Guitar Technique Tip of the Month

Your Personal Guitar Lesson

Douglas Niedt






The best exercise for the left hand continues with Part 2, practicing for speed.

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Download The Best Exercise You Can Practice for the Left Hand, Slur Exercise Part 2 of 2

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Classical Guitar Technique

THE BEST EXERCISE YOU CAN PRACTICE
FOR THE LEFT HAND:

Slurs for the Left-Hand Alone, Part 2 of 2. Practicing for Speed.

By Douglas Niedt

Copyright Douglas Niedt. All Rights Reserved. This article may be reprinted, but please be considerate and give credit to Douglas Niedt.


BEGIN SPEED PRACTICE

Speed Practice Step #1

Once you are able to play the slurs non-stop for 10 minutes, it is time to build speed and even more stamina.

  1. Set your metronome at the same easy, effortless speed you have been using all along.

  2. Play up and down all three bass strings.

  3. Increase the metronome speed one notch (or 3-5 beats on a digital metronome). Play up and down all three bass strings.

  4. Increase the metronome speed another notch (or 3-5 beats on a digital metronome). Play up and down all three bass strings.

Continue the routine until you are playing the exercise for 15 minutes. Stay at this stage for two weeks. Review your checklists and be sure your right-hand fingers are relaxed, not digging into the strings. Your mouth, lips, and jaw should be loose, not clenched. Your feet and legs should be loose.

Speed Practice Step #2

After two weeks of Step #1, practice the exercise but increase the speed (one notch analogue or 5 beats digital) at each change of string.

  1. Begin at an easy, effortless speed. Play up and down the 6th string.

  2. Increase the metronome speed. Play up and down the 5th string.

  3. Increase the metronome speed. Play up and down the 4th string.

    If at any time the slurs begin to feel unstable, sloppy, or out of control, stay at the same speed on the same string for a while until the problem clears up. If it does not clear up, slow down a notch or two. If the problems still do not clear up, it means you tried to increase the speed too quickly. You may need to go up and down the strings twice instead of once at each metronome setting. However, that said, at the fastest limits of your speed the slurs will become unclear. That is normal and expected.

    Continue:

  4. Increase the metronome speed and continue up and down the 6th string.

  5. Increase the metronome speed, play up and down the 5th string.

  6. Increase the metronome speed, play up and down the 4th string.

Keep going! Keep increasing the metronome speed.

Although this slur exercise may be practiced on the treble strings too, I find most players get the best results in less time by practicing only on the bass strings.

Review your checklists periodically and be sure your right-hand fingers are relaxed, not digging into the strings. Your mouth, lips, and jaw should be loose, not clenched. Your feet and legs should be loose.

IMPORTANT

  • STOP when your hand/fingers/joints are tired or you begin to “feel the burn” in your left forearm. When you feel a burning sensation or significant tightness in your left forearm, your body is telling you your muscles have had enough. It is good that you are feeling this sensation, because it is a sign that your muscles are being challenged, which makes them stronger. Just be sure to listen to your body. The burning sensation is a warning that the muscles are reaching their limits, so stop! If you ignore the warning, you could be risking an injury. When you feel a slight burning, STOP.

  • ALWAYS begin at the slow, easy, effortless metronome speed. Keep track of how fast you play each day from your slow speed to your fastest speed. Try to increase the speed one notch every day or at least meet the speed you did the previous day. Remember, at the fastest limits of your speed the slurs will become unclear. That is normal and expected.

  • Stop each day after 20-30 minutes. Doing more than that risks injury.

  • If your hand is getting fatigued before the end of 20 minutes, spend more time at the slower metronome settings—you may be increasing the speed too quickly.

  • If you find that at the end of 20 minutes your hand is not tired and you feel like you could probably play significantly faster, begin the session at a faster starting tempo. As you increase your top speed you can increase your starting speed. Again, limit the entire time spent on the exercise to between 20-30 minutes.

  • You will hit plateaus where you will be stuck at the same metronome speed for days, weeks, or months. But then one day, you will be able to hit the next notch. Eventually you will reach your limit.

YOU ARE A GUITAR SUPERMAN WITH A GUITAR SUPERHAND!

An additional fascinating benefit of practicing this exercise, whether for 10 minutes or 30 minutes, is that for about 15 minutes after completing the exercise, your hand will feel like “Superhand”. It will move with an additional degree of speed and agility you did not know you had. Unfortunately, the effect wears off after about 15 minutes or so.

PATTERNS I LATER ADDED TO JORGE MOREL'S ORIGINAL EXERCISE

After getting outstanding results from Jorge Morel’s original exercise, I realized I was not addressing the abysmal lack of independence between my 2nd and 3rd and 3rd and 4th fingers. Therefore, I added these patterns to my practice:

Example #15:




Example #16:




So now, I practice all three patterns on each string at each metronome speed. However, I would recommend sticking with the original pattern for six months before trying the other patterns.

MORE PATTERNS, MORE EXERCISES

I think Morel’s pattern produces great results. But many more exercises and patterns can be practiced. Here is a sampling.

Examples #17-21:
























And then we have the sometimes tortuous exercises from Emilio Pujol’s Escuela Razonada de la Guitarra, a book “Based on the principles of the technique of Tárrega.

The exercises range from the doable:

Example #22:




To the challenging:

Example #23:




To the nearly impossible to play that will put you in a hand-injury clinic:

Example #24:




He has many more in the book. If you choose to have a look at them, practice them with great caution.

THE BOTTOM LINE

There is no better exercise than slurs to develop left-hand speed, agility, finger independence, dexterity, and accuracy. But they must be practiced correctly and carefully to produce results. Do not over-practice any slur exercise.


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PDFs and Video Downloads

You may download a PDF version of this technique tip.

Download The Best Exercise You Can Practice for the Left Hand, Slur Exercise Part 2 of 2

Note: You must have Adobe Reader 10 or later installed on your computer to play the videos contained in the PDFs. Download Adobe Reader here.