A Wicked Left-Hand Exercise: Extended Slurs

Slurs, also known as hammer-ons and pull-offs, are a powerful exercise for guitarists.

Not only do they build control, strength, and dexterity, but they also occur in pieces of music. So the time we spend on slur exercises directly helps us play music.

Here is an advanced slur exercise you can add to your practice when you deem it beneficial.

Left-Hand Exercises for Classical Guitar

Of the infinite exercises we practice on guitar, slurs are among the most productive. In the same amount of practice, they are more effective than most excercises for increasing general guitar skills.

Slurs are difficult for most beginning guitarists to master. This is because of the movements and control involved. As we advance, we can increase the speed and complexity of the slur patterns.

If you’re just getting started with slurs, see the short tutorial for how-to-play hammer-ons and pull-offs on guitar.

Slur Phrases

One way we can practice slurs is in phrases. In a basic slur, we play two notes. Here, we play more than two notes. This could be any number more than two, but often we find groups of 3, 4, or 5 in pieces of music.

On a single string, we can remain in a four-fret position, with each finger over a fret. Here are some common slur phrases.

Ascending slurs:

  • 124
  • 134
  • 123
  • 234
  • 1234

Descending slurs:

  • 421
  • 431
  • 321
  • 432
  • 4321

Compound slurs contain both ascending and descending slurs:

  • 121 (212)
  • 232 (232)
  • 343 (434)
  • 131 (313)
  • 242 (424)
  • 141 (414)
  • 1242 (4212) *
  • 1343 (4313) *

*used in the video above and the exercise described below

In the groupings above, the first two of each list are more frequently seen in pieces of music. But all are wonderful as exercises.

Extended Slur Phrases – Increased Difficulty


First a word of warning. If you attempt these exercises before you are fully warmed up, you could injure yourself. This is a very real possibility.

Muscle warms up faster than connective tissue (ligaments, tendons). And if you do these without the connective tissue warmed up, you could create very small tears in the tissue. This creates inflammation and pain, and often goes by the name “tendonitis.”

Consider yourself warned. Proceed beyond this disclaimer at your own risk.

Adding weight to the bar: the 5-fret position

To play extended slur phrases, we switch from a four-fret position, as above, to a five-fret position.

We do this by sliding the first finger down one fret.

Next, we play the slur phrases above with an added fret between two of the fingers. We can represent the added fret with a “ – ” below.

  • 42–1–24 (skips a fret between fingers 1 and 2)
  • 4–212–4 (skips two frets between fingers 4 and 2)
  • 43–1–34 (skips two frets between fingers 1 and 3)
  • 4–313–4 (skips a fret between fingers 3 and 4 – dastardly!)

Using this general idea, we can find other similar slur exercises. We can increase the stretch between any two fingers by an extra fret or even two. Those players with large hands may even be able to play slurs with three frets between fingers, though we don’t usually see this in pieces of music.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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