How To Play Legato Guitar

Quick, concise introduction to playing legato style guitar like Joe Satriani or Steve Vai. Legato = Smooth. Pick the first note on each string and sound all other notes using hammer-on's and pull-off's.

How To Play Legato Guitar
12
Ready to develop some left hand endurance? Many great guitar players like Allan Holdsworth, Steve Vai, and my personal favorite, Joe Satriani, have made great use of this predominantly left-hand technique to create lines that really flow. Here's a step by step breakdown of legato-style guitar: 1) Cover the frets - This technique typically employs 3 notes-per-string. Try holding down all 3 frets on one string at the same time with three different fingers. If you can do this, the hard part is finished! Now play a G Major Scale by picking the first note, then by hammering-on the second note while still holding the first note. Then hammer-on the third and final note on the string while still holding the first two fretted notes. Follow this procedure with each string. (Ex.1)
2) Pinky Strength - Time to put that pinky to work! Spend a significant amount of time holding down two notes and hammering on and pulling off with the pinky. 3) Go backwards - When performing the pull-off's, make sure all three notes are in place before you begin playing. Make sure the pull-off is an actual pull down on the string. Pull down slightly on the string, then flick your finger away. Simply lifting the finger off the string will not produce the desired sound. Pick the first note of each new string, but if you really want it smooth, begin each string change with a hammer-on and avoid picking entirely (this only really works for the descent)! For a musical example, check out Greg Howe's use of this on "Button Up" (1:02) from the album "Introspection". Change it up - Try the following example in the style of Joe Satriani. (Ex. 2) Once you get comfortable with this technique, you can let it fly every which way without too much thought (as long as you know your scales)!
Go SLOW - Like everything in music, GO SLOW. Do not try playing too fast straight out of the gates. Playing too fast is the quickest path to... FAILURE! You do not need to be a speed shredder tomorrow, or the next day. You just need to get a little better today. You need to be a super shredder in 3-5 years! Think long-term.
Now quit wasting time on the Internet and GO PRACTICE! If you've already recognized your need for an effective coach to take your playing from blah to YAH!, check out the best Fort Worth guitar lessons available and don't go another day without progressing on the guitar!

36 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    juckfush
    The biggest flaw with this article is that there is no information provided with regards to the literal mechanics of legato playing; exercises are provided, but finger posture and other fundamentals are completely ignored. It's important to mention how the fingers should approach the strings, as Priest of Judas has already said, as no clear method is suggested. One person reading this article might use their finger tips, while the other their finger pads to fret; there may be involuntary movement from fingers not in use, wasting energy; the notes themselves may be produced at varying dynamic levels with no mind given; even fundamentals, like fretting as close to the right of the fret as possible and with a subtle arch in the finger are ignored. It's up to you, as the writer of a lesson on technique, not an exercise regiment, to ensure that any reader can perform the provided material as comfortably and proficiently as you can within the comfort of their own home. Always assume the the reader is completely new to these concepts, so that you can appeal to a wider audience and develop their skills sets more effectively. On this note, the exercises provided are elaborate for a beginner, and don't allow for anybody to focus on one particular facet of their playing at a time. Break down your exercises into their simplest possible form, focusing on even a single finger at a time, and gradual evolve those ideas into what you have and their permutations.
    glpledzep145
    I don't really understand why it's poorly rated. The material is nothing new to me but to a less experienced guitarist I would think this is good material. Idk if thats you in the video, but i'd say make less fake facial expression... kinda annoying when it's not true expression and you're just making faces. otherwise, ignore the *****s who think they know what Satriani would do if he read the article. Satriani is a good dude, and probably would be flattered, not upset. rock on
    ericdbourassa
    Thanks! Yeah, I have a hard time taking myself too seriously, but perhaps I could do without the facial expressions!
    juckfush
    I've been teaching professionally for three years, as have other members on these boards; not having written articles on a guitar community website doesn't delegitimize what myself or other posters have said, and in that sense, we do very much ''get off our armchairs'' in making the conscious effort to educate individual students accommodate for personalized teaching strategies. The lesson content has some flaws and could do with tweaking, and if the poster decides to take those critiques on board, they can improve their teaching methods and improve the results that viewers have, as with any constructive critique posted. This post is not intended to be aggressive so much as explanatory for why some of us have posted. Eric - while I didn't mention it in my original post, you have a great charisma about you and your video lesson was engaging. I'm sure that you could manage to make some of the more mundane features of practicing a technique, as listed by myself and a few others, just as engaging for beginners or long-standing players alike. I hope that you won't take the ''negative'' comments as condemnations, but suggestions for what you could incorporate or consider in future lesson plans to improve their educational quality.
    glpledzep145
    gotta say juckfush, i respect where you're going with this, but your criticism isn't very constructive. i agree with the breaking things into a simpler form bit, but otherwise you havent been much of a help. I disagree with you when you say, "not having written articles on a guitar community website doesn't delegitimize what myself or other posters have said." The only way anything you said would be legit would be to provide an example or two. I get that not everyone has the time to post videos or extended articles/lessons, but you have written two comments on this feed that are each 3 paragraphs long... surely you could provide some sort of correction to these lessons or examples of better techniques/exercises. I mean no offense, but come man, help a brotha out. The only reason anyone reads these type of articles is to become a better player, and people saying this stuff isnt right doesnt help anyone unless they are told what IS right.
    Priest_of_Judas
    Constructive criticism has been given throughout the comments, which probably explains why the post you've quoted does not give further advice or correction. The criticism is absolutely necessary (proper and reasonable criticism should appear in the comments for every article that deserves it) since a lot of beginners and a little more advanced players read these articles. If an article contains, and some of us have pointed out and explained that this one indeed does contain, flaws that might be counter-productive for learning and advancing as a guitar player then it must be pointed out in the comments. Writing a whole new article about the subject will not at all necessarily change what has been written here - people can still be misinformed, get a simplified ida of things and receive only incomplete advice which might stagger their playing over time. That is why we comment, and try to be constructive. Or at least, that is what we aim to do - and have done so far.
    juckfush
    I understand where you're coming from, and very much appreciate the mature response. I'll do my best to respond. My first post addresses - albeit, briefly - some of the typical hindrances to developing guitar technique that I've observed in my own teaching and watching other teachers. Often times, a beginner will, unless specifically guided otherwise: 1) fret with the pads of their fingers, thereby using an excess amount of energy and unintentionally muting strings. 2) fret far behind the fretwire, resulting in a buzz and excess effort being exerted to produce a note. 3) fret with an inverted knuckle, coupling with point 1). This attributes to a mild strain the lower knuckles, too, which inhibits movement. 4) fret with their thumb in a position that forces an arch in their wrist, where ideally the thumb should operate as a command center of sorts, allowing a straight wrist; generally, the thumb will be positioned higher on the back of the neck for a narrow reach, and lower (the middle of the neck as an ideal; lower can be extraneous) for a single-finger-per-fret sort of reach. This optimizes flexibility and dexterity, and is a guideline for maintaining a straight wrist and relaxed posture. 5) attempt a long phrase and have difficulty maintaining concentration. The more a source material can be simplified and presented in portions, the better. Eating a three course meal can be an incredible experience leaving you wanting more food, but not when it's thrown in your face all at once; it can be overwhelming and uninviting, compared to each dish being offered one-by-one. A simple exercise is comparable to an entre, an extension upon the exercise your main, and a fun, musical example the dessert. Of course, it's ideal to have all three portions be enjoyable, so I tend to not recommend chromatics and otherwise ''medicinal'' exercises. Just yesterday, a student itching to play Smoke on the Water worked with me to break down the riff into small, digestible phrases. The whole while, we used the technique principles discussed above, amongst some others explored in previous weeks. These phrases were as small as two notes each, and tied together gradually. Similarities in the phrases were observed, and the student was consciously aware of both the composition in own playing through this manner. I absolutely understand where you're coming from, and very much appreciate the mature response. I'll do my best to respond. My first post addresses - albeit, briefly - some of the typical hindrances to developing guitar technique that I've observed in my own teaching and watching other teachers. Often times, a beginner will, unless specifically guided otherwise: 1) fret with the pads of their fingers, thereby using an excess amount of energy and unintentionally muting strings. 2) fret far behind the fretwire, resulting in a buzz and excess effort being exerted to produce a note. 3) fret with an inverted knuckle, coupling with point 1). This attributes to a mild strain the lower knuckles, too, which inhibits movement. 4) fret with their thumb in a position that forces an arch in their wrist, where ideally the thumb should operate as a command center of sorts, allowing a straight wrist; generally, the thumb will be positioned higher on the back of the neck for a narrow reach, and lower (the middle of the neck as an ideal; lower can be extraneous) for a single-finger-per-fret sort of reach. This optimizes flexibility and dexterity, and is a guideline for maintaining a straight wrist and relaxed posture. 5) attempt a long phrase and have difficulty maintaining concentration. The more a source material can be simplified and presented in portions, the better. Eating a three course meal can be an incredible experience leaving you wanting more food, but not when it's thrown in your face all at once; it can be overwhelming and uninviting, compared to each dish being offered one-by-one. A simple exercise is comparable to an entre, an extension upon the exercise your main, and a fun, musical example the dessert. Of course, it's ideal to have all three portions be enjoyable, so I tend to not recommend chromatics and otherwise ''medicinal'' exercises. Just yesterday, a student itching to play Smoke on the Water worked with me to break down the riff into small, digestible phrases. The whole while, we used the technique principles discussed above, amongst some others explored in previous weeks. These phrases were as small as two notes each, and tied together gradually. Similarities in the phrases were observed, and the student was consciously aware of both the composition in own playing through this manner. I absolutely understand where you're coming from, and very much appreciate the mature response. I'll do my best to respond. My first post addresses - albeit, briefly - some of the typical hindrances to developing guitar technique that I've observed in my own teaching and watching other teachers. Often times, a beginner will, unless specifically guided otherwise: 1) fret with the pads of their finge
    slingwine
    Aside from the multiple posts copies (prob. the site) this was great info. Novice players do appreciate your input sir. Thank you.
    Priest_of_Judas
    Greets Eric. I don't wish to sound like a wiseguy, nor appear as a real professional in this particular field, but there are a few flaws in the article - some more severe than others. First of all, even if the lesson is simplified, a legato lesson should include legato excercises consisting of more than 3-notes-per-string. 4, perhaps even 5 notes? Slides for changing positions? String skipping? My second point does probably boil down to personal preference, yet I would not recommend (especially beginners) to hit the following/final note "while still holding the first two fretted notes." If it is necessary, ie you want to play the previous notes, then fine. But never glue your hand into that position, stressing your fretting hand and slowing you down. This especially applies for the index finger - if you always have your index finger pressed down it will never get to develop the same speed as the rest of the fingers could achieve. This will slow you down in the long run, a lot. Furthermore, there is too little discussion about finger independence and fretting hand distance. The pinky is as important as the other fingers, thus we should perhaps be given some good excercises for strenghtening our fretting fingers? The pull-off comment can confuse a lot of beginners. This is where distance comes in - we should not float the fingers too far from the fretboard. In fact, the more control and strenght we have, the closer we can keep our fingers to the fretboard - the faster we can go. Emphasize the fact that it is a finger trick not a wrist movement. Just to give you some proper feedback, thanks for the articcle though, nice of you to include visual excercises and a vid. But mate, less faces, more guitar eh!
    ericdbourassa
    So far, this article has been poorly rated. I'd love some helpful feedback to improve this article and apply that to future articles as well. Thanks!
    juckfush
    Oh, wow. Major apologies for my mess of a post above! Let's try that again... qlpledzep145 - I absolutely understand where you're coming from, and very much appreciate the mature response. I'll do my best to respond. My first post addresses - albeit, briefly - some of the typical hindrances to developing guitar technique that I've observed in my own teaching and watching other teachers. Often times, a beginner will, unless specifically guided otherwise: 1) fret with the pads of their fingers, thereby using an excess amount of energy and unintentionally muting strings. 2) fret far behind the fretwire, resulting in a buzz and excess effort being exerted to produce a note. 3) fret with an inverted knuckle, coupling with point 1). This attributes to a mild strain the lower knuckles, too, which inhibits movement. 4) fret with their thumb in a position that forces an arch in their wrist, where ideally the thumb should operate as a command center of sorts, allowing a straight wrist; generally, the thumb will be positioned higher on the back of the neck for a narrow reach, and lower (the middle of the neck as an ideal; lower can be extraneous) for a single-finger-per-fret sort of reach. This optimizes flexibility and dexterity, and is a guideline for maintaining a straight wrist and relaxed posture. 5) attempt a long phrase and have difficulty maintaining concentration. The more a source material can be simplified and presented in portions, the better. Eating a three course meal can be an incredible experience leaving you wanting more food, but not when it's thrown in your face all at once; it can be overwhelming and uninviting, compared to each dish being offered one-by-one. A simple exercise is comparable to an entre, an extension upon the exercise your main, and a fun, musical example the dessert. Of course, it's ideal to have all three portions be enjoyable, so I tend to not recommend chromatics and otherwise ''medicinal'' exercises. Just yesterday, a student itching to play Smoke on the Water worked with me to break down the riff into small, digestible phrases. The whole while, we used the technique principles discussed above, amongst some others explored in previous weeks. These phrases were as small as two notes each, and tied together gradually. Similarities in the phrases were observed, and the student was consciously aware of both the composition in own playing through this manner. I absolutely understand where you're coming from, and very much appreciate the mature response. I'll do my best to respond. My first post addresses - albeit, briefly - some of the typical hindrances to developing guitar technique that I've observed in my own teaching and watching other teachers. Often times, a beginner will, unless specifically guided otherwise: 1) fret with the pads of their fingers, thereby using an excess amount of energy and unintentionally muting strings. 2) fret far behind the fretwire, resulting in a buzz and excess effort being exerted to produce a note. 3) fret with an inverted knuckle, coupling with point 1). This attributes to a mild strain the lower knuckles, too, which inhibits movement. 4) fret with their thumb in a position that forces an arch in their wrist, where ideally the thumb should operate as a command center of sorts, allowing a straight wrist; generally, the thumb will be positioned higher on the back of the neck for a narrow reach, and lower (the middle of the neck as an ideal; lower can be extraneous) for a single-finger-per-fret sort of reach. This optimizes flexibility and dexterity, and is a guideline for maintaining a straight wrist and relaxed posture. 5) attempt a long phrase and have difficulty maintaining concentration. The more a source material can be simplified and presented in portions, the better. Eating a three course meal can be an incredible experience leaving you wanting more food, but not when it's thrown in your face all at once; it can be overwhelming and uninviting, compared to each dish being offered one-by-one. A simple exercise is comparable to an entre, an extension upon the exercise your main, and a fun, musical example the dessert. Of course, it's ideal to have all three portions be enjoyable, so I tend to not recommend chromatics and otherwise ''medicinal'' exercises. Just yesterday, a student itching to play Smoke on the Water worked with me to break down the riff into small, digestible phrases. The whole while, we used the technique principles discussed above, amongst some others explored in previous weeks. These phrases were as small as two notes each, and tied together gradually. Similarities in the phrases were observed, and the student was consciously aware of both the composition in own playing through this manner. I absolutely understand where you're coming from, and very much appreciate the mature response. I'll do my best to respond. My first post addresses - albeit, briefly - some of the typical hindrances to developing guitar technique that I've observed in my own teaching and watching other teachers.
    gypsyblues7373
    For another good example of the "hammer-on from nowhere", look for Richie Kotzen's "Rock Chops" on youtube.
    Carl Hungus
    I love how no one here has the guts to post a instructional segment yet they can openly ridicule the imperfections of someone who does. If you don't like what this guy is doing then get off your armchair do it better.
    juckfush
    Oh, jeez... I'm going to quit while I'm behind and try to contact a mod to have my monstrosities removed. Sorry!
    gitarmageddon
    Hey! I love the lesson and the funny facial expressions. It shows you have a sense of humor. Thanks.
    rjwade
    My fingers dont stretch that far theres no way I could even force them there that sucks.
    Flibo
    "When performing the pull-offs, make sure all three notes are in place before you begin playing." Is there a good reason for this? I've always played my pull-offs like that but lately I've been working on only pushing down the fingers that I need at the very moment, as in not to clamp too much on the fingerboard. At the very least, this is my approach when picking all the notes, only holding one finger down at a time. Just thinking of it, wouldn't having all your fingers in place just slow you down tremendously? Your index finger would have to be lightning fast. Are you sure you're doing this when playing as fast as in your video?
    ericdbourassa
    Hey Flibo! Yes, I checked to see if I do this, and in fact, I hold down all three notes, even at high speeds. The purpose for it is economy of motion. I exert less energy by playing this way. I used to lift fingers right after playing them and found that it slowed me down, so the opposite of what you are suggesting has been true for me.
    xander3917
    Thanks for posting. This is obviously not the end-all, be-all of legato playing. It's a good introduction to the idea of legato and a nice place to start. Thanks again, remember you can't please all the people all the time.
    evadebmx33
    So what if wants to have fun when he plays he obviously is a good guitar player n practiced to get there
    rickyvanh
    I like it.I have been looking for a good warming up and strengthening exercise,and it sounds cool at full speed.I like that it is a quick lesson that I don't need to commit two weeks or more to benefit from.Good job.
    Metaljunk
    Good article, but the real instant boost for my playing came from reading the comments. Especially the parts that reminded me of the finger arc, the finger tip instead of the pad, and where to put my left thumb. No news, but I'll never forget that again. Thx juckfush & Priest_of_Judas!