Descending Slur Tutorial
Hello and welcome to this tutorial on Descending Slurs.
This link will let you check my post that focuses on left hand ascending slurs (aka: hammer-ons). We also covered the elements of left-hand technique: Alignment, Placement, and Finger Exchange to maximize our efficiency on the fretboard. This issue, we will cover basic descending slur patterns that use two fingers at a time.
Quick Review! Elements of Left Hand Technique:
Alignment of the left hand is accomplished simply by approaching the fingerboard in a manner that allows each finger access to all the strings with an equal amount of accessibility (keep the left hand parallel to the fretboard and strings).
Placement of the left hand fingers allows the first finger of the left hand to place on the left side of its fingertip. The second finger will contact the string slightly to the left of the center of the fingertip, while the third finger will be landing slightly to the right of the center. The fourth finger places on the right side of the finger tip.
Finger Exchange is comprised of two elements—the distance of our fingers to that of the string or strings and the exchange of weight from one finger to the next.
Descending Slurs (Pull-Offs)
Keeping our Alignment, Placement, and Finger Exchange in mind, let’s begin looking at the elements of descending slurs.
An easy way to conceptualize a Descending Slur/Pull-off is to imagine it as a rest stroke for your left hand. The left hand finger pulls off of a string towards the adjacent string below (imagine you’re doing the pull-off on the third string). The key is to have your left hand fingertip, the one pulling off the string, “snap” off of the string. It will feel as though your fingertip flexes slightly as you pull the finger downward to the adjacent string. Once the descending finger “snaps” from the string, that’s your opportunity to relax the finger. If done correctly, the finger will pop back up above the string ready to go back to work. If you’re a little confused, check out my video to see me demonstrate this concept.
Into the Practice Room:
The following six examples explore various two-finger left hand slur patterns. Each exercise utilizes all six strings of the guitar starting with the sixth string.
As you practice each pattern you will notice that the positioning of your left hand palm will change as you move to both the lower strings of the guitar (palm moves closer to the neck) and to the higher strings (palm moves away from the neck).
Practice each exercise slowly to gain control of the movements, and to feel the exchange of weight between fingers. As you become more comfortable with each exercise, gradually increase the tempo. Consider working with a metronome to help keep your slurs even and focus on smooth, controlled movements.
Don’t Force it! With each pull-off, you will need to move your finger quickly through the string to get the desired pitch to sound. An important element to remember is to allow the finger to spring back up after it snaps off of the string. A helpful hint is to allow the tension of the string to act as a springboard allowing the finger to bounce up in one fluid movement.
Quality of Movement! This tip was in my last article on ascending slurs, but it’s SO important that I’m bringing it back for this tutorial!
Quality of movement refers to the manner in which the fingers of the left hand interact with the fingerboard. The great Spanish guitarist Pepe Romero artfully describes the fingers of the left hand in his book
“Pepe Romero: Guitar Style & Technique” as “five ballet dancers dancing beautifully on a stage…If we continue with the idea of the fingers being ballet dancers, we should train them as such. They must each know their parts independently of one another. The choreographer (the guitarist who decides on the fingering) must choreograph a piece to avoid clutter; one finger should not get in the way of another but should keep a smooth and beautiful flow of movement complimentary to the musical flow of a piece.”
The hand must reflect the character of the piece and never feel hurried or rushed. We are going for smooth, elegant movements for the left hand fingers.
Small Steps Can Yield Big Results! As you begin working on these exercises, it’s important to approach them slowly. Some of these movements may be familiar to you while others may be new. Spend time reacquainting yourself with the slurs you’ve done before, and check to make sure they are clean and easy for your left hand. When approaching a new movement, go at a tempo that allows you to see all the components of the slur and hear the quality of the sound. The goal is to have even the most difficult pull-off pattern have the same beautiful sound and motion as the simplest slur for your left hand.
Have fun working with these concepts. Combining the ascending slurs from last issue with the descending pull-offs from this issue make a terrific warm up for your left hand. You will see significant gains in your left hand slur technique by practicing these ideas with consistency. There’s no short cut for improving on the guitar, it’s a slow, steady, and rewarding process.
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