Looking for ways to to develop your fretting hand strength and agility? Here are four awesome left hand finger exercises for fingerstyle guitar to develop your dexterity and finger strength.
The best exercises to build up your fretting hand strength and dexterity for fingerstyle guitar are hammer-ons and pull-offs. These are also called slurs or legato playing.
Hammer-ons involve plucking the first note and tapping the next note quickly with the finger, while pull-offs entail plucking the first note and pulling the string with the finger to sound the next note.
I will show you how you can combine all of these techniques while playing scales to create the ultimate fretting hand strengthening exercise.
If you are just starting out playing fingerstyle guitar, you should learn these techniques straight away and incorporate them into your practice routine.
1. Hammer Ons
Hammer-on is a technique where you play two notes in succession. Begin by plucking the first note as you normally would, and striking the second note with a different finger but on the same string as the first note.
This should produce a smooth transition from one note to another, hence the name "legato playing". The word legato is simply Italian for "tied together".
How To Strengthen Your Fingers for Hammer-on
To strengthen your fingers to create a smooth hammer-on, focus on speed and finger accuracy.
When you perform the tapping or hammering motion, your finger movement must be swift. If your finger arrives too slowly on the fretboard, you will stop the string vibrating before the next note sounds.
Factors that can affect your hammer-on finger being too slow are: hesitation, starting too far away from the fretboard, and bad hand placement.
The online course Play Fingerstyle Guitar Now! contains video examples to show you the proper hand placement for chords, barres, hammer-ons and pull-offs.
Make sure that your hand is in a low position to get the most force for the hammer-on. Each finger of the left hand must be close to the fret. The reason for tapping close to the fret is to get the string to vibrate with minimal effort.
Also notice how each finger is at the same height on the fretboard. You accomplish this by lowering the wrist and aligning all the fingers of the left hand with the strings. This also prevents excess left hand stretching when doing legato playing.
Later in this article, I will show you a method that gets you practicing hammer-ons with each finger of the left hand.
To perform a pull-off on a guitar, place two left-hand fingers on the same string. Pluck the string to sound the note and quickly pull the higher finger downwards, sounding the lower note. The pull off on the guitar essentially involves the same finger placement as for the hammer-on.
To play faster pull-offs, develop the correct finger pressure needed in the left hand. You will need less pressure on the upper finger, which is the one you pull down on the string with.
You can practice correct finger pressure by holding the lower finger steady with the right hand and practicing the pulling motion with one of the other fingers. Try to get the volume as loud as you can with the pulling action.
Also note that the pull-off involves a downward motion with the finger, towards the floor. If you just pull the finger away from the fretboard you will get hardly any sound at all!
How To Do Pull-Offs Without Hitting Other Strings
To successfully perform a pull-off without hitting other strings, your finger pressure must be stronger on the lower note, in order to avoid displacing the whole hand. The finger that completes the pull-off can rest against the lower string. The contact of the finger with the lower string will prevent this string from sounding.
Scales are excellent as a warm-up, but you can also use them to develop your finger strength, dexterity and hand coordination.
To improve your dexterity practicing scales, be hyper focused on the exact position of your fingers. Be sure to land the finger exactly in the spot on the fretboard that produces the best sound.
Also keep the finger placement proper by using the fingertip.
To practice left hand dexterity with scales, I recommend scales that have large finger stretches and involve shifting, such as the three octave G Major scale.
4. Slur Scales
A slur scale is a technique borrowed from Classical guitar that involves playing a scale, usually the major or minor scale, and connecting each note of the scale with either a hammer-on or a pull-off. Usually, this involves repeating each note of the scale.
There isn't a one-size-fits-all scale pattern for the slur scale, so I've created a slur scale pattern for the F sharp major scale in first position.
In this slur scale, you perform hammer-ons for the ascending scale and pull-offs for the descending scale. By paying attention to your sound and making sure that your sound is even and of equal volume, you will develop finger strength in your fretting hand.
Left Hand Stretches and Speed Exercises With Slur Scales
The idea is to use not just one combination of fingers, but many different combinations. For example, when pulling off from the 6th to the 4th fret, consider using the weaker pinky and middle fingers of the left hand to work on developing the strength of the less-used fingers.
Similarly, you can practice doing hammer-ons between the ring and pinky fingers of the left hand, to develop accuracy with the weaker fingers.
Why Do Finger Dexterity Exercises?
If you are playing fingerstyle guitar, you will be tasked with playing melodies, bass lines and chords in the same song. Generally speaking, the right hand requires less technical ability than the left hand. The online course Play Fingerstyle Guitar Now! shows you how to develop these skills with multiple examples.
The right hand, which takes care of plucking the strings, generally stays in the same area. The left hand, in contrast, has to span the entire guitar fretboard, in some cases.
Dexterity exercises strengthen the muscles in your left hand which will help you to be able to play faster and more accurately.
If you are looking for more exercises to develop your hand dexterity, check out the complete course for playing fingerstyle guitar, Play Fingerstyle Guitar Now!
This course is chock-full of technical exercises designed to 10x your fingerstyle guitar skills.