Hand Stretches (Guitar Lesson)

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Steve Eulberg

Hand Stretches

Comfortability and proper posture are extremely important to playing guitar. If you find your hand getting cramped or uncomfortable, you are applying poor technique that could potentially lead to permanent injury. To loosen things up, perform these stretches before you pick up the guitar.

Taught by Steve Eulberg in Basic Guitar with Steve Eulberg seriesLength: 8:12Difficulty: 0.5 of 5
Chapter 1: (8:06) Hand Stretches Hand Stretch Exercises

Many young guitarists fail to realize how important proper posture and the laws of kinesiology are to their playing. Kinesiology is the study of the principles of mechanics and anatomy in relation to human movement. Having a Ph.D. in this field is not absolutely necessary to play the guitar effectively. However, knowing some basics is an absolute must. Knowing these concepts will vastly improve your playing. More importantly, you will be able to avoid habits that can potentially cause lifelong injury.

In this lesson, Steve demonstrates some exercises to run through before you even pick up the guitar. These exercises are especially important if you are about to begin a very long practice session or a lengthy performance. Although these exercises were initially designed to help with fencing, they work equally well for guitarists. Fencing involves heavy use of the finger, wrist, forearm, and shoulder muscles. These are the same primary muscle groups used when playing the guitar. Before these exercises are discussed in great detail, let’s take a look at some basic rules of guitar posture.

A. Proper Posture for Guitarists
Regardless of whether you are playing in a sitting position or standing up, the following posture guidelines should be followed at all times.

1. The feet should always be shoulder length apart. The strongest, sturdiest geometric shape is the triangle. The ancient Egyptians were highly aware of this concept and applied it to their architecture. The crotch area, legs, and feet should form an isosceles triangle. In order to accomplish this, the feet must be parallel to one another. Also, the legs must be spread slightly apart.

If the hands are primarily used to play the guitar, why is leg posture so important? The answer is quite simple. As Steve explains, tension in one muscle group can easily spread to another. I once watched an undergraduate recital that demonstrated this concept perfectly. The performing student was experiencing some lower back and upper leg pain as a result of falling off a high bunk bed. The pain in his legs caused him to sit unnaturally while playing. By the time he had reached the third piece on the program, his hands had completely locked to the point that he could no longer continue. The tension in other muscle groups, combined with high nervous energy caused the joints in his hands to become completely stiff. Unfortunately, he learned his lesson the hard way. If you pay close attention to the information in this lesson, you can avoid unpleasant experiences such as these.

2. ALWAYS PLAY WITH A STRAP ON YOUR GUITAR REGARDLESS OF WHETHER YOU ARE SITTING DOWN OR NOT! Most guitar-related injuries can easily be avoided if this time-tested rule is followed. The majority of guitarists have their guitar way too low. Many beginners see professionals such as James Hetfield or Jimmy Page playing with their guitars slung around their knees and emulate such a look. Although it may look cool, this frequently causes problems with the back and left hand. When the guitar hangs too low, the left hand is forced to arch outward more in order to accommodate certain left-hand fingerings. Also, with your guitar hung low, its weight is distributed more towards the smaller back muscles. This may not be a big deal if you are playing half hour sets with a Parker Fly. If you are playing three hours with a Les Paul however, this posture will make a noticeable difference.

Although it is a less common problem, hanging the guitar too high can also cause injury as well as less control over the instrument. One of my guitar teachers in college injured himself in this manner. This particular guitarist played a large Ibanez hollowbody for a number of years. His strap was adjusted to the appropriate height, but the guitar was simply too big for him. Consequently, he wound up with back problems that kept him from playing for a whole month.

In order to determine the perfect height for your guitar, sit with both arms hanging loosely towards the floor. Make sure you are sitting up straight and that your shoulders are relaxed. Now, slowly raise your left arm solely with the bicep muscle. At a certain point, your bicep will feel no tension while you continue to raise your arm. Adjust your strap so that the neck of the guitar meets your left hand in this spot. For most players, the guitar will no longer rest in the lap. Rather, it will rest against the chest and abdomen, hovering a few inches above the lap.

3. Relax the shoulders. Do not raise them as if you were shrugging. Tension in the shoulders spreads very rapidly to the forearms, wrists, and fingers. Play Recuerdos de la Alhambra or any tremolo piece with your right shoulder raised, and you will see what I mean.

4. If you feel any uncomfortable tension in any muscle group, immediately stop what you are doing and relax for a few minutes. Prolonged tension in the muscles frequently leads to injuries such as tendinitis. 5. Keep the thumbs relaxed. Do not squeeze the neck or pick. This kills your endurance.
B. Stretching Exercises
Steve demonstrates several stretching exercises designed to free up tension in the fingers, wrists, and forearms. Make a habit of doing these exercises before you begin your regular warm up routine. As you watch Steve demonstrate each exercise, emulate him carefully. If you feel any pain or discomfort, you are stretching your muscles too far. Weightlifters frequently refer to the cliché phrase “no pain, no gain.” This saying is only true of large muscle groups. Playing the guitar involves much smaller muscle groups. If you experience pain in these small muscle groups, you have damaged them, not made them stronger.

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Supplemental Learning Material



Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

ScSmithScSmith replied

I think another good exercise is the old piano lesson exercise. Take your fingers, and apposing thumb, and stretch them one at a time, alternating fingers. You must use a table to push against.

weippertcweippertc replied

this is a good lesson I think it may help student more if it was up higher in the lesson format say 5 not 12

duvexyduvexy replied

Thanks Steve I really needed that.

davidlw66davidlw66 replied


apple694apple694 replied

Steve, great tips on keeping your hands loose and flexible. Too bad other teachers do not relize the benefits of relaxing the hands to improve learning and playing. Thanks loads.

CThielsCThiels replied

Hands and fingers are really ready, thanks for the great exercises, I want to incorporate into my warm up.

laurenblaurenb replied

Steve, Thanks so much for those tips. I almost gave up playing as I have a herniated thoracic disc which makes pretty much everything painful. My doctor told me no more guitar for a while but after following your tips, I can continue to practice a little everyday. I didn't realize how much I was tensing and twisting myself up while I was playing until your lesson made me assess my posture. Any tips for minimizing strain on the mid-back would also be much appreciated. I've also never used a strap while sitting down but that tip has also made a big difference. Thanks. I'm so glad I joined this site. True value for money and great instructors.

hansghansg replied

I used to have extremely strong pain in the elbow, probably resulting from a combination of cycling and guitar. When I got a footstand, most of it just vanished. Pretty amazing. Not saying this will work for everyone who has pain, but maybe worth trying.

lisaklisak replied

I have a question about the level of the guitar and the guitar strap adjustment. I can't seem to figure out where the tension ends when I lift my arm. Lifting the arm with the bicep muscle, does this mean, from the elbow? And what exactly is meant by "until the tension ends?" I guess I'm not feeling any tension, or what I would call tension, when I lift my arm. So, can you elaborate? Thanks, and great lesson, though.

jessjammerjessjammer replied

Wow, just following along with the Vid made my wrists feel good! Thanks fort the tip!

jessjammerjessjammer replied

One additional: I always found that stretching my fingers apart from each other, in the same plane the palm when everything is otherwise straight from elbow to finger tip, helped me most with hitting bar chords - sometimes stretching over the guitar itself or by pushing the fingers of the other hand between them - being careful to keep the force inside the first knuckle and gentle enough it doesn't hurt.

swim_antswim_ant replied

Luv it!!! This is some good info!! *

perry2perry2 replied

Thanks for another great lesson, Steve. Ditto on "this should be lesson #1." I would like to see more ergonomic information (pictures!) on guitar size, posture, finger/fret pressure, etc. I had not thought of it this way before, but playing guitar is an athletic endeavor - strength, timing, and coordination are important.

yomanchamcruyomanchamcru replied

That first stretch is nikyo... Makes sense, I guess - everything in aikido comes from the sword. Just didn't know there was a parallel with fencing... Hmm..!

matskyematskye replied

Excellent lesson! Makes a world of difference for me.

drewsoutherndrewsouthern replied

Excellent lesson. Thank you.

dutchfinestdutchfinest replied

Hi Steve, I would like to watch this lesson after all the good comments, but the lesson video is not to befound when selected. Too bad for I would have liked too see it. Thanks for all the lessons though

sirstratsirstrat replied

Hay Steve You should get a pay raise for these exercises. Very helpful. Bob

terryeterrye replied

Some good thoughts here Steve. With the various teachers I have had off and on over the years, not ONE of them told us anything about stretching exercises... After TRYING to learn (off and on) for a LONG time, this certainly makes good sense. I can feel the difference in my playing. I have been away from guitar for some time and this helps a lot. I think this lesson should be moved up in the series also. I think it would be an enormous benefit to those new to guitar.... Thanks.....Terry

andybonaparteandybonaparte replied

Great lesson, Steve. Lots of people neglect stretching exercises. I also didnt know how to stretch fingers properly. Thanks for that!

stellanhansenstellanhansen replied

Thanks so much Steve! You rock as a guitar teacher. So natural. Love the exercises!

liechtensteinguyliechtensteinguy replied

From a fencer, haha! Very good exercises, thanks for sharing!

richrobrichrob replied

Thanks Steve, very helpful like all your lessons! I used to play a little baseball and found these similar to some of the arm/hand stretches I used then. Another one I like is putting your arm out straight in front of you and holding up your hand like telling someone to stop. Using your other hand, gently pull the finders back towards your face.

mazzystarlettemazzystarlette replied

Steve, this is sooo important, it should have been lesson one.

markspencermarkspencer replied

Great advice, Steve, thank you.

dragonfretdragonfret replied

When I was taking private guitar lessons, three of my teachers had tendinitis. It was because they played for long hours at a time without doing stretches. One of my teachers had to give up teaching guitar because the pain in his wrist was too bad. These stretches are very important, and I will make sure I go through them before I practice the guitar. Thanks Steve!

pthackerpthacker replied

I just signed up with JamPlay tonight, and your exercises were the first lesson I viewed. Love It! My left arm was broken several years ago in ten places. Seven surgeries in thirty-seven months left me with a 60% nerve loss in the left hand, so needless to say playing guitar is challenging. Your exercises made my hand feel great, and I could see where they could improve my dexterity. Thanks!

ezedimezedim replied

Steve, thanks for the Zen of guitar tutorial. All the instructors are great, but your approach is very unique.

sunburstjennsunburstjenn replied

these felt great on my hands. wahoo!

jenniferchristinemusicjenniferchristinemusic replied

amazing stretches, thank you so much!!!

nmazze72nmazze72 replied

Steve, I think you should put this lesson to the beginning of the lesson plan , specially for beginners like me good to know before hand to stretch and building up the muscles.............Thanks

claychickenclaychicken replied

Thanks Steve, I've been playing guitar for about 6 years, and I just thought I'd go over these beginner lessons to see if I could find out anything new. Lucky I did, because I never thought to stretch before playing guitar, but now that I do, it feel great!

lucashollandlucasholland replied

This should be right at the beginning of the series!

rumble dollrumble doll replied

Those exercises are really helpful & useful. Thanks Steve :-)

gfl23gfl23 replied

I read the "Info About This Lesson" part and followed the instructions on properly adjusting the guitar strap. I seemed to have gotten it to a comfortable height when standing, but can't get it comfortable while sitting. Even with the strap, the guitar remains resting on my lap, which makes my leg sore quite often.

jwm321jwm321 replied

Wow! Thanks for this Steve. I am a beginner and I was having trouble with the finger exercise in lesson 1, but now that I have done this, I was able to do the exercise smoothly! Jon

dinger4dinger4 replied

Steve, besides being a beginner guitarist, I'm an athlete, and common sense should have told me that I needed to stretch, just as I would before hitting the field. The problem was I was ignorant to sufficient and quality stretches for my forearms and fingers. Thanks for the tips. I'll probably incorparate these into my pre-game warm-ups as well!

thevoid2008thevoid2008 replied

Thanks for the stretching exercises. They have really helped.

dennis.hodgesdennis.hodges replied

Steve, great lesson and great exercises! I'm glad to see information like this shared and glad to see guitarists benefiting from it! Thank you for this.

cfreyercfreyer replied

Until now, my stretches had been a series of flapping the hands around, expanding the hands (a motion like flicking water off them), and making a fist. All of those focused solely on the hand. Your exercises focus on the forearms too, so I'll be incorporating them into my regimen. Thanks.

SylviaSylvia replied

Wow! I'm stiff! Thanks for the stretches. I'm sure it will help me with my tennis elbo issues too. :D S

fire heartfire heart replied

Cool, relax all my fingers. Thanks Steve !

brulaapbrulaap replied

Steve, great exercises... often doing them now before playing...

steveeulbergsteveeulberg replied

HI Brulapp, glad to hear it. I expect you are seeing some results in flexibility and relaxation! Steve

steveeulbergsteveeulberg replied

Hi Chris, glad to hear it--let the stretches keep you focused on relaxing and it will make a world of difference in your playing. Steve

chrisjohnschrisjohns replied

Steve, Thanks for those totally awesome stretches!!! I can feel the difference right away!! Chris :cool:

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About Steve Eulberg View Full Biography An Award-winning multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter, Steve Eulberg weaves mountain and hammered dulcimers with a variety of unusual instruments to create thought-provoking, smile-inducing, toe-tapping acoustic experiences.

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Born and raised in the German-heritage town of Pemberville, Ohio, Steve was exposed to a variety of music in his home. Early piano lessons were followed by trumpet in school band, and he became self-taught on ukelele and guitar and harmonica. Mandolin was added at Capital University where, while majoring in History, he studied Ear Training, Voice and took Arranging lessons from the Conservatory of Music.

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Founder of Owl Mountain Music, Inc. he teaches and performs extensively in Colorado and Wyoming with tours across the US and the UK. He delights in introducing the “sweet music” of dulcimers to people in diverse settings and in addition to his own recordings, has included dulcimers in a variety of session work for other musicians.

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