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Classical Guitar Technique Off-Guitar Exercises for Travel, Strength, and Stretch

Have you ever wished that you had more time to practice guitar? Or, Have you wished for a little more immediate gratification?Personally I’m a huge fan of immediate gratification, and I enjoy seeing results in my practice. It feels good to get better!  With these classical guitar technique exercises, you’ll see tons of improvement, and you don’t even need a guitar.

One of the common misconceptions around guitar practice is that we actually need to be playing the guitar to be practicing. It seems like this would be true, but it’s just not.  We can build skills and muscles away from the guitar that directly influence and improve our guitar playing.

By getting into the habit of performing a few exercises throughout the day, you could double (or more) the rate at which you’re improving on your instrument.

Your practices can be much more effective, and you could both learn more quickly and build your physical skills faster.

First Choice: Rasgueados

Before we get in to the exercise described in this video, let me remind you of rasgueados.

Click here to learn more about classical guitar rasgueados for hand strength and flexibility.

Rasgueados are very effective. They are my number one go to for simple throughout-the-day exercises for the hands. I teach most of my students how to do these within the first lesson or two. They are that effective.

Classical guitar technique exercises and Pain

Here is my view on discomfort: “No pain, no pain.”  I am not a big fan of pain, and generally seek to avoid it. I suggest you do the same.

“No pain, no pain.”

If you start experiencing discomfort, twingey nerves or inflamed knuckles, stop immediately.

If it’s just your muscles getting tired, then you can work with that. But the last thing we want to do is cause damage to our hands.

With all the exercises below, start off with fewer repetitions, and build up.

Note: Many people, when their hands start to get tired from exercises, want to immediately stretch their hands. The best thing you could do is just to let your hands fall beside you and relax. After they get some blood flowing back through them, then you can stretch.

Practice Noticing Excess Tension

One of the things I see most classical guitarists doing, is using more bodily tension than is necessary for the task that they are currently performing.

Everything we do requires a certain amount of muscle tension. Everything from simply standing to sleeping walking around, and playing the classical guitar. Everything has an appropriate amount of tension.

One of the ways we can get into trouble, is when our amount of tension is not matched with the task at hand.

“When you’re playing, it’s often too late.”

Many guitarists try to focus on the amount of tension in their hands, but that amount of tension is very much influenced by the amount of tension that they have in their arms, neck, back, chest, and legs.

To actually play music on the classical guitar takes all of our attention. So when we are actually playing, It is often too late to think about these things. We simply don’t have the attention to spare.

However, when we are moving throughout our day, we can build the habit of becoming more aware of our bodily tension in repetitive tasks.Tasks such as eating, typing, brushing our teeth, even simply thinking, can all be opportunities for personal observation.

The more that we can build the habit of awareness, the more likely we are to appropriately match our tension levels with the task at hand.

For the classical guitar specifically, it generally takes much less effort than we put into it. If we can bring our efforts to a more appropriate level, everything is easier, we progress more quickly and can play at faster tempos.  And the bonus: it generally just feels better.

All that said, let’s get to these new exercises.

The Exercises

Important Note: For any of the exercise below, start slowly and only use them for short periods and few repetitions.  If you go too far with them, you may cause some temporary soreness and inflammation.


(Starts at 0:25 in the first video)

For slaps, you will want to make sure that your tip joints stay completely passive. When you complete this exercise, you will not be making a fist. Grips, an exercise below, does make a fist. This one does not.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Hold your hands straight out in front of you thumbs up.
  2. Close your hand so the pads of your fingers touch your palm (don’t curl tip joints).
  3. Extend your fingers back straight.
  4. Repeat 100 times or so, in quick succession.
  5. Stop immediately at any sense of pain

You may want to count as you extend, rather than as you touch your palm with your fingertips. This will help you to fully extend your hands on each repetition. (Some people start to make very small movements as they get into them. You want to make full open/closed hand positions.)


(Starts at 2:35  in the first video)

  1. Hold your hands in front of you palms up.
  2. Bring your thumbs to the point where your little finger connects to your hand.
  3. Return the thumb back to its natural position.
  4. Repeat 100 times or so.
  5. Stop immediately at any sense of pain

You may notice that this is easier with one hand then the other. That is completely natural. Normally your dominant hand will find this an easier exercise then your nondominant hand.

Also, on the classical guitar, our right hand thumb (for right-handed players) does a lot more work than the left hand thumb.


(Starts at 3:54 in the first video)

Grips are similar to slaps, with a slight difference.

  1. Hold your hands out in front of you, thumbs up.
  2. With the snappy motion, make a fist.
  3. Fully extend your fingers back out.
  4. Repeat 100 times or so
  5. Stop immediately at any sense of pain

Small Steps Lead to Big Improvements

Knowing a bunch of exercises is great. Actually doing the exercises on a daily basis, is even better.

Generally, when we learn something like this, we may do it for a couple of days, and then it goes by the wayside.To really build this into your daily experience, it helps to decide on a few “triggers”.

A trigger is something that reminds you to do something else.

We naturally create triggers in our life. A common one is when we decide to go to bed, we go and brush our teeth. The thought of going to bed has created the reminder to go brush our teeth.

“Tip: Build reminders into your day”

We have triggers around leaving the house, getting up in the morning, throughout our days at work or school, all over the place. Green means go, red means stop. Look both ways before crossing the street.

To create a habit like doing these exercises, you could decide on specific times to do them.

I often do rasgueados in the car. And when I’m using the Pomodoro technique, I may do these exercises in the breaks.

You could create triggers around mealtimes, getting off of work, going for walks, or anything else. Decide on a couple now and in no time you’ll see real improvements to your strength and flexibility.

Do you have other exercises that you like to do off the guitar? Please share them in the comments, below!

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9 Responses to Classical Guitar Technique Off-Guitar Exercises for Travel, Strength, and Stretch

  1. joannes August 19, 2017 at 5:12 am #

    Hi Allen,,

    I do the hand exercises now for one year every day…
    i want to thank you.
    it is a great way to maximize your practice time and feel good about it.



    • Allen August 19, 2017 at 9:01 am #

      Thanks for the note, Joannes. That is wonderful!
      Best of luck with this next year!

  2. Marc Beaudette September 14, 2016 at 4:42 am #


    • Allen September 15, 2016 at 12:32 am #

      Thanks Marc. I’m happy to be of use!

  3. Pierre Fraser September 10, 2016 at 8:01 pm #

    Allen, I understand you are working at making a living with the guitar shed, and I wish I could actually completely support your efforts and vision of the world and guitar in a financially meaningful way. Not only do I benefit from your experience and teatching wisdom for free so far but I also actually admire your talent and hard work. Hopefully, in the near future, I’ll find it within my limited budget to support you financially, but in the mean time, know that I am sure that your contribution to the benefit of the world in general is deeply appreciated by all of us, wether we are paying you or not. Love you Man!

    • Allen September 11, 2016 at 7:16 am #

      Hi Pierre,
      Thanks for the comment! I’m glad you’re enjoying the site.
      All the best,

  4. mark June 21, 2015 at 1:09 pm #

    Indeed, I can tell you’re into hypnotism with your whole “trigger” idea. Very cool. And yes, it’s been scientifically proven that if we do something for at least 21 days straight in a row it becomes ingrained in our subconscious (which is just another word for “habit”); and this is what we want. Rather than building bad habits, let’s start building good habits. Using Maestro Mathews’ system will do just that! Thanks Maestro!!!

  5. Judy September 21, 2014 at 5:44 pm #

    Good timing for me with this post, Allen. I’m out of town for a few days and these exercises are keeping me in touch with my practice, even without the guitar. Thanks! (The trick will be to keep them up when I get home…)

    • Allen September 21, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, Judy! You are right: the trick to any of this stuff is keeping it up!

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