QUICK HIT: Six guitar exercises for beginners that are based on chord shapes. These exercises will help you strengthen your fingers and train them in such a way that will make playing basic guitar chords easier and more intuitive.
When you first start playing the guitar you're asking a lot of the muscles in your fingers and hands. Your flexor tendons - that bridge the functionality between your fingers and forearms - will feel stress and fatigue in those early stages of learning the guitar. As with any other physical activity, exercising can help to make this easier and make you a better guitar player.
I've always taught guitar exercises for beginners in the context of functionality, meaning I use exercises that mimic actual guitar chords and series of notes that you might play in an actual song.
You get far more benefit from teaching your fingers to move in ways that mimic actual chords and common fretboard movement.
In this article, I've built six exercises based on extremely common chord shapes that you may or may not have already learned. You don't need to already know the chord to do the exercise.
These exercise will help you with several things:
- Learning some basic beginner chords
- Improved speed and finger strength
- Improved dexterity and ability to stretch fingers
While I would agree that any guitar exercise can be helpful, I think you get far more benefit from teaching your fingers to move in ways that mimic actual chords and common fretboard movement.
All guitar exercises, especially in the early learning stages, should start out this way, with a goal and based on a pattern. Let's get started.
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Exercise 1: C Chord Model
If you know the open C major chord you can see this exercise is taking all of its notes from that same pattern, three on the lower strings and three on the higher ones. While it's a C major shape, it can be moved to other frets, at which point it would take on a different root note. The point is to get your hands used to the shape of the chord and arpeggiated (chord notes one by one) movement.
Exercise 2: G Barre Chord Model
As a beginner guitar player, you won't necessarily be familiar with this barre chord shape. Either way, the exercise can help get you started on that chord while also improving finger strength and accuracy. Start with your pointer finger on the first string, then ring, pinky and middle finger for the last note on the third string.
Exercise 3: The D Major Chord Shape
This exercise uses an open D major chord shape with some additional intervals on the first and second strings. You'll use all four fingers for this shape, so take your time to run it slowly at first while getting used to the pattern. As with the other exercises, you can move this one around to different frets and repeat the sequence.
Exercise 4: The E7 Chord Shape
Even if you haven't spent any time learning the E7 chord, this exercise is easy to play if you go slowly. The finger sequence - going left to right through the tab - should be ring, middle, pinky and then your pointer finger tucking underneath to grab that last note on the second string. If that doesn't feel comfortable to you, experiment with different finger arrangements and try the pattern at other frets.
Exercise 5: Major Third Power Chord Shape
This is probably the trickiest exercise in this lesson, just because it uses all four fingers and moves between four different fret spaces. It'll get your pointer and ring fingers used to "tucking" or drawing downward to get notes that are harder to reach. Take this one slow and experiment at different frets.
Exercise 6: Major Third Open Chord Shape
Our last exercise kind of mimics an open G chord, but adds an interval on the third string (fourth fret in the first bar) that makes it a little more challenging. This is one where you can build a little speed and get more comfortable with moving up and down the fretboard.
Other Chord and Guitar Exercise Resources for Beginners
In this lesson we've combined chords and single-note exercises into one concept, but we've also compiled plenty of content that addresses those topics on their own and more in depth. Here are a few that might be helpful follow ups to this lesson:
- 22 Most Basic Guitar Chords for Beginners (with diagrams)
- Understanding Acoustic Guitar Strumming Patterns
- Understanding the CAGED System
- 55 Guitar Exercises for Improving Accuracy
Again, I think it's important that exercises, chords and scales all be taught in relation to one another. In other words, as you learn chords you learn how to exercise through those chords, how to make them stronger and how to make them cleaner. The same is true of guitar scales.
What about warming up?
I would consider these exercises "warm up" options in and of themselves. In fact, if you're trying to learn a song with three chords, perhaps G, C and D, you could use these exercises to improve your ability to play those chords and to warm up for that song.
The inverse is also true. If you wanted to warm up with the actual chords, you could work on speeding up these exercises and use them to challenge yourself.
As a general rule, guitar exercises equal warming up.
There isn't much need to distinguish between the two disciplines.
If you've gone through all these exercises and you've still got questions, perhaps about what I've discussed here or even an indirect topic, leave those questions in the comments section below and I'll do my best to answer. Keep in mind it's better to comment here rather than sending an email, because expanded discussion will benefit future readers who might have the same question as you.
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