Killer Chromatic Warm-ups

A good warm-up routine should get both hands going quickly and effectively. It’s the same idea as stretching before a workout, to not only get the muscles up to speed, but to loosen them up, to prevent stiffness and soreness.

Chromatic warm-ups are ideal for getting all the fingers on the fretting hand limbered up. While this is best accomplished with routine exercises that you’ve internalized over the course of many practice sessions, it’s also good to shake things up a bit, and bring in some new ideas to keep your brain and fingers fresh.

Here’s the basic chromatic position run utilizing all four fingers:

There are two main types of variations on this standard pattern that we’ll look at in this post. The first type of variation utilizes displacement along the strings, which forces both hands to synchronize along more complicated patterns. The next example shows the basic run with every other note displaced to the next adjacent string:

Take this one nice and slow at first, keeping a strict down-up alternate picking pattern as indicated. Since this is a very fundamental mechanical exercise, really take the time at slower tempos to observe the motion and mechanics of each hand; they should be economized as much as possible.

Now let’s take the displacement idea, and run it across four strings at a time, one for each finger:

Stick with alternate picking at first, but the really cool thing about this particular exercise is that it also works great for sweep picking:

 If you’re unfamiliar with sweep picking, this is a great way to get more comfortable with that technique. Work just the basic pattern first, without changing string sets or positions at all, just the first two beats of the first bar, back and forth. Take it slow, and concentrate on keeping the notes smooth and even. They should not ring together, you’re not strumming a chord. That’s one of the biggest challenges with learning sweep picking, getting each note to play fully and evenly, yet keeping it from running into the next note.

If you’re feeling really ambitious, this variation will either keep you busy or give you nightmares:

Although we’re tabbing these patterns starting from the first fret, it may be easier to start from a higher position, such as the fifth or seventh fret, and keep working up the neck, or to start further up at the 12th or 15th fret, and work your way down the neck. Don’t be shy about moving these around for more comfort and ease of play. If at any point you start feeling actual pain in either hand, stop immediately and rest your hands for a few.

The other main variation of chromatic exercises involves multiply picked notes, instead of just doing each note singly up through the pattern. Each successive note grouping requires the hands to synchronize just a little differently than you might be used to. Here’s the double pattern:

The triple pattern can be played either as regular triplets/sextuplets, or as a “3-on-4” pattern as regular 16th notes. Check out each variation, definitely play each one, and note how each affects alternate picking.

Chances are that the 3-on-4 pattern will present some difficulty at first, but it’s a very cool-sounding technique at higher tempos. Take it slow at first and use a metronome, and you should be able to get a feel for it before too long..

Finally, the quad pattern:

Collectively, this is a ton of stuff to work with, so as always, take it a piece at a time, work the patterns in as many areas of the neck as possible, and benchmark your maximum tempo on each pattern, to determine appropriate warm-up speeds. Devise variations of your own and work them into your warm-up routines. Have fun!

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