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I have been trying to teach myself the guitar seriously for about four months now, and I am often annoyed that I now know what to do but my fingers just won't do it. My nervous system is so undeveloped it confuses adjacent fingers, my strums thus producing a semi-muted cacophony in place of the wonderful chords I'm aiming for. Throwing my guitar upon the bed in frustration, I went to my computer and looked on the internet for coordination exercises. What I found wasn't exactly satisfactory, so I took several of the best ones and mushed them together with my own ideas, and over time they blossomed into these exercises which, with those of you in my situation in mind, I present to you now.

I am by no means an experienced or talented guitarist, but I have found that these exercises certainly help me, especially when accompanied by learning to play some of the basic scales. If you're anything like me they will take some time to train your brain to recognise which finger is which (I am still far from this state of enlightened bliss) but they will help.

Do the following exercises slowly at first, building up speed only after you have developed accuracy. First off, start by fingering a simple chord starting at the fifth fret. I have numbered which fingers should be used (1st being the index finger), with each finger behind adjacent frets, and it is played on the bottom four strings only, like this:

4th fret
 || 5th fret
 ||  || 6th fret
 ||  ||  || 7th fret
 ||  ||  ||  ||
 \/  \/  \/  \/
E |-1-|---|---|---
B |---|-2-|---|---
G |---|---|-3-|---
D |---|---|---|-4-
A |---|---|---|---
E |---|---|---|---

Simple enough, non? Strum it a bit to get used to the sound (only the first four strings remember). Now comes the first exercise - switch strings with your first and fourth fingers, so that the chord looks like this:

E |---|---|---|-4-
B |---|-2-|---|---
G |---|---|-3-|---
D |-1-|---|---|---
A |---|---|---|---
E |---|---|---|---

then switch back. Keep switching, strumming once each time. This will be a tad tricky at first, but you'll get the hang of it soon enough. Once you can do this fairly easily without muting any strings, try the same but with the other two fingers, ie switching from the first diagram to this:

E |-1-|---|---|---
B |---|---|-3-|---
G |---|-2-|---|---
D |---|---|---|-4-
A |---|---|---|---
E |---|---|---|---

and back, over and over. This won't sound so nice, but bear with it. Once you can do this, try mixing and matching the two excercises to really confuse your fingers. Once you're fairly comfortable doing that at an easy pace, try speeding it up a little at a time. This should help a lot with your chord changes.

So now you're a chord changing expert? Good, now comes the hard part. Start off with the first diagram as usual, only this time take off your first and third fingers simultaneously. If your fingers just won't do that, take them off one by one, and try slowly decreasing the time between each finger's removal. Strum the chord (it'll sound real ugly by now, but this is good practice), then put the fingers back and strum again. Keep doing this until it it isn't too difficult.

Next, do the same but with your second and fourth fingers. Also very hard, but you will get there eventually. Once you can do this, strum with the first and third fingers only and then simultaneously take them off whilst putting on the second and fourth, then strum again, and so on, over and over, switching pairs of fingers, like this:

E |-1-|---|---|---                   |---|---|---|---
B |---|---|---|---                   |---|-2-|---|---
G |---|---|-3-|---     switch to     |---|---|---|---     then back again, etc.
D |---|---|---|---                   |---|---|---|-4-
A |---|---|---|---                   |---|---|---|---
E |---|---|---|---                   |---|---|---|---

All of which leads us nicely into the next part. Once you can do the previous exercise without getting too confused you will probably find lead playing a little easier. This is where the next exercise comes in. In keeping with the traditional numbering of fingers (ie 1 = index finger to 4 = little finger), write down all the combinations of the number 1 2 3 and 4, like so:

1234      2134    3124    4123
1243      2143    3142    4132
1324      2314    3214    4213
1342      2341    3241    4231
1423      2413    3412    4312
1432      2431    3421    4321

Next, pick one of the combinations and then pick a string and a fret. Write them down and stick with them, playing the combination of fingers at your chosen position slowly. Practise this until you can do it smoothly without any mistakes for about twenty times in a row. When you can do this, speed up until you can do it fairly quickly and easily, then move it around different strings and different frets to get the feel of all the parts of the guitar. After you can do this, pick another combination and start all over again!

Of course, all this will probably kill your hand and wrist. Which is why it's so good! Doing these for a few minutes before each session will build up strength, stamina and coordination in your fingers, thus laying a fine foundation for future learning, both rhythm and lead. It really works! Honest!

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