Legato Technique For Guitar - Lesson 1

Legato on guitar means that you use techniques other than picking to articulate the notes that you play. In other words, it usually means to play groups of notes using some or all of the following techniques…

  • Hammer-Ons.
  • Pull-Offs.
  • Slides.
  • Right-Hand Tapping. (Also sometimes called “pick-hand tapping").
  • Left-Hand Tapping. (Also sometimes called “hammer-ons from nowhere”).

One of the benefits of using legato technique is that it usually sounds much smoother than if you pick all the notes. So anytime that you want the phrases you play to sound smooth and flowing then using legato to play those phrases is often a great approach.

In this guitar lesson we'll take a look at a great exercise that will help you to develop your legato technique tremendously. It uses notes from the B Natural Minor scale. (This scale is made up from the notes: B C# D E F# G and A). Here's a diagram showing what notes the exercise is created from…

B Natural Minor - Scale Fragment

Legato Technique - B Natural Minor Scale Fragment

I recommend memorizing the notes in the diagram above. Once you've done that, then you're ready to learn the exercise. And here it is…

Legato Exercise 1

Legato Technique - Exercise 1

This is a fantastic exercise for legato because it helps you to learn how to combine three vital techniques often used in legato playing…

  1. Hammer-Ons
  2. Pull-Offs.
  3. Left-Hand Tapping. [Notice in the TAB that I have used the ) symbol to indicate the left-hand tapping].

Some Important Points About The Legato Exercise

The exercise is made up of two commonly-used six-note legato patterns joined together…

Legato Exercise - Explanation

The first pattern makes a great exercise for fingers 1 3 and 4 of your fretting-hand. It is played in this way…

  1. Pick the first note using a downstroke.
  2. Play the next two notes using hammer-ons.
  3. Play the next two notes using pull-offs.
  4. Play the last note using a left-hand tap. (To play this note you hammer-on to the 7th fret on the D-string with your 4th finger of your fretting-hand).

The second pattern focuses on fingers 1 2 and 4 of your fretting-hand. And it is played like this…

  1. Pick the first note with a downstroke.
  2. Play the next note using a left-hand tap.
  3. Play the next two notes using pull-offs.
  4. Play the final two notes using hammer-ons.

Understanding The Importance Of Muting

A common frustration that guitar players new to legato have is the problem of extraneous string noise. (This is unwanted noise that comes from strings that aren't currently being played). In other words, when they do legato on a specific string the other strings ring out because they aren't being muted properly. This is especially a problem when using vast amounts of distortion and volume!

So what's the answer?

We'll there's two muting techniques that need to be used in order to get rid of any unwanted noise when doing legato…

Muting Technique #1: Index Finger Muting

I talked about this technique in this lesson on power chords. (So check it out if you haven't already.

If we use the legato exercise as an example, here is how we use index finger muting…

  1. In the exercise above you will lightly touch the D-string with the tip of your index finger. The idea is that when you are fretting the 4th fret note on the G-string with your first finger, then by touching the D-string you will be muting it. And this will stop that string from ringing out by accident.
  2. As you play the exercise the underside of the index finger will be lightly touching the B-string and the thin E-string. This will effectively mute those two strings and stop them from ringing out.

But what about the thick E-string and the A-string? You can't mute those with your index finger!

Well, that's where the second muting technique comes into play…

Muting Technique #2: Pick Hand Muting

When I'm playing the legato exercise above I use the fleshy part of my picking hand thumb to mute the A-string and the thick E-string. This stops them from ringing out.

You might be wondering why I use the fleshy part of my thumb. The answer is simple. It's the easiest part of my hand to use because of the way I hold the pick. So what this means is that if you hold the pick differently than me, then you may have to use a different part of your picking hand to mute. The key is to experiment and find out what works for you.

Your Homework

Please do the following before moving onto the next legato lesson…

  • Memorize the Legato Exercise 1 that we looked at. Make sure that you are properly muting any strings that aren't being played. (The best way to see if your muting is being effective is to crank up the distortion and volume to obscene levels. You'll soon find out if there are any strings that aren't being muted properly!).
  • Once you can play the exercise comfortably without using a metronome, then start practicing the exercise with a metronome. I recommend practicing it one-note per click initially. (Remember, the goal when learning a legato exercise initially is to play it cleanly and evenly. Don't worry about speed for now).

Return To: Free Online Guitar Lessons

Improve your electric guitar playing for FREE

Click here for more details