Building Speed 02. Legato and Tapping

Learn several obstacles you may come across while performing legato techniques and how to conquer them in order to gain speed.

Ultimate Guitar
Hey guys. I'm back for another speed building lesson. In this lesson we will take a look at many obstacles that I, and you, might not be able to get over. I will give you ways to get around those obstacles in order to gain speed using legato and an extension of legato: tapping. The exercises in this lesson will be geared towards strength building and dexterity. So, if you're warmed up let's jump right in. Everybody knows that the pinky is the runt of the litter. I get many e-mails about how to strengthen the pinky so I've decided to incorporate a strength building exercise, but not just for your pinky. It's for all fingers, but first let's look at the first obstacle: strength. When playing legato many people (myself included) have found that when they try to play fast that certain notes being played by certain fingers don't sound out properly. This is because that finger may not be strong enough to make the sound. This can create a speed block because if the finger is not producing a sound it means that the finger is not coming down hard enough and thus, throws the fingers after it off. It sounds odd, but I've seen many people have this problem. It is due to finger strength which can also tie into finger dexterity. So, what this first exercise is designed to do is build up finger independence and strength. It'll also get you used to using your pinky if you're are not already. Here is the first exercise: Think of it in note groups of four. Ex. 1
There it is. Make sure that when you're hammering and pulling off that all the notes are sounding out clean, clear, and the dynamics are all even. When you finish that exercise on the high-e string move it to the B string and so on. It will really build finger independence and strength, which will contribute towards speed building. Now, this next obstacle/exercise will use the legato approach of picking once per string change. We will cover the strict version later in the lesson. This next obstacle is something I call "movement as a whole." What I mean by this is your fretboard fingers moving during legato in the same way. For example: the pinky again. You may be able to play legato using your first three fingers just fine, but when you get to the pinky it's lagging behind. This obstacle is similar to the first one, but the difference is trying to correct the strength problem, but on a greater scale. In this exercise pick once per string change. What we're going to do is utilize the three finger patterns within the major scale and it's modes. I will show you all three finger patterns in the exercise(s) below. I will give them in the order they appear in the Ionian mode (Major) 3-note-per-string pattern. I'll use A major. Here are the 3 individual finger patterns: Ex. 2a
  PATTERN 1    PATTERN 2    PATTERN 3      
There are the 3 patterns. For Pattern 1 use your Index, Middle, and Pinky fingers. For Pattern 2 use your Index, Middle, and Pinky fingers. For Pattern 3 use your Index, Ring, and Pinky fingers. The bar lines are only meant to separate the 3 patterns to make it easier to read. You will come across those 3 patterns in the major scale in any key. Now that we have our 3 patterns we can drill them. What I'm going to do is simply put a pattern on the low-E string and move the same pattern up the strings and back down to really get the pattern beneath your fingers and build up dexterity in that pattern. Here is the exercise using finger pattern 1: Ex. 2b
Here's the exercise using finger pattern 2: Ex. 2c
Now, the exercise using finger pattern 3: Ex. 2d

There are the 3 exercises based the 3 finger patterns we looked at. I know they may be boring to play (and trust me. It was boring to type up), but it will really build up "movement as a whole", which will also build strength and speed in the long run. Remember to keep the notes very clean and even. The obvious next step would be to combine the different finger patterns together into the scale. Go back up and look at Ex.2a. Go ahead. I'll wait... welcome back. Ok. Play that exercise, but don't stop between finger patterns. There is your first scale pattern used to combine the finger patterns. Only 6 more to go. I will not type the rest here, because my fingers will fall off, but you can reference all the patterns in my "Shred Guitar Lesson" series. Those patterns are in E minor though. Doing that will increase "movement as a whole" even more. On to our next subject: strict legato. Strict legato is where you do not pick any strings at all except for maybe the first note. Some people have a hard time making the note sound out when changing strings. I'm still even working on getting my legato up to par, but I will give you an exercise I use to get more strength when using strict legato. All I do is take my first finger and slam it down on a random fret on a random string. It sounds really stupid, but it will increase the strength needed to perform strict legato. I change strings and frets with every hammer on I use. Why? Because it will get me used to hammering on wherever I want on the fretboard. Of course, whenever I come across a fret that sounds a bit buzzy I will repeat that hammer-on over and over again until I get it to sound clear. Then I repeat the process with all my other fretting fingers. This method may be a bit weird, but it is the best way I have found to build strength when changing strings. When actually playing a strict legato run, after you get the first note down, when the string change comes the rest should be no problem. For example: Ex. 3
If you have trouble with changing from the low-E to the A string just work on hammering on the first note on the A string until it's clear. After you get that note down then the rest should be no problem. If you still have trouble getting the note to sound and you have a huge legato run coming up you can take your picking hand and bring it over near the nut/first fret of your guitar and mute all the strings. It looks flashy and can make your legato cleaner. What does all of this have to do with speed? It is the same principle as our 2nd/3rd obstacle. Also, I firmly believe that if you know you have a problem with your legato or any other technique that you will create a type of mental block against speed because you know your technique will be wrong. This is why it is so important to sit down and actually listen to your own guitar playing and figure out where your problem is and figure out how to fix it. That's why I am trying to give you guys some possible obstacles and ways to get around them to help you. Now, let's look at an extension of legato: tapping. If you have a problem with tapping all the above obstacles/exercises can help you with building strength and dexterity and help you gain speed, but I will give you a couple tips on the actual technique that can also help you improve. When you have a tapping lick like this: Ex. 4
And you have trouble getting your fret hand over in time to tap the note all you have to do is this: When you play the first note in the exercise your hand should go directly to the 19th fret right after you hit the first note to give you more time to get there. I mean why would you wait until you hit the 16th to start bringing your fret hand over? It's not economical and is guaranteed to slow you down. The same thing could be applied to when you switch strings after the tap. As soon as you finish the tap on the D string your hand should move over to the G string and have it ready to hit that tap on the 19th fret. It's all about economy of motion and it will help you gain speed and tighten up your technique as well. Well, that wraps it up for this lesson. Remember, it's not just about the exercises. It's about the obstacles and how to get around them using the exercises. Use the metronome technique I discussed in "Building Speed 01. Alternate Picking" while keeping in mind these obstacles and I guarantee you will gain speed and break bad habits. Also I would like to point out what fellow UG user "pncoutts" said about how slow you should go when first starting and learning to relax your muscles and speed building will come naturally. He is absolutely right. Start out slow and increase in tempo. Relax your muscles because extra tension can also hold you back and people tend to have a lot of extra tension in their hands when playing legato, especially strict legato. I believe the guitarist Dan Mumm said "perfect practice makes perfect" so remember to practice and relax and it will come naturally. With that information and these obstacles and how to conquer them you are definitely going to gain speed. Don't forget to rate and comment on this lesson and check out the demo of "Red Skies" on my profile. Until the next lesson, see ya. :D

32 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I find that two of the best tapping exercises are the end of "Eruption" for speed and the intro to "Hot For Teacher" for string changing.
    Dave's solo(7:50) in this is great for building speed.
    I also like the intro to Megadeth's "Devil's Island" and the intro to "Looking Down The Cross", or even the crazy live intro to "Last Rites/Loved To Deth", Dave Mustaine is pretty underrated when it comes to tapping.
    Hey mate. To go good with your lessons would be some songs to learn starting from beginner through intermediate to advanced. Cheers.
    These sort of exercises encourage bad playing, in my opinion. Playing the same pattern up and down every string achieves nothing.
    It builds speed, strength and dexterity. I'd hardly call that nothing.
    do u even hammer-pull
    How exactly would these help muscle memory in a positive way? If a novice guitarist were to incessantly practice playing the same shape up and down on every string, then when it comes to improvising that'll most likely by the one of the "licks" they'd resort to.
    I think scales and such patterns should be learnt in this sort of way. Treating exercises like ~"lifting weights" is dumb a dumb way to think about it.
    Well I'm not saying do them 24/7. The point of this was to point out a couple obstacles that people may have and give some simple ways to get around them. I also did mention to apply the patterns to the modes.
    Perhaps not in songwriting, but for strength building and muscle memory, this is how you drill yourself. It's like working out; you do 20 pushups a day for 6 months and your body becomes stronger. Perhaps now you can lift that 70 lb. weight that you couldn't before.
    Finally someone with some brain. Building speed worth absolutely nothing if you don't follow the specific intonation which correlates with knowing the theory behind it. Its good to have speed, but it worth absolutely nothing without knowing how to use it within a correct theoretical application.
    Well this lesson is just on building speed not all the theory stuff. Ill cover that later and personally i dont believe in any "correct" thing in music. Or "incorrect" u can do literally watever u want in music.
    I would have to disagree with you mate. Fact is, music, in any sort of place, has its own kind of logic (not rules) to it. In a sense, your point has certain facts which are correct. Music HAD to start from somewhere. Having that fact being true, the "whatever you want in music" part was basically a bunch of Neanderthals dancing around a fire banging the drums. Later on, they learned how to make sound out of bamboo sticks which made some kind of a sound and collaborated a rhythmic pattern along to it to fit the drum's rhythmic pattern in order to create some sort of tune. So basically what you say is, that playing your exercises without any classical-theoretical-pattern of any sort could create music. I agree with you on that. If it appeals to you to have it as fast as possible technically with no regards to what this sort of distance between the frets actually means and why it even exists, then sure. You can play along to it with great pleasure of knowing that you can do 12-13-14-15 up and down your neck flawlessly, fast as you can, without any sort of messing with this "boring theory stuff". I personally disagree with that sort of approach since it builds up the worst habits out of a guitar player but hey, we all wanna go super fast in this world eh? There are no shortcuts in music my friend. The direction of which musicians like Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, and David Gilmore wrote music was not based upon the speed you could play the pieces. Naturally, they had to make a sense out of the theoretical part of it with application of speed along to it BEFORE they even thought of learning how to speed up their musical pieces. Its the basic of basics in terms of practicing. Do I ever give my students do exercises that invokes no application with musicality in their speed? Hell no! It would ruin what they have been practicing so hard to achieve! Its just like going to American Idol with no actual musical knowledge and start it off "right from that point" because they just can! Well, good news in this world mate is that a lot of people (including people who studies with me - not students, but friends of mine) agree that the technique and musicality should come together as one in order for the player to have a creative mind. THAT'S my friend, is, again, by MY opinion, the CORRECT thing in music.
    Jimi had so many bad habits! He may have been a great player with a great 'feel' for the music, but technically he played in a very unconventional manner. What you are saying is that practising finger exercises develops bad habits... no it doesn't, technique is the basis for learning an instrument. If you are serious about learning said instrument, the rest of the package comes with it. I started playing when I was 6... I didn't know what an interval was, or what harmonies were - but I still did scales and arpeggios, because they are the foundations for good technical ability. As I grew as a guitarist, I also grew as a musician, and I think those are the key terms. A good guitarist may not have a clue what an interval is... he can still play guitar though.
    Great lesson. I think instead of doing sweeping and all the harder aspects you could maybe put the first two lessons together and show lick ideas based around them. I have been doing similar exercises for a few months and my speed is really getting there but some licks just sound awful if their not played up to speed. So some maybe medium paced ones to work on so it feels like your getting somewhere.
    Hmmm. That sounds like an interesting idea. I'll see what I can work on. I might even have a whole lesson on the way I approach songwriting. Thanks
    Yes it would be great to know how to use this new found speed. It really helps when learning other people's leAd work but I struggle to be creative with that speed. Also when going up three notes per string in 16 th notes when I hit a certain tempo my brain feels it needs to be triplets so I lose all feel if that makes sense. Any tips?
    Well it's a generic answer, but use a metronome. You can even put on a sixteenth note subdivision if you have a virtual one that way you know exactly when to play the notes. Lower the tempo a bit until you can play it perfectly, then raise the tempo up 1 bpm. Then focus on that new speed. Then continue doing that same thing. Hope I helped.
    I have noticed with my legato when I pick every string change its my picking hand throwing me out because of timing. I can pick truer to the metronome than legato. Any tips or exercise to overcome that?
    The best advice I can give you is to slow the metronome way down. To the point where it's so boring. Then get used to playing the exercises to build up muscle memory. When you have the exercise down just put the metronome up a couple bpm. Also I've dicovered that if you play an exercise with alternate picking you will get used to the pattern quickly too, so combine the metronome with that and you should be able to keep it in time and be more in control. I personally have never had any type of timing problem except at high speeds so I can only give you answers based on what other people have asked and finding out the answers for myself. I hope that helps.
    Big help mate. Cheers I get a bit lazy when it comes to metronome work. Ill check out your link when I get home.
    Considering that sweeping only has a limited number of shapes and unless you are set on being a "shredder" or want to cover stuff with sweeping, the time it takes to perfect it isn't worth it. Plus tapping is more impressive to people who don't play guitar.
    Ice 9 by Joe Satriani has some great legato in it, now that I think about it there's a lot of Satriani that you could practice legato with