Classical Guitar Technique Off-Guitar Exercises for Travel, Strength, and Stretch
Have you ever wished that you had more time to practice the 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 into the exercise described in the videos above, let me introduce you to 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 to 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.
Important Note: For any of the exercises 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:
- Hold your hands straight out in front of you thumbs up.
- Close your hand so the pads of your fingers touch your palm (don’t curl tip joints).
- Extend your fingers back straight.
- Repeat 100 times or so, in quick succession.
- 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)
- Hold your hands in front of you palms up.
- Bring your thumbs to the point where your little finger connects to your hand.
- Return the thumb back to its natural position.
- Repeat 100 times or so.
- 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 non-dominant hand.
Also, on the classical guitar, our right-hand thumb (for right-handed players) does a lot more work than the left-hand thumb.
Grips(Starts at 3:54 in the first video)
Grips are similar to slaps, with a slight difference.
- Hold your hands out in front of you, thumbs up.
- With the snappy motion, make a fist.
- Fully extend your fingers back out.
- Repeat 100 times or so
- 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 a 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.
Hi, I’m Allen Mathews.
I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.
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organized, effective guitar practice. >>>