Girl playing fingerstyle guitar
Play scales slowly to warm up your fingers before playing fingerstyle guitar

The best warm up exercises for fingerstyle guitar are guitar scales. Here are some scales that you can use to warm up before playing.

How to Warm Up with Fingerstyle Guitar Scales 

When practicing guitar scales as a warm up, be sure to play the scale slowly and place great emphasis on finger placement and accuracy. The goal isn't speed. The intention is to get used to co-ordinating both your fretting hand and your plucking hand.

Instead of thinking of practicing scales like a chore, use them as an opportunity to improve finger accuracy and tone. 

Which Guitar Scales can we use to warm up?

You can practice both the major scale and the minor scale to warm up. But in this article I will propose some other scales that you can use with easier or more comfortable fingering patterns.

The C Major Scale for Fingerstyle Guitar

Let's start our warm up with the major scale - the C Major scale over two octaves. This is playing the notes C to C without any alterations (sharps or flats).

The C Major scale tablature and standard notation
Tablature and standard notation for the C Major scale

Normally, when you pluck repeated notes, you'll want to avoid using the same finger twice in a row. I teach a method that I call walking fingers, where you alternate plucking the same string with the index and middle fingers.

Using Three Fingers Per String

Since we have grouped together three notes per string, let's instead of using only two plucking fingers, use a combination of three separate fingers. Use either the thumb, index and middle fingers or the index, middle and ring fingers of the plucking hands in repetition as you play the scale.

The Problem With The C Major Scale Fingering Pattern

The problem with the three-note-per-string fingering pattern is the wide stretches between notes. The C Major Scale is a little better in this regard because it's in a higher position, so the distances between frets is less large.

The Ultimate Guitar Warm Up Scale - G Major

Once you have warmed up with the C Major Scale, it's time to increase the finger stretches. You can also work on increasing the speed. 

Let's continue our warm up routine with the G Major scale. This scale consists of the notes G, A, B, C, D, E and F♯. Play the scale ascending and descending, with the following fingering pattern:

The G Major Scale over two octaves - three notes per string
Tablature for the G Major Scale - Three-Notes-Per-String Fingering Pattern

The Chromatic Scale

The chromatic scale is what we get when playing all the notes on the guitar that are between the octave. We noticed with the major scale that there are "gaps" in the scale notes, caused by the unequal distance between the notes. The chromatic scale has no gaps.

The chromatic scale on the guitar contains four notes per string. To perform the chromatic scale on the guitar, start at any note on the sixth string. Play each fretted note with each of the fingers, then switch to the following string, shifting the hand downwards by one position.

Chromatic Scale Tablature
The chromatic scale is fun to practice because it’s super easy to memorize and uses all the fingers. 

The Harmonic Minor Scale

The two octave minor scale is not very much fun to play on the guitar because it involves extensive position shifts and not very logical fingering patterns.

A Harmonic Minor Scale tablature
To play the harmonic minor scale on the guitar, start by playing the first three notes on the lowest string.

Locate the tonic note, then play the supertonic a whole step (two frets) above the tonic, and the mediant a half step above the supertonic. Next play the notes using the same fret distances as the previous string.

To play the last two notes of the scale, shift your hand over one fret from the starting point and play the leading note, followed by the tonic a half step above the leading note.

The Freygish or Phrygian Dominant Scale

Tablature of the A Phrygian Dominant scale
The A phrygian dominant scale uses the same notes as D harmonic minor

A mode of the harmonic minor scale, the Freygish scale or phrygian dominant scale, is lots of fun to add to your warm up routine because of its exotic sound.

The Whole Tone Scale

This scale has a tone or a whole step between each note in the scale. The distance of a tone on the guitar is two frets. There are six notes total to this scale.

The whole tone scale fingering pattern is three notes per string and you can play it up and down the neck.

It's very simple to play the whole tone scale over three octaves. Unfortunately owing to the fact that there are two frets between every note on the scale, the stretches can be quite large. So this scale maybe isn’t a good choice for warming up the fingers.

Pentatonic Scales

The minor pentatonic scale which contains five notes and is simpler to play than the major scale. The pentatonic "box pattern" is very straightforward to play on the guitar. It's also a classic scale used in guitar solos found in Rock music.

Tablature for the A minor pentatonic scale
The finger pattern for the minor pentatonic scale is simple and there are no position changes.

I love the sound of the pentatonic scale. Unfortunately, once you get past a certain point in your guitar playing, practicing the pentatonic scale gets a little boring

The Hirajoshi Scale

The Hirajōshi scale, or hira-choshi (Japanese: 平調子) is a type of pentatonic scale that is excellent for working on position changes in your warm up. Play this scale slowly and be very precise with how you place your fingers. 

The hirajoshi scale - notes and tablature
Warming up with the hirajoshi scale helps develop proper finger placement, which is important to playing with speed and accuracy.

The Double Harmonic Major Scale

This scale contains a lot of semi-tones, which means there are not many finger stretches. 

The double harmonic major scale tablature and notes
This scale involves lots of jumping around the neck and no big stretches because of the nicely placed augmented second. 

What to Play After Warming Up

If you are still looking for more fingerstyle guitar exercises, there are lots of songs you can play in the course Play Fingerstyle Guitar Now!