Have you ever listened to a guitarist play and marveled at how “smooth” or fluid his solos sounded? Are you struggling to achieve that in your own playing?
I can help you with that. First, a couple of definitions:
Legato: no silence between notes. The note sounds until the next note is played. It’s Italian for, “tied together.”
Staccato: detached, or separated, notes. Staccato notes have space, or silence, between them. There are different degrees of staccato notes. Staccato notes can range from short to very short (staccatissimo).
Most students play staccato without thinking about it due to sloppy technique. To play legato generally requires some intentional technique work.
When playing an ascending line, legato requires the finger fretting the prior note to remain on that note until the next note sounds.
This means that the two hands, the fretting hand and the picking hand, must be perfectly coordinated.
If you pick the string before you fret the note you’ll get a hammer-on from one note to the next. Fretting the note before you pick the string results in a hammer-on and then the picked note sounding.
The pick must strike the string at exactly the same time as the note is fretted; the two hands must be perfectly coordinated.
When descending, the finger on the prior note must remain on that note until the next note is played. If you pick up your fretting finger before the exact moment the next note is to sound, there will be silence between the notes i.e. staccato. Many times picking up the fretting finger before the next note sounds results in an inadvertent pull-off note to sound.
Again, the two hands must be perfectly coordinated.
One of the best ways to practice playing legato is to drill scales. That way you're practicing more than one thing at a time; legato technique and scales. You can find multiple major scale patterns here (you must be a site member and logged in to access).
If you want to just concentrate on legato technique and not worry about memorizing scale patterns, the technique exercises here are a great mechanism to do just that (site membership required to access).
There's a list of 7 common technique problems there that I deal with. Number 1 is, "Moving fingers that don't have to move."
Dealing with this issue results in legato organically; I don't even mention it with most people. If fingers stay down until they have to move, legato follows automatically.
Even though staccato is more the default with beginning students it's still necessary to be cognizant of what's going on; there are several different techniques for playing staccato and they result in different kinds of sound.
Fretting-hand fingers come off the note before the next note is played.
Pick-hand mutes the note before the next note is played. This technique limits speed.
Palm-muting is employed (see the video below for a demonstration of palm-muting). Palm-muting enables various lengths of the note to sound depending on the position of the palm-mute. Muting closer to the bridge results in a longer duration; as you move away from the bridge the note length becomes shorter (staccatissimo).
Palm-muting has many advantages especially when playing with distortion. Since distortion evens out dynamics, palm-muting is an inflective device that helps compensate for lack of dynamics.
Another benefit of palm-muting to achieve staccato is that the fretting hand can continue to behave as if playing legato, thus reinforcing the technique work necessary to play legato in the first place.
Remember, practice slow and intentional!
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