The warm up to playing is a very important piece of a guitarists practice routine. However, it's sometimes overlooked. I've put together everything I've learned from talking to doctors to experiences I've had myself.
We all know proper technique is important in guitar playing to keep your body healthy. However, one aspect I've noticed from observing both my own students and students in my college music department is a lack of a real warm up routine. People usually play chords near the nut for only a few minutes then jump into complex jazz and classical pieces. Or as I've been prone to in my past, fast displaced octave runs. This can lead to injuries later on in your playing career. I recently had a run in with a repetitive injury. It takes time away from playing. You can head issues like these off and keep them away.
Your muscles and tendons need to get working a bit before you do anything complex. Otherwise there will be a strain on them which down the road can cause issues. Here are a few tips I've picked up that might be new to you.
1. Before you even touch your guitar, do a few stretching exercises with your hands and arms. Remember, guitar playing involves more than just fingers and wrists. Your forearm, elbow, and shoulder also come into play. I won't go into detail about what kind of stretches, as there are many you can do.
2. If you are in a cold environment before playing, allow your hands to warm up before attempting anything. You've probably noticed how it's hard to move your hands when they're cold. Doing so can put added strain on those muscles and tendons. Strain is never good. A tip a doctor gave me is to allow them to warm up without subjecting them to a heat source. The rapid change in temperature can also cause some issues.
3. So when it's time to play, warm up near the body, not the nut. Simply put, there is less distance between frets up near the body than at the nut. Playing up here first will allow your hands to start moving at lesser distances. This will help because you will stretch less when your hands aren't in optimal playing shape.
4. There is no need to play fast at all during a warm up. Take your time with it. Typically, this warm up period can last 15 to 20 minutes. Even big name guitarists take some time to build up to speed. I recently read an interview where both of Slayers guitarists take about an hour to reach their top playing speed. They work up slowly to it. The same approach applies to us as well.
I simply can't state the importance of a proper warm up routine. It will help you to play the instrument for a lifetime. Don't think that injury can't happen to you. It's entirely preventable. If you notice pain or stress building up, stop and find the cause of it. Are you fretting too hard, are you placing your wrist at an odd angle, etc.
When I teach, proper posture and warm ups are first on the agenda. It's often hard to break out of bad habits on the guitar. By having a good routine in place, you'll be able to enjoy the guitar for as long as you wish.
Hopefully, something here has been informative to you. Maybe not to move advance players, but for beginners. I'll be submitting a lesson next on some warm up exercises for you to have a look at. Take care till then.