Exploring Slurs

March 14, 2005

To play guitar expressively, we must venture beyond merely fretting and plucking the correct notes. Subtle techniques—such as vibrato, string bending, and slurs—transform mundane music into something special. Slurred notes aren’t attacked with the picking hand; instead they’re set into motion using hammers, pulls, or slides—or a combination of all three. We first investigated hammers and pulls in the April and May ’04 issues (“How to Nail Hammer-Ons” and “Pull-Off Power”). In this lesson, we’ll combine these fretting-hand maneuvers with ascending and descending slides to create fluid, legato melodies and arpeggios. (If you feel shaky about either hammers or pulls, revisit the respective lessons before forging ahead.)

Ex. 1 contains seven notes, yet you pluck only the first. The remaining tones are attacked using three pulls, two hammers, and a slide. It takes practice to crisply articulate notes with your fretting fingers, so don’t get discouraged if your initial attempts sound muffled or muted. With practice, you’ll determine how much force is required to wrest a strong attack and ringing sustain from a series of slurs. When you’re able to hear all seven notes—and keep the final A ringing long enough to add vibrato—you’ll be rewarded with a graceful, singing line. Now for fun, go back and pluck each note with your picking hand. Sounds kind of mechanical, doesn’t it?

Ex. 2 shows how slurs can make a line feel fast and slippery. Try using your 1st finger for all the fretted notes in bar 1, and notice how the melody almost spills off the fretboard.

With its hypnotic, harplike sound, Ex. 3 illustrates how slurred notes can enhance common arpeggios by varying the volume and timbre of the attacks. For maximum shimmer, stay parked on each fretted note as long as possible, letting it sustain against adjacent strings.

To prepare for a series of single-string hammers, keep your fretting fingers close to the fretboard, poised to strike the target notes from a uniform height [left]. Maximize these fingers’ reach, strength, and accuracy by placing your thumb behind the neck [center]. While executing slurred phrases on the treble strings, mute the bass strings with the underside of your picking-hand thumb [right].

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