In this free guitar lesson, I explain and demonstrate what it means to play legato on guitar. Legato refers to the smooth transition between notes using hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides.
Guitarists play legato at times for two reasons. 1. They like the sound. 2. It eliminates pickstrokes which can make a part easier to play.
In John Mayer’s “Gravity,” you hear lead lines played in the pentatonic scale. To make some of the lines sound legato, John moves through the scale horizontally on one string using hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides.
In the solo to “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page plays a descending pentatonic scale using typical vertical movement, but uses pull-offs to eliminate some of the pickstrokes, which makes the whole line easier to play and also gives it a more flowing sound.
Some guitarists, like Eric Johnson, are known for playing fast lead lines where most of the notes are picked while other players, like Joe Satriani, build their speed around playing legato using lots of hammer-ons and pull-offs.
Most guitarists make use of both approaches at times. For example, Stevie Ray Vaughan sometimes picked most of his notes and at other times he left all the work to his fretting hand by playing legato.
When guitarists play legato, they typically do it in combination with picked notes. One way to practice this is to play up and down pentatonic and major scale patterns by picking the first note on each string then sounding the rest using hammer-ons and pull-offs.
In order to produce a good legato sound, you need to have good technique. Work on sounding your hammered and pulled off notes cleanly. Control noise on neighboring strings using both hands. Rest your picking hand on unused strings to keep them quiet. Use your index finger to mute the strings that surround the string you play on.
So, now you know what it means to play legato. You can add variety to your sound and make things a little easier for your picking hand by playing legato at times.