It’s not every day that you come across an ex-division 1 athlete turned professional guitarist, but alas, here I am. And I can say from experience that there are many similarities between playing a sport and an instrument at the highest level. Obviously, setting yourself apart from the rest of the crowd takes lots and lots of, you guessed it, practice. So today, in this first installment of a series on optimizing practice time, I’m going to talk about what should be a staple of any practice session: warming up.

Many of us, myself included, are tempted to dive head first into practicing, a jam session or live show without warming up. After all, the most fun part of playing music is rocking out, right? Of course. The problem is, just like in sports, you risk performing below your peak potential or even injury without a proper warm up. See, our hands are delicate instruments in and of themselves, so we need to treat them as such. The following steps will ensure you’ve got blood flowing all throughout your fingers so that they can fly effortlessly around the guitar neck or keyboard:

1. Wrist rotations—ball your hands into a fist, and slowly rotate your hands in circles. Complete eight rotations, then switch directions and repeat. Each rotation should last at least the amount of time it takes to say “one-one-thousand.”

This exercise is excellent for getting blood flowing into your hands. When done correctly, you should literally feel your hands warm up and loosen as you complete the rotations. Getting that blood circulating will help you feel loose, and it keeps your joints healthy.

2. Play some scales—start slowly!! Get your metronome out, set it to at most 70 and go through a major scale or minor scale first with quarter notes, then eighth notes, triplets and finally sixteenth notes (and if you’re a shredder, keep subdividing!). This step takes practice. For you guitarists out there, go through each scale shape (CAGED), but do not move on until you play each one without a mistake. Be sure you are using alternate picking.

This part of your warm up will quickly improve your technique while also improving your rhythm—all while continuing to get loose and ready to rock. I know, playing with a metronome can get monotonous, but it pays off, and once it becomes a habit it’s not so bad.

3. Pick a song and Jam—choose a song that you’ve been listening to lately and improvise while it’s playing. Practice subdividing as you did in step 2, but do not simply go up and down your scales; use patterns, sequences, riffs and licks that you already know well or perfect ones you are still working on.

This final step gets the creative juices flowing before you dive into the meat of your session. You should now be loose, relaxed and ready to rock.

Following these steps will greatly enhance your playing while also taking care of your body. In addition, they should add structure to your practice regimen, maximizing the effectiveness of your time spent practicing or performing. That’s all for now—thanks for stopping by, and as always, Rock On.