-3---------------------
-----------------1-2-----1-2-----------------
-------------4-3-------------4-3-------------
---------1-2---------------------1-2---------
-----4-3-----------------------------4-3-----
-1-2-------------------------------------1-2-
Now the next problem in combating the noodle, is that most players play all their melodic lines using their index finger to root their hand on the fretboard and play a blasting slur of a couple notes located under that one. So lets continue, I think you'll get the point of this exercise when you try it. When a note is in parentheses, keep your finger planted on that note until the next one comes.
(descend)

----------------------------2-3-4-----------
----------------------2-3-4-----------------
----------------2-3-4-----------------------
----------2-3-4-----------------------------
----2-3-4-----------------------------------
-(1)----------------------------------------

----------------------------1-3-4------------
----------------------1-3-4------------------
----------------1-3-4------------------------
----------1-3-4------------------------------
----1-3-4------------------------------------
-(2)-----------------------------------------

----------------------------1-2-4------------
----------------------1-2-4------------------
----------------1-2-4------------------------
----------1-2-4------------------------------
----1-2-4------------------------------------
-(3)-----------------------------------------

----------------------------1-2-3------------
----------------------1-2-3------------------
----------------1-2-3------------------------
----------1-2-3------------------------------
----1-2-3------------------------------------
-(4)-----------------------------------------

----------------------------2-3-4------------
----------------------2-3-4------------------
----------------2-3-4------------------------
----------2-3-4------------------------------
-(1)-----------------------------------------
----2-3-4------------------------------------

---------------------------1-3-4-------------
---------------------1-3-4-------------------
---------------1-3-4-------------------------
---------1-3-4-------------------------------
-(2)-----------------------------------------
----1-3-4------------------------------------

----------------------------1-2-4------------
----------------------1-2-4------------------
----------------1-2-4------------------------
----------1-2-4------------------------------
-(3)-----------------------------------------
----1-2-4------------------------------------

------------------------1-2-3----------------
-------------------1-2-3---------------------
--------------1-2-3--------------------------
---------1-2-3-------------------------------
-(4)-----------------------------------------
----1-2-3------------------------------------

------------------------2-3-4----------------
-------------------2-3-4---------------------
--------------2-3-4--------------------------
-(1)-----------------------------------------
---------2-3-4-------------------------------
----2-3-4------------------------------------
Hopefully you get the idea of how this one works, keep going until you've cycles through all the patterns, and then guess what you do next. :) Shift up a fret and do it again. Finger exercises are not about repeating over and over again until you are some sort of speed demon. They are about building connections between your brain and the muscles in your hands, to give you the freedom to have the physical ability to play the notes that you want to play, not just the ones you can play. Don't stop with these exercises, this is only a very basic beginning. Every time there is a motion you have troubles with, turn it into a finger exercise. Happy playing!

62 comments sorted by best / new / date

    FingerFud
    The Crazy Train riff and the Master of Puppets into were good practice for me
    ChasenPipo
    Your excercises are pretty good, but I strongly disagree with the first comment. Those chromatic runs are a great warmup and when you push them to your max speed, it develops both your fretting hand AND picking hand. Of course you need also other routines, but I mean if John Petrucci is a fan of those, they are also suitable for an experienced guitarist
    Wininacan
    sure its a good warm up, but a warmup shouldn't be the basis of your practice. and the speed it will give y
    koningjim
    My fingers... they hurt By the way, try doing this one: -----1-2-4- -----1-2-4----- -----1-2-4----- -----1-2-4- ---- ----1-2-4----- -(3)----- but then with your third finger frozen on the same place all the time. When I do this the 3rd finger always rises automatically after I place the 2nd finger, as if it thinks that it is his turn! Really weird muscle memory. Nice lesson.
    TheClawSVN
    I think it has more to do with the contraction of the muscle and not being able to stretch that finger, if the others are contracted
    ruletheneck
    i suppose its whatever works for you, but i dont like chromatic/atonal exercises - instead preferring to use scale/interval patterns. there are some cool ideas here, but i reckon they'd be more useful applied to something with some musical substance - that way you're working on your technique while simultaneously working out how to use it in solos
    Wininacan
    When it comes to music dont give yourself any limits. Sometimes you have to learn things that you dont find all to interesting.
    TuningGamer
    When it comes to a hobby you have outside all the other stuff in your life, do stuff you think is fun. I never got all the mindless drilling of technique, it takes the soul out of stuff, in my opinion. If you want it bad enough, you'll practice anyway.
    crazysam23_Atax
    Although mindless drilling of technique is not for everyone, the best players have excellent technique. Guys like Vai, Satriani, Govan, etc. play with great feeling and have great technique.
    Rocknrolla35
    Chromatic scale is not deviod of any musical substance. It's used in music in considerable amounts. Particularly in extreme metal and other technically/compositionally complex genres. This stuff is pretty useful.
    Rocknrolla35
    Chromatic scale is not deviod of any musical substance. It's used in music in considerable amounts. Particularly in extreme metal and other technically/compositionally complex genres. This stuff is pretty useful.
    Vypor
    This sort of reminds me of the PITA exercise I found on a bass forum once. PITA stands for pain in the ass. Which it really is on bass, not so much on guitar but maybe that because i ran thru it on bass.
    Zaphod_Beeblebr
    Those last exercises are a terrible idea; a sure-fire way to increase tension in your fretting hand to ridiculous levels! I'm not even sure what exactly they're supposed to be combating.
    Wininacan
    D: They changed the name of my article, its suppose to finger independance not finger stretching.... If you are feeling tension its because you need to relax your fingers, and that excercise is about being able to reach a wide variety of notes from any finger, as appose to most players just doodling a few notes beneath their index.
    jpob
    No...I'm pretty sure they're doing nothing. The muscles don't allow it that much, especially going to the bottom 3 string. I don't even know when someone would use them.
    kornonjac0b
    jpob is right, I had to do excersizes similar to these for classical guitar. Doing them the way you've written them is pretty bad for you. I just played through all of them and I've gotta hella pain in my wrist and it's not from overly-tensed fingers.
    Pankescence
    The last set of exercises seem like a revelation, planting the ring/pink & stretching the rest - so simple yet effective... I haven't personally tried this myself; but am eager to wear out some muscle tissues for this one.
    UNKLEGWAR
    your 3rd finger and your pinkie share tendons, so the compensation to make the 3rd finger "powerful" or "independent" is to exaggerate the motions. Exercises will help build independence and reduce the huge movements.
    Roybordom
    I appreciate your exercises, but you've done little to nothing to validate your claim of a need to discard standard four finger exercises. Also, if you study classical, there are better finger independence exercises that will cause less problems.
    UNKLEGWAR
    Allow me to quote: "Don't stop with these exercises, this is only a very basic beginning. " Try this: numbers are your fingers not the frets, but start on frets 1 & 2, and move up then down. Then use fingers 1 and 3, then 1 and 4, then 2 and 3, then 2 and 4. ---2-1-----2-1----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -1-----2-1-- ---2-1--
    Wininacan
    if you could do the exercise easily with no problems what would there be to gain? And to you claiming their are standard exercises, really try them. Your brain wont want to do it
    crazysam23_Atax
    My brain never had an issue with it. It's the fact that people reinforce bad muscle memory habits that causes issues.
    Robotgenius
    This changing the feeling of how I play the guitar since I am actually using my pinky and ring finger. Of course they hurt but a I say that's progress
    crazysam23_Atax
    How are these exercises any different than the standard -1-2-3-4- exercises?
    samueltownson
    Do you even play guitar?
    Wininacan
    he is obviously just a douche, he tries to make the troll face in his picture because he thinks it makes him quirky and interesting when in reality he spends all day on forums being a tool being cared about a lot less than he thinks he is.
    crazysam23_Atax
    When you write an article that does more than showcase your specific variation of a common exercise, then you can talk shit. Also, if you looked carefully, you'd see I'm smiling slightly into the camera.
    kornonjac0b
    They're different because you anchor one of your fingers down, which helps to build finger independence and flexibility.
    Carlos V
    i thought this lesson would feature some licks like this: http://www.guitarworld.com/sick-licks-li...
    Wininacan
    Probably cause UG changed my lesson name from finger independance to finger stretching.....
    mumbles36
    To be honest, fingering independence' sounds like some kind of sex lesson dude =P btw, great lesson =D
    DragonAvenger7
    I'm a beginner seeing "This is bad for you wrist and fingers" In some comments. Who do I trust? Will these help me? Or hurt my long term desire to be a guitarist?
    Wininacan
    in my opinion, the people that said this is bad for you, probably thought they were too hard and they gave up. I have no problem with these and i have quite small hands, like anything it just takes time, patience, and proper technique.
    vvictor1302
    Id rather practice with a song that can help rather than these mundane exercises. Any help?
    Wininacan
    There are millions of songs..... but the level of finger independence you gain from these exercises would be in a very difficult songs that are still going to be tedious and mundane to learn. Think about it, either way your fingers cant currently do it, youll still have to drill to get it down. Which will still turn into mundane exercises. This is just organized patterns with specific learning purposes. If you want some really good stuff for finger independance and what not, Make them suffer - Cannibal corpse, Suffer the soul - Aeon, Ragged Nail - Adrian leg, Expulsion of fury - Origin. There are millions
    Bhaaa
    Good exercise. I have been doing this for about 2 years when I started with the major scale. My pinky finger was then so weak. I would concentrate a lot on 124-1(next string) and back to 124. Do this for the whole 6 strings. It helped me a lot. And it burns like hell in the beginning. Still need to practice this every time I play.
    tman777
    I don't think I understand how we're meant to do the 2nd set of exercises. Could someone explain because right now I'm trying to play the 3 notes not in brackets whilst keeping keeping my finger down throughout on whichever note is in brackets. (Unless of course I am doing it "right" but my fingers can't yet stretch enough to do the exercise correctly)
    Wininacan
    sounds like you are doing it right. These arent easy exercises, it takes time to build up the skill to play them, but thats what they are for, gaining an ability you currently dont have. Just do it really slow and relax completely, dont let your hand get tense
    Wagh_Rules
    really cool stuff... I'm gonna do it! Love that lesson, if you can do all of this fast an without any mistakes, it takes you to a whole new level of playing
    Bhaaa
    correction. concentrate a lot on 124-1(next string) and back to 421 (not 124).