This is part 2 of a 3-part series I’m running on the legato technique. In the first part, we covered the basic theory and explained how playing legato works, and how to get started with it.
So now that you are clear on the concept of legato playing, let’s take a look as some basic ways to go about practicing it. If we take the idea to its most basic application then we can start by just hammering on and pulling off between two notes.
When you alternate quickly between two notes like this, you are playing a ‘trill’, but for now, we will do this slowly. Fret a note with your first finger (any note) then hammer on to the next fret with your second finger. Make sure the note sounds clean and the volume is even.
After this, play the first note again by using a pull-off, taking care that this new note is of the same volume of the first two. Carry on alternating from one note to the other, starting off very slowly.
The idea with this is to make sure all the notes sound clear and have even volume, and to start building up endurance in your fingers. You should aim to play this exercise non-stop for at least five minutes, and be sure to use a metronome to keep time.
Once you’ve done this, the next thing to do is try the same exercise with all possible finger combinations. You’ve done fingers one and two, so now try one and three. Play a note (any note) with the first finger, then hammer on two frets above with the third finger.
Trill between these two notes for at least five minutes. Next, do the exercise with your index finger and your pinky. Then use your second and third fingers, then second and fourth, and lastly, your third and fourth. You will no doubt find it easier with certain fingers than with others, so more time should be spent on those that are difficult.
After you have got a handle on playing trills, you should move on to three-note patterns. If you use one finger per fret, you can try patterns using the first, second, and fourth fingers, the first, third, and fourth fingers, and also try both of these fingerings with a stretch (meaning a fret in between each finger, ie. first finger on the fourth fret, second on the sixth, and fourth finger on the eighth fret).
Patterns you can try include 1-4-2-4, 4-1-2-4-2-1, and 1-2-1-4. Do these exercises with all of the finger combinations we just looked at and, as well as playing them on just one string, try them crossing two, three, four, five, and all six strings. You can play them in one place, or by moving around the neck.
The next step
Once you are comfortable playing different patterns like this, you can begin to apply them to 3-note-per-string scale shapes. Once you do this you will no longer be playing non-musical exercises, but will be playing diatonic melodic fragments which can be inserted at will into any solo you are playing. And will sound very impressive.
By now, I hope you get the idea of this. The next logical step is to start applying the same ideas to even more complex patterns, with four, five, six or more notes. Use multiple patterns together, and try playing on non-consecutive strings. Throw in some right-hand tapping. The only limit to what you can come up with is your imagination, so see what other ideas you can think of.
There’s still one more part to come in this series. In it, we will cover some of the common problems most people face when learning the legato technique.
Chris Lake, a professional guitarist and guitar teacher of over 25 years. If you would like more help with all aspects of learning the guitar, head over to Chris’s website where you can get a free copy of his latest eBook about playing the guitar – The-Guitar-Guide.com