Left hand fretting exercises for development
Learn these dexterity exercises for the fretting hand and improve your guitar playing.

Here are four awesome left hand finger exercises for fingerstyle guitar to develop your dexterity. Use these in your practice routine to develop your fretting hand strength and agility. Doing these exercises will help keep your fingers nimble.

What are the best exercises for developing left hand finger dexterity

The best exercises to develop left hand dexterity in fingerstyle guitar are:

  1. Playing hammer-ons: plucking the first note and tapping the next note quickly with the finger
  2. Performing pull-offs: plucking the first note and pulling the string with the finger to sound the next note
  3. Scales: any scales will do, but the most popular are major, minor and pentatonic scales.

Hammer-ons and pull-offs are also called slurs or legato playing. I will show you how you can combine all of these techniques to create the ultimate left hand coordination technique.

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 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.

Guitar Dexterity Exercises for Beginners

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 Play a Smooth Hammer-on

Success with the hammer on depends on two things: speed and finger placement.

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.

The placement of the finger on the fretboard is also important. To get a better understanding of where your finger needs to be on the fretboard to produce the best sound, see the picture below.

When your second finger taps the fretboard, make sure it taps right next to the fret and not too far away.

Notice how each finger of the left hand is 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.

Later in this article, I will show you a method that gets you practicing hammer-ons with each finger of the left hand.

2. Pull-Offs

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.

The pull-off helps develop the correct finger pressure needed in the left hand. To successfully perform a pull-off, your finger pressure must be stronger on the lower note, in order to avoid displacing the whole hand. You will need less pressure on the upper finger, which is the one you pull down on the string with.

You can practice the 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.

3. Scales

The last way to practice developing left hand dexterity is with scales. Scales are excellent as a warm-up, but you can also use them to develop your 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. 

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.

The F sharp major slur scale
Tabs and notes F sharp major slur scale in first position.

In this slur scale, you perform hammer-ons for the ascending scale and pull-offs for the descending.

How To Practice The Slur Scale To Develop Dexterity and Finger Strength

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.

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.