Left Hand Exercises
Now were gonna learn some good left hand exercises that will really help improve your left hand agility. But first, let's talk about good left hand technique. You should always try to depress the string using the fleshy portion of your fingertip just below the nail. The string should be depressed just before the fret, so that you can see a tiny space between your finger and the fret. You should never depress the string on top of the fret or too close to the fret, as this will cause some serious buzzing. Keep your fingers slightly curved, never lying flat against the fretboard, unless your barring - holding down more than one string with the same finger. Try to keep the fingers as vertical as possible.
The proper positioning of the left hand thumb is a tough one to address. Most rock guitarists play with the thumb hanging over the top of the neck. Classical players are taught to keep the thumb on the center of the back part of the neck. The classical approach actually promotes better finger independence and stretching capabilities. Attempt a fairly good stretch on your guitar, let's say from the fifth fret to the tenth fret, using your index finger and pinky. Notice how the thumb naturally moves to the back of the neck. Your thumb is trying to tell you something Lol!
However, most classical guitarists don't make a habit of bending strings and playing two note power chords Lol. Alot of rock and metal players will tell you that they find it hard to bend strings without keeping the thumb draped over the top edge of the fretboard for support, or sometimes you reach for a power chord and it just seems natural for your thumb to curl over the top of the neck. So why not have the best of both worlds. When bending strings or sustaining chords, keep your thumb where it's most comfortable. When using other left hand techniques that need maximum finger strength and finger independence, like hammer-ons, pull-offs, wide stretches, or playing scale passages, keep your thumb behind the guitar neck.
Another part of good left hand technique is what we call "playing in position". Position is determined by the fret location of the index finger. If our index finger is on the third fret, the left hand is said to be in third position. When the index finger is located at the tenth fret, the left hand is in the tenth position, and so on. The other left hand fingers should follow in sequence. When the left hand is in the third position, the middle would follow and hold down notes played at the fourth fret. The ring finger follows and plays any notes on the fifth fret, and the pinky would then follow and cover any notes on the sixth fret. The sequence of using one finger per fret is known as playing in position.
Some guitarists cheat and use the ring finger when the pinky should be used - playing out of position. The pinky is smaller and weaker than the other fingers, but you should learn to use it equally so you can get the most from your left hand. Play in position as much as possible, and give that pinky a workout!
The following combinations include every fingering possibility between four frets on a single string. Each letter indicates a left hand finger (i=index finger, m=middle, r=ring, p=pinky). Start at the first fret and move combination #1 chromatically up the fretboard (chromatically meaning one fret at a time). Once you reach the fifteenth fret , go back down the fretboard using combination #1. When you reach the first fret again, go on to combination #2 and do the same thing. Keep doing this until you've gone through all twenty-four combinations. Choose a different string each time you perform this exercise.
The key to this exercise is to only move one finger at a time, while keeping all the other fingers planted on the fretboard. When the index finger moves , the middle finger, ring finger, and pinky remain on the fretboard and so fourth. You must be able to sound all notes clearly without having to lift any of your left hand fingers. This will teach proper left hand curvature, while also training the left hand fingers to move independently of one another.
Keep the left hand in first position and execute a long, continuous trill using the following sets of fingers:
Choose a different string each time the exercise is performed.
For those of you who don't have the greatest stretching abilities on the guitar, this exercise is sure to improve that problem area. The biggest stretch used when playing any extended major scale spans a distance of five frets, with one fret separating each finger. This stretch should not be a problem to you once you start using this exercise on a daily basis. You need to have a good stretch not only for extended scales, but for a variety of licks and runs used by today's rock and metal players. The guitar's frets span the widest distance from one another at the beginning of the neck. If you can master this stretch starting at the first fret, you should have no problem performing it anywhere else on the neck.
This exercise uses the same fingers that woud normally be used to execute a five-fret stretch when playing any extended scale - the index finger, middle finger, and pinky. To really get those fingers stretching, keep each finger planted until it must be lifted.
As an alternative, practice exercise #4 using the index finger, ring finger, and pinky. This will get a good stretch going between the the ring finger and the pinky. Once you master that one, try using the index, middle, and ring finger combination, that one is a killer, and should keep you busy for a while.
Exercise #5 Hammer-On Scales
As examples for Exercises 5 through 7, pattern #1 for the minor pentatonic scale and pattern #1 for the extended major scale (ionian mode) will be used. Both scales are played in the key of A. When you practice these exercises be sure that you use all patterns that you have learned, and also be sure to play them in all keys for both scale types.
Pick the first note on each string and hammer-on to all other notes located on the same string (h=hammer-on).
Exercise #6 Pull-Off Scales
Pick the last note on each string and pull-off to all other notes located on the same string. The left hand fingers must be planted at each note before the pull-off is executed (p=pull-off).
Exercise #7 Hammer-On And Pull-Off Scales
Pick the first note on each string, hammer-on to all other notes located on the same string, then use pull-offs to return to the first note. Only the first note is picked.
Exercise #8 is actually designed to use both hands by practicing scales in which all notes are picked. Use every scale type including all the patterns you have learned to this point. Play through each scale continuously ascending (from bass strings to treble strings) and descending (from treble strings to bass strings). Like the other exercises that use scales, use a different key each time the exercise is performed. Remember to keep organized, writing down all keys and metronome settings.
As examples for Exercise #8, pattern #1 for each scale type will be used.
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