David GranatiDavid Granati
All musicians have warm-up routines, rituals if you will.

Playing guitar walks the line between the physical demands of playing the drums and the subtle nuance and digital dexterity of playing piano. In the case of guitarists like Pete Townsend, Steve Vai and David Granati, the physical aspect goes beyond playing the instrument and literally becomes acrobatics.

 Even without the martial arts moves-- the high kicks, windmills and guitar tossing tricks-- the physical demands of performing 2-3 hour shows are very much akin to the rigors of athletic competition in that muscles, tendons, joints, breathing, all must all be accounted for when warming up. Even what we eat can make a difference before a show, as guitarist Mike Moscato points out.

"Although, I have no rituals," said Mike, "I have been practicing martial arts for almost 30 years, and learned many great meditation and stress relief exercises, so that helps. I also make sure I eat decent food, so I feel great on stage."

mattbarrantiMatt Barranti
In contrast, many guitarists are, for lack of a better term, 'starving artists' at heart, preferring to play on an empty stomach. Slide guitar master, Matt Barranti, who has been touring with Foghat, is one one such player.

"I have quite a few things I do" said Matt when we talked about his routines. "Everything from physical exercise, push-ups, dumbbell curls, stretching... I use my guitar strap to help stretch, finger exercises on the guitar, scales, meditation, prayer, pacing... (laughs) In the old days it was a doobie and shots of Jack or tequila!"

Like most of the guitarists we talked to, mental state was a factor. "So many factors" Matt said with a laugh. "Peace of mind helps. Feeling good physically. Emotions help... anger can get some powerful things happening on a guitar. I also prefer to play hungry."

Mental attitude and managing stress was a consistent theme among the guitarists we talked to, and on the surface, it was striking for Matt to bring up 'anger' as an element. But this writer agrees with Matt. Channeling anger can be helpful in performing music, especially in genres like Heavy Metal.  (I also prefer playing hungry.)

Megadeth guitarist Dave Mustaine talked about anger and the effects of success when explaining a ten year gap in album releases. "Heavy Metal is based on being angry" said Mustaine, adding with a laugh, "You can only eat so much lobster before you're just not that pissed off anymore."

mike palone

So anger is certainly an element in Metal, but Matt excels at music that is heartfelt and uplifting, good time blues and rock, whereas Skell guitarist Mike Palone-- a vicious metal guitarist-- who one might think would play angry, keeps it all pretty straight-forward for his warm up.

"For me warming up just involves picking up the guitar and running through some scales and checking my tuning about 500 times" Mike said with a laugh. "Some shows are rushed and I don't feel like I get enough time for proper warm-up. I prefer a good solid 10 minutes if I can get it. I also stretch out my body too. I also do some general cardio due to the physicality of our shows. It really helps if you're not sucking air too hard."

E'rything is E'rything
The human body is all connected. The fingers on the fretboard are connected to the hand, the wrist, forearm, elbow, bicep, shoulder, neck, spine... all leading ultimately to the brain, heart, lungs-- and all play a role in the physical aspect of playing an instrument.
George Lynch of Dokken, also takes the whole body approach to his warm ups. "Of course I run through scales, all that, but I like to stretch my whole body. Everything is connected-- it's not just loose fingers".
jimdonovan1Jim Donovan was the drummer for Rusted Root and now fronts his own band, Sun King Warriors, as the lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist.  His warm up routine is a balance of physical, mental, emotional and vocal preparation, as he explains:
"My warm-ups for drumming & guitar are physical mental & emotional: Physical: stretching arms, hands legs and fingers and then playing 5 min of rudiments holding four sticks.  For guitar I'll work scales and play a couple of songs. Mental & emotional: I'll think about songs, their meaning, and then do my best to put myself in the emotional space of the song I'm playing. My biggest work is to stay relaxed, even if the music calls for physical intensity. That being said, with Sun King Warriors I spend the most warm-up time singing and getting my voice in the best shape possible. I usually do this for 30-60 min before the show. I do mostly arpeggios, scales and other assorted howling in my car!"

Rob Hertwick, of The Clarks, also takes a physical/mental approach to warming up:
"I have a little Vox Pathfinder that I take with me to every gig. I usually sit in the dressing room and just play songs or riffs by myself or sometimes the other guys will join in. I just try to get my head in the game before I walk out. When I can't warm up that way, I just try to mentally prepare myself by thinking through songs in the set. I also do some real simple finger stretching. It all helps."
BryanBassettFoghat Guitarist Bryan Bassett spends a lot of time on the road, and finds over time, it becomes easier to loosen up before a show:

"My pre-show warmup consists of running scales, slow and deliberate, for about 15 minutes before the show. I occasionally wrap my hands in a warm towel for a couple minutes-- not unlike a face towel for a shave. Then I try to settle my mind and focus and meditate for a few minutes. That's about it. If we had the benefit of a sound check in the afternoon, we are usually in good playing form for the evening. As the tour goes on we get sharper and sharper and the pre-show routine is truly just a quick loosen up."
The warm towel approach is similar to something Dixie Dregs guitarist Steve Morse talked about when asked what warm up advice he would give a young guitarist. "Wash your hands!" he said with a laugh. "Seriously though, washing your hands in warm water and soap removes the oils and dirt that can, when combined with all the sweat, gum up the neck. Also, the hand washing action, plus the warm water, helps to loosen the tendons, joints and muscles."
And it's not just the body that needs warming up. Metal guitarist Jim Dofka's warm up routine extends to the guitar itself:
"I put brand new strings on for every show. With this ritual, I bend the crap out of those strings. I play my best Ace Frehley and Jimmy Page licks. It gets my fingers warmed up, which helps break in the new strings so I stay in tune."
But what about those shows where there isn't much opportunity to warm up?

Danny Gochnour, guitarist with Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers, has played thousands of shows, and he talked about how he approaches those less than ideal situations with limited time for a warm up.

"Unfortunately more often than not, I don't get to warm up" said Danny.  "Either time restrictions or space restrictions... no dressing room, whatever.  When I do have time, I like to run through intervals like 3rds or 6ths or Arpeggios to limber up. My favorite is playing Eric Johnson's Cliffs of Dover. Kinda covers it all. Ideally I only need about 15 minutes to feel really comfortable."

Naturally, running through scales, arpeggios, etc., was a common theme. Queensryche guitarist Chris DeGarma plays full neck scales while listening through headphones right up to show time.

Scotti Hill of Skid Row is a proponent of the chords approach; "I can sort of map out all the strings within a larger context musically speaking."

The same is true of Aerosmith's Brad Whitford, who says, "Sometimes guitarists focus too much on scales. Chord progressions help to stretch as well, and in different ways than scales."

For guitar wizard Dweezil Zappa, having fun is an important aspect of warming up, which he does with the whole band at soundcheck. "We like to play a game at soundcheck, sort of our version of Name That Tune. Each member of the band will start playing a random tune, and the rest of the band has to jump in. It sharpens us up both mentally and physically." At this particular soundcheck, the first song was Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher". Imagine being so good, you BEGIN your warm up with Eddie Van Halen fire riffs!

DavidGranatiPittsburgh's own guitar wizard, David Granati, has fun in pretty much everything he does, including warming up. He also practices all the aspects of warming up mentioned by his fellow guitarists..

"Fingertip pushups, prayer and never holding my (bleep) in my left hand. I don't usually play a whole lot before a show unless the guitar and/or hands are cold. If I do, I don't play fast. I prefer playing a slow chord/melody type composition such as Moonlight Sonata or Chopin-Etude no. 3, which warms up all fingers and wrist evenly, plus it encompasses all 6 stings. Of course in a pinch any of the Beverly Hillbillies themes will suffice, i.e: Ellie May down by the ce-ment pond (laughs)."

You are also a very physical performer-- high kicks, spins, etc. Do you do any sort of workout for that?

"Yes - a little Tai Chi and extended breathing.  I smile a lot when I'm playing and it really helps to relax everything-- including the lungs and diaphragm. I've watched many a good country player -- especially steel guitar-- do this."

Of all the players we spoke to, Billy "The Kid" Evanochko, who is currently touring with a Stevie Ray Vaughn tribute band, takes the simplest approach in his warm up ritual:

"I just smoke a joint. (laughs)"

Category: Main Stage