Hello and welcome to this tutorial on left hand ascending slurs (aka hammer-on’s).
Before we go full tilt into the world of slurs, let’s look at the elements of left-hand technique: Alignment, Placement, and Finger Exchange to maximize our efficiency on the fretboard. To build upon this discussion, we will cover basic ascending slur patters for two finger patterns.
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.
To achieve this positioning, the knuckles of the left hand will need to be parallel to the fretboard/strings. When the hand is in proper alignment, the left hand fingers will be able move from the first string to the sixth string without impacting the positioning of the arm or hand.
Placement of the left hand fingertips is closely tied to that of alignment. If the positioning of the left hand is not “correct,” the placement of the left hand fingers will be compromised.
The ideal 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. A little confused? Check out the video link where I demonstrate the proper placement of the fingertips on the third string of the guitar.
The final stop on our list is Finger Exchange and it 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.
We are working to establish a uniform distance for all of the fingers of the left hand (that’s right, I’m talking to you fourth finger…) that’s no greater than half an inch from the string (give or take).
The closer you are to the string, the more efficient, and accurate, your left hand will be as you play.
The exchange of weight with the fingers of the left hand is similar to walking with our legs. Only one leg is actively supporting the weight of your body while the other leg is fully relaxed and swinging forward to take the next step. It is this exchange of the weight/energy, as mentioned in the example above, between the fingers that helps create an efficient left hand technique.
Ascending Slurs (Hammer-Ons)
Keeping our Alignment, Placement, and Finger Exchange in mind, let’s begin looking at the elements of ascending.
Perhaps one of the most surprising discoveries I had regarding Ascending Slurs/Hammer-Ons was this:
It isn’t how “hard” you hit the second pitch with your left hand finger(s), but how “quickly” you are able to move towards the string.
Quick movements of the fingers, when properly aligned with the string, yield a better quality of sound for the “hammered” note.
The goal is to have a rapid exchange of weight allowing the finger that is currently holding a given pitch to quickly release as the next finger moves toward a new note and subsequently raising the pitch.
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.
Need for Speed!
While all the elements of left hand technique need to be supported during an ascending slur, the final piece of the puzzle is the velocity with which your finger “hammers” the string.
As you practice each exercise, focus on the speed of your finger moving towards the fretboard.
The faster your finger moves towards the string (meaning that that finger is quick and relaxed), the clearer the sound of the slur.
You can also observe the distance of your left hand fingers from the neck of the guitar. How close can you keep those fingers above the string? The closer your fingers, the less work for your hand as it travels towards the string/fret.
Quality of Movement!
This 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.
Keep it Simple!
It can be helpful to remember that when working on a technique (familiar or unfamiliar) to keep things as easy as possible. As we’re focusing on the left hand for this series of exercises, I suggest keeping the right hand fingering free of complications.
Use the right hand thumb (p) on the sixth, fifth, and fourth strings.
For the higher strings of the guitar, use index (i) on the third sting, middle (m) on the second string, and your ring finger (a) on the first string.
Good luck and remember to take your time as you work to incorporate these ideas into your playing. Consistent practice of these skills will yield tremendous results, but it is a process—be patient and have faith!
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