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Bluegrass Guitar: 5 Things to Focus on While Warming Up

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bluegrass guitar warmups

It's no secret that flatpicking is very much a physical exercise. It involves muscles, and these need to be properly taken care of. A proper warm-up not only gets your muscles ready to play guitar, it gets your mind to ready to be in the moment with the music. But before you can you lose yourself in the jam, you've got to warm up your flatpicking motor so you can play at your best no matter who's listening. 

Here are five great warm-up ideas to get your picking nice and limber for playing bluegrass.

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1. Feel the Rhythm

bluegrass guitar lesson: boom chuck sound

As Bryan talks about in his lessons, every time you pick up your guitar you’re making a commitment to tone and groove. If you're playing bluegrass, you want to synch into the familiar “boom chuck” rhythm strum pattern to the point where you're not even thinking about it.

If you're new to this style, just keep it slow and concentrate on keeping a nice flow. You can always build up to faster speeds later. 

When you’re ready to take it up a notch, try breaking up what you’re flatpicking on the fretboard. Instead of just strumming chords, try alternating bass strings, bluegrass style, before strumming each chord. Working on rhythm will increase your understanding of timing and become extremely important when replacing bars with popular bluegrass licks.

2. Scales and Patterns

flatpicking guitar major scales

Nobody plays like Doc Watson right when they pick up the guitar, that's a given. 

However, practicing different scales like the major or pentatonic is a great way to increase your odds. Not only will it help your improvisation, it warms up the fingers on your fretting hand while getting the blood pumping in your picking hand as well. Run through some major or minor scales before getting into your lead playing and your fingers will thank you later. 

3. Shake Up the Scales 

But don’t just play through the scales and be done with it. After all, variation is the spice of life. 

Explore how different techniques, like hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides, make the notes pop. By integrating these techniques into common scales, you'll see the effect they have to transform the guitar sound and gain a feel for using them in your playing.

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4. Combine Rhythm and Scales

flatpicking guitar exercises

If you’re an advanced player, try combining rhythm guitar patterns and scales in your warm-up. Mixing single notes with chords really opens up the sound of bluegrass guitar. Integrate the G-Run into a simple chord change. Run it through slowly and build it up to speed while still keeping it sounding smooth.

5. Crosspicking

bluegrass guitar lesson on crosspicking

If you’re new to the concept of crosspicking, be sure to study up on it before attempting it at home. 

As Bryan Sutton will tell you, good technique starts with good posture. Create a solid building block for your bluegrass guitar playing. Your shoulders should be relaxed and your pick should feel like a natural extension of your hand.

Once you’re comfortable, concentrate on maintaining a smooth sound while you’re picking across strings. Imagine moving your strumming hand in the shape of a quarter moon hovering over your guitar string. Now, pick 3 or 4 strings of a chord to start a bluegrass cross-picking pattern. Concentrate on letting every note ring out, particularly with the fretted notes.

Once you’re satisfied that your sound is clean, it’s a good time to move on from your warm-up to some more challenging playing to push yourself. Also, don't forget to have fun flatpicking! 

bluegrass guitar lessons with bryan sutton

Bryan Sutton can teach you everything you need to know about bluegrass guitar and more at ArtistWorks. Click here for free sample lessons!

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