Classical Guitar Right Hand Exercises for Strength and Control
Guitar takes enormous control and precision. To play with the right-hand fingers, we need both strength and dexterity.
And like a high-level dancer, we do our best work when we combine grace with solid strength and power. To this end, classical guitar exercises help us to play more beautifully.
Warm Up Your Hands Before Building Muscle
Before we set to exercising, we should warm up our hands. This brings blood to the muscles, joints, and connective tissue.
If we do strenuous work before warming up, we risk injury and pain. This creates downtime for recovery, which slows our progress. So warming up is time well spent, as it allows us to practice longer and more frequently.
And it feels good!
Simple Warm-Up: Use the Joints
One of the simplest and best warm-ups we can do is to move our fingers through the full range of our joints. This means curling the fingers, spreading the fingers.
With hands up, palm-forward, we can bend the fingers at the middle joint and curl the fingers.
Also, we can keep the fingers straight and bend the fingers forward from the big joint. Bring the fingers down so the hand and fingers create a 90-degree angle. Then return the fingers up to the flat-hand position.
Anatomy of the Hand: Where are the Muscles?
The muscles that move our fingers are primarily in the forearm. The muscles on the top of the forearm open our hands. The muscles on the bottom (underside) close the hand.
So we should feel any exercise that builds hand strength in the forearms.
Exercise #1: The Hula Wave
This exercise expands on the warm-up noted above. See the video for the demonstration.
Starting with a flat hand, fingers up, we can curl the fingers. Then, we can continue this movement through the full range of movement for every joint.
The fingertips lead the movement and create an up-and-down wave movement. This works both the extensors (top of forearm) and flexors (underside of forearm).
As you gently do this movement, you should begin to feel warmth in the forearms. This will lead to full burn with time.
This exercise, done without excess tension, adds both flexibility and strength.
Exercise #2: The Spanish Strum (Rasgueados)
Throughout the day, we use our hands to pick up and hold things. Our hands and muscles adapt to this gripping action, making the flexors very strong.
We rarely face resistance open our hands. (Contrast this with holding a pencil or opening a tight jar.). So our extensors are often less developed.
We can add much dexterity and control by balancing the extensors. They will not become as strong as the flexors and do not need to be. But a little strength-building here goes a long way to better playing on guitar.
This exercise uses rasgueados. This is a Spanish guitar strumming technique. In it, we push the fingers out of the palm across the strings. The result is a loud, explosive sound.
For more on rasgueado technique see this article.
Ongoing Progress: Classical Guitar Technique
As we progress on classical guitar, we can improve the use of our hands. We can conserve energy by using appropriate tension and optimal movements.
Classical guitar technique is a study unto itself. The right-hand technique is not always intuitive. And there are several contradicting theories on the subject.
Still, we can benefit from studying and practicing good right-hand form. Classical guitar positioning is also a point of high leverage in our practice. We can cut effort through proper form, positioning, and movement.
The more time we put into “how” we play guitar, the better we’ll sound, no matter the style, genre, or music choice. Our hands will work better, and we’ll have more control.
A Little Along Adds Up
As we move through our days, we have many moments of respite. If we can use any of these for a quick session of right-hand exercises, we’ll see the results.
We can do the rasgueado practice without the guitar sitting in a car, during commercials watching the tele, or any other time. Standing in line at the store, we can brighten the mood by doing our hula wave exercise. The possibilities abound.
After a short while, you’ll see growing improvement in your control and power on the guitar. Especially if you also make a point of practicing classical guitar technique.
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.
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