Finger strength and finger skills are crucial for musicians. Their fingers must be quick and nimble, agile and dexterous, and able to work independently.
A good way for musicians to exercise and develop their fingers is to do progression exercises on their instruments.
On a guitar, for example, they could play the first fret on the Low “E” string, then the second fret, the third fret, and finally the fourth fret. They could then repeat this sequence with the “A” string followed by the “D” string, the “G” string, the “B” string, and finally the high “E” string. They could then work backwards, going from the fourth fret to the first fret and from the high “E” string to the Low “E” string.
In each progression, each finger could be lifted after playing the note, or held in position until all four notes are played on a given string. The latter approach is better for increasing finger strength while the former approach is better for increasing finger speed and agility.
This type of progression exercise is not limited to the guitar. It could be played on any stringed instrument. And it could be similarly done by playing successive keys on a piano, keyboard, saxophone, clarinet, etc. These exercises are applicable to virtually any instrument.
While progression exercises on your instrument are a good way to develop your fingers, it is not the best method.
A better way is to use a hand exerciser; the type with individual plungers for each finger. You want to use the newer models that have adjustable resistance on each finger and preferably, that have a fifth button so that you can do finger extensions in the exercises.
The first step is to adjust the resistance so that it is optimum for each finger. You want the effort needed to depress a piston to be slightly challenging, but easy enough that you can push the plunger down quickly without excessive strain. If you have a fixed resistance unit, its resistance must be low enough that your pinky and ring finger can push down their respective pistons without straining.
Start with low resistances and slowly work your way up to higher levels as your fingers become stronger. It is easy to strain a finger, so don’t push it. Use only the resistance that is comfortable and no more.
If you feel pain, stop exercising and lower the resistance. If the pain persists, consult with a physician before continuing to exercise.
Once you have the resistances adjusted properly, you are ready to grip the exerciser. Form and finger posture are very important to get the most out of these exercises.
Place the thumb under the base of the exerciser and place your finger tips on the individual buttons. The fingers should be upright and as parallel as possible.
Many people will find it easier to support the exerciser with both hands to help maintain it in the proper position. This is perfectly acceptable to do.
Start the progression by pressing down the first button with your index finger, holding it for 1-3 seconds, and then releasing. Repeat with the middle finger, then the ring finger, and finally the pinky. Then reverse the process, progressing from the pinky to the index finger.
Numbering your fingers 1 to 4, with the index finger being 1 and the pinky 4, this progression would look like this: 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1.
Holding the buttons down longer helps to increase finger strength. Releasing them quicker increases finger agility and speed.
A variation to further build finger strength is to hold each button down instead of releasing it through the forward sequence and then release the buttons one by one in the reverse sequence.
As you move through each progression, try to maintain your finger tips in contact with their respective buttons at all times and, as you depress one plunger, don’t allow any of the other plungers to go down with it. You want each finger movement to be done independently and for your other fingers to remain still as one finger moves. You will find these things difficult at first, but doing the exercises in this way improves your finger agility and independent action.
Once you have these basic sequences mastered, try changing the sequence of the fingers. For example:
• 1 – 3 – 2 – 4 – 4 – 2 – 3 – 1
• 2 – 4 – 1 – 3 – 3 – 1 – 4 – 2
• 4 – 1 – 3 – 2 – 2 – 3 – 1 – 4
These variations further help to improve finger agility and independent action.
The final variation is to do finger extensions, but you will need an exerciser having five buttons for this.
For example, to extend the pinky, lock down the fourth button using the metal clip provided with the exerciser and place your pinky on the fifth button instead of the fourth. Then conduct the progression finger exercise in the normal manner. This puts additional strain on the pinky, so you may need to reduce the resistance so as not to injure your finger.
Extension exercises can also be done with the index finger and ring finger by locking down the second and third buttons, respectively.
Progression finger exercises not only improve your finger skills, but they also help to improve your concentration. This is a great side benefit of these exercises.
You will find that it takes considerable concentration to maintain good form and finger posture and to keep all your fingers still and on their respective buttons as you move through the progressions. Changing the sequence takes that much more concentration.
As you can see, progression finger exercises are a great way to strengthen and tone up your fingers and to improve your finger skills. You can do the exercises on your instrument, which is also a good way to get in some additional practice.
However, the best way to do progression finger exercises is on a hand exerciser where you can adjust the resistances and give your hand and fingers an optimal workout. And you can do this at times when you are away from your instrument, such as when you are watching TV or riding in a car.
As a musician, your hands are important. Just as athletes strengthen and condition their bodies to achieve peak performance in their sport, you must strengthen and condition your fingers to achieve peak performance with the instrument you play. The best way to do this is with a hand exerciser and progression finger exercises are one of the best exercises you can do.
So, don’t let your hands hold you back. Establish a systematic hand and finger exercise program and get started today.