Guitar lesson 3: Legato

The word 'Legato' refers to the length and sustain of a note. The origin of the word is Italian and it means literally 'bound'. When playing legato, the notes are played in a smooth, flowing manner, without breaks. Legato is the opposite of Staccato, where the sound is short and detached. Legato, when properly used, can really make a melody sing. Legato is often used in combination with other kinds of articulation, like hammer-ons, pull-offs and staccato. It is important to develop this articulation from the beginning. It will help you control your sound.

Girum Mezmur demonstrates legato.
Girum Mezmur demonstrates legato.

In written notation it is customary to put a line above or below a note when it is to be to be played legato like this:

This indicates that the note has to played for its full length.

The following exercises three exercises will help you develop the technique.

Exercise 1: Single finger going up and down the fret board

The first exercise starts with a single finger moving up an down the freftboard. Play the notes smooth and connected with no breaks between successive notes.

The following exercise has two parts. In the first bar, you have to pluck the same note and move the fingers one by one up and down the fretboard. In the second bar, you have to pluck and hold the first note and then use the hammer-on technique with the fret hand to play the rest of the bar.


Exercise 2: Four fingers playing in one fret in 6/4 meter

                      Fret Hand Fingering

                       Fret Hand - Pluck Hand action

Exercise 3: Four fingers playing up and down the fingerboard

In the last exercise you can apply the technique using four fingers up and down the fretboard.

By practicing these simple exercises regularly, you will develop the control you need to play good legato. Start slowly and as you master the exercise you may increase the tempo slightly. Remember these exercises are not about speed; they are about control. Once you have good control, you will be able to play at the tempo you want. Exercises that are limited to one or two strings are worth doing at all stages of your development as a player.


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