The Fundamentals Of Great Legato

In todays lesson we are going to be taking an in-depth look at another of the guitar worlds most fundamental and crucial playing techniques, legato.

Legato is a technique that most guitar players think they have down pat, but it is made up of so many crucial elements that even good guitar players don’t entirely understand it. It’s an iceberg techniques, it doesn’t look like much on the surface but underneath theres a whole lot going on.

Remember, you’re only as strong as your weakest link, so be ready to apply the information in this lesson. Legato is an Italian word that means tied together, it means that notes are to be played smoothly in a connected manner, this is the sound that hammer-ons and pull-offs create.

Seeing as there is no pick stroke to separate notes, hammer-ons and pulls-offs result in no disconnections between notes, they connect into one another with notes sounding one after the other seamlessly, this is what legato both means and sounds like.

Legato is everywhere in rock guitar playing and soloing, whether it’s in phrases that are utilising only legato, or scattered throughout with a mixture of picking, legato is synonymous with the playing of the rock guitar greats and contributes to the iconic lead guitar sound.

Developing great legato technique will improve your intonation, accuracy, endurance and very importantly, tension control. So without further a due, lets explore the fundamentals of one of the most iconic techniques in the rock guitar world, legato.

The Fundamentals of Great Legato

The Fundamentals of Great Legato are but are not limited to:

  • Positioning Your Hand For Optimum Legato Potential.
  • Keep your fingers close to the fretboard.
  • Use Small Movements.
  • Aspire for an even tone.
  • Control the tension of your legato playing.

Positioning Your Hand For Optimum Legato Potential

Hand and finger positioning is the starting point for executing any technique successfully.

You should have your thumb in the back of the neck inline with the second finger with a good healthy curve to your knuckle and distal joint (the curve above your finger nail), this allows your finger tips to effectively access the strings resulting in far more accurate and easy legato.

If you have never attempted to play this way then you may find this hand position to be uncomfortable at first, but if you persist and practice the following exercises in a slow and relaxed manner it will become more and more natural. You will also find that your legato (and other techniques) becomes more and more accurate and easy to execute.

Legato Hand Postion, Fingers Curved, Finger Tips

Fingers Curved Legato

Lets put this concept into context with these legato practice licks demonstrating the importance of hand positioning.

Legato Exercise 1

Legato Exercise 2

Keep Your Fingers Close To The Fretboard

Keeping your fingers close to the fret board is a crucial technique for accurate, efficient guitar playing, and its never more important than when playing legato. Playing with your fingers close to the fret board when executing legato passages will help with your speed, intonation and tone.

Some people ask when I mention this important guitar playing principle “If I keep my fingers close to the fret board while playing legato passages, how can I get any force from fingers for my legato playing?” This is a good question and it is commonly asked.

The answer is quite simple, first of all you don’t need that much force to sound legato notes, it’s more about accuracy (hammering down accurately using the finger tip close to the fret) then brute force, secondly as you train your fingers to stay close to the strings during legato, they will develop the ability to strike the strings with speed and power from small distances above the strings.

You will find that with practice you can execute elegant legato while keeping your fingers close to the fret board.

Use Small Movements

To execute effective legato you must train your fingers to apply hammer on’s and pull off’s with small movements, this is a skill that even good guitar players miss.

When you hammer on you want to do so keeping your finger at a close distance from the strings, and when you pull off you want to pull straight down towards the string underneath the one you are pulling off from allowing your finger to travel a very small distance from the string.

Aspire For An Even Tone

The true sign of competent legato technique is the volume of each legato note. Good legato will have each legato note the same volume as if you picked it. Keep this in mind when you execute legato, listen to the volume and tone of each note.

Are all your legato notes the same volume as each other? Are they the same volume as your picked notes? Are there volume and tone fluctuations? Do some fingers produce better volume and tone then others? Do you produce better tone and volume on some strings and not on others?

Asking yourself these questions as you play your legato will result in you becoming aware of what needs improvement, and this is the starting point for developing any technical ability you want.

Control The Tension Of Your Legato Playing

Now we have come to a very important fundamental of legato playing, tension control.

Seeing as legato playing is initiated almost entirely by your fretting hand there is a lot of potential for tension build up. This is what a lot of guitar players complain about when they are struggling with their legato, tension is the killer of great guitar playing it will cause either hand to seize up making playing impossible. This makes tension control a profoundly important skill for competent legato.

Tension build up is caused by many things, trying to play faster than your hands are comfortable with, bad hand positioning, gripping the neck or pick to tightly, becoming overly excited or nervous when playing.

You can release tension by consciously relaxing your hands, arms, shoulders, legs, abdomen and training your hands to play in a relaxed state.


I hope you have enjoyed this lesson and had you mind opened to the all the working elements of legato and how to combine them for fantastic legato technique.

Remember, what has been learned cannot be unlearned, now that you have learned the fundamentals of legato you will have them for the rest of you life, all you need to do know is apply them!

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