Building Fast, Powerful Fingers

Weekly Newsletter #62

October 14, 2022

Is there an advantage to having fast, powerful fingers while playing guitar? 

Of course there is! 

Most players want to perform with more accuracy, relaxation, and speed…all while using less effort. 

Wouldn’t it be awesome if there was a way you could achieve that while sitting at your desk, driving your car or doing your daily tasks? 

Luckily for you, there is! So long as you have a flat surface you can build up your finger strength using this exercise

Whether in your left hand or your right (for fingerpicking) building fast-twitch muscles around the big knuckles of your hands is the answer. 

The key to fast, powerful finger motions comes from the largest joint in your finger, the big knuckle. 

Moving The Big Knuckle 

As a first step to improving your finger strength and building fast twitch muscle, take either your right or left hand and let it relax. 

Don’t keep your fingers straight, but instead allow them to curve naturally at a slight angle. 

Using your index finger, try maintaining that angle as you bend only from the big knuckle. 

This means don’t bend the middle or small knuckles, at all. 

Eventually if you keep bending from the big knuckle, the strain on your tendons will cause the smaller knuckles to begin to bend. 

It’s important that you find out how far you can bend the big knuckle before that starts to happen. Only bend up to that point and not past…we don’t want any movement except from the big knuckle. 

Then try your other fingers. 

What you’re accomplishing here is learning to isolate only one knuckle, the most important one, so that you can begin to build fast twitch muscle around it. 

Building Muscle 

Like any exercise, muscle must be built up gradually. In this case, the muscles are much smaller than your biceps or quads for example, and you should begin to feel results much sooner than in those larger muscle groups. 

Speed and velocity are hallmarks of proper muscle building technique and will be a large part of this exercise. 

As we go through the steps, be sure to watch this VIDEO so you can see, in detail, how you should approach this exercise. 

Do this series of steps in both hands, individually. 

  1. Start with rolling your fingers on the table. You’ll place your wrist down and roll from your pinky to your thumb. This should feel natural because it is the most common way humans wrap their fingers around an object.

    Think about gripping a baseball bat or rake or something like that. If done slowly, your pinky will wrap around first followed by your ring, middle and finally your index finger. 

    Rolling your fingers this way is natural, but should be practiced using curved fingers, not straight fingers. Always keep the tips of your fingers pointed downward, toward the table (excluding your thumb of course). Practice the way you want to play…that means with curved fingers. 
  2. Once you can easily roll your fingers in even strokes, with even timing from your pinky to thumb, try reversing the order. 

    You’ll notice that it’s much harder to roll evenly from your thumb to your pinky. You might be slower and have an uneven rhythm. This is normal and should be the stage of practice where you remain until it becomes just as easy as pinky to thumb. 

    Focus on even tempo and loud powerful strokes. If you notice one or more fingers aren’t as loud as the others, take notice of the speed with which you move the loud ones. 

    Work on relaxing your weaker fingers and not tensing before you move them. When you tense up, the tendon cannot “snap” which is what causes the loud and aggressive sound we’re after. 
  3. Once you’re able to successfully go in both directions while maintaining curved fingers and with loud volume, you can begin to vary the order of your fingers. 

    Instead of just going from pinky to thumb or vice versa, try going from your outside fingers toward your middle.

    That means pinky, thumb, ring, index, middle. 

    Or the inverse: thumb, pinky, index, ring, middle. 

    Try going inside to out: middle, ring, index, pinky, thumb. 

    All the possible patterns that can be done with five fingers should be attempted. Keep the fingers curved, the tempo even and the volume loud.
  4. Once all of that is fairly easy for you (it could be days or even weeks before this is the case), then it’s time to work on various rhythms. 

    To start, simply increase the subdivision of whichever pattern you’re working on: quarters, eights, sixteenths. 

    Try going from one to the next and you’ll notice that each time you do it’ll be harder to maintain either volume or timing, possibly both. 

    Throw in triplets for added complexity. 

    Finally, take any rhythm you hear in a song and try “playing” that rhythm using any finger combination you can think of. 

This can seem like a remedial task, but as you go through the steps you’ll notice it’s really difficult. 

Don’t give up, and if you make it a habit to do this throughout the day, you’ll find yourself subconsciously tapping on your desk or table. All the while improving your playing by building fast twitch muscles around the most important knuckle in your hands. 

-Max Rich