Feeling like your fingers are stuck or just won’t move independently of each other is a common issue for guitar players. We all want to our fingers to glide fluidly across the fretboard. Achieving this takes time and effort. However, there are some finger independence exercises that can help this process along. Below are ten of my favorite exercises to get the fingers moving.
Finger Independence Exercises
For each of these exercises, I recommend using a metronome and starting at a slow tempo of around 80bpm and playing one note per beat. If that’s too fast, lower the metronome until you find a tempo that allows you to play the exercise without making any mistakes. Once you’re comfortable at a given tempo, increase it by 5-10bpm.
The first exercise is a spider exercise alternating between the 1st/3rd fingers and 2nd/4th fingers. This exercise moves vertically across the fretboard starting on the 6th string and ascending to the 1st. Once you’ve played across to the 1st string, the pattern reverses and descends back to the 6th string.
This exercise builds on the first exercise in that it’s the same pattern being played, but with a string in between the 1st/3rd and 2nd/4th fingers fretting pattern. This adds a level of difficulty and requires more precision.
In this exercise you’re you playing the major scale in 3rds, so each note is a 3rd apart. You play the 1st note of the scale followed by the 3rd, then the 2nd followed by the 4th. The pattern is played both ascending and descending. Of all of the finger independence exercises I’ve played, this one (and the next) is a particular favorite. I like this exercise because not only is it good for developing finger independence, but it’s also helpful in learning the major scale and intervals. This exercise can be applied to all patterns of the major scale, not just the one shown here.
Building on exercise three, this exercise takes you through the major scale in 6ths (each note is a 6th apart). You’ll have to pay close attention to fingering the notes on this one as it can be a bit challenging. Remember, be sure to play at a tempo that allows you to play without making any mistakes.
This exercise assigns each finger to a string as you play ascending and descending across the fretboard. After each descending run, you then move up a fret to continue the pattern up the fretboard. Once you reach the 12th fret with the pinky finger, you then reverse the pattern and descend back to the 1st fret.
On this exercise, pay close attention to your picking pattern. You should be using an alternate picking pattern starting with a downstroke on the first note, and upstroke on the second, down on the third and so on.
This one is a variation of exercise five. You play the same pattern, but instead of only using strings 3, 4, 5, and 6 you continue ascending across the fretboard to the 1st string before descending back to the 6th. Once you return to the 6th string you’ll move up a fret and continue until you’ve reached the 12th fret before descending back to the 1st. Again, be sure to use an alternate picking pattern.
This exercise is a basic chromatic exercise that puts a little more emphasis on the 3rd and 4th fingers. You play the pattern on one string and ascend up the fretboard to the 12th fret. You then reverse course back to the 1st fret. Once you’re back to the starting point, repeat the process with the remaining 5 strings.
This is another exercise that emphasizes the 3rd and 4th fingers, but not in a chromatic fashion like the previous exercise. You start by playing the pattern twice on the 6th string before moving across to the 5th string where you repeat the process. Once you ascend to the 1st string and back to the 6th, you can move up a fret and repeat the process up to the 12th fret and back down to the 1st.
This exercise gets all fingers involved in a 2-note per string pattern across the fret board. You start with the 1st and 2nd fingers, then 1st and 3rd, then finally 1st and 4th. Once you’ve completed the patter with the 4th finger, move up a fret and start again with the 1st and 2nd fingers. Continue up the fretboard to the 12th fret and back down to the 1st.
The last exercise is actually a lick from Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. It’s a nice looping patterns utilizing the 1st, 3rd, and 4th fingers. You can play this pattern in other positions on the fretboard as well, not just the one shown here.
So there we have it, 10 finger independence exercises to get your fingers moving. The key to practicing these exercises (and really anything on the guitar) is to be patient, start slow, and progress once you can play comfortably at a tempo without making mistakes.
Cheatsheet: Finger Independence Exercises
Download the cheatsheet for this lesson: