Supercharge your legato practice


When you are practicing your picking techniques your fretting hand is working to hit the right spots on the neck. It’s a simple motion. Your finger moves to find the right spot just behind the fret wire. But is that motion of your finger towards the fretboard really a hammer on? Or is it just a fretting of the note?

When you need to fret another note on the same string you first remove your finger in order to be able to fret that other note. But if you do nothing but remove your finger, the note below it will ring out.

It is almost not possible to remove your finger without playing another lower note or the open string, unless you mute the string or remove your finger as slow as a foot on the kitchen floor when you were stealing cookies in mom and dad’s kitchen as a child. (You were weren’t you?)


So to be fair, fretting the notes is really like doing weak hammer-ons and pull-offs. So going from fretting the notes to doing actual hammer-ons and pull-offs isn’t that much of a change. And that’s exactly our challenge. The two patterns of movement are so similar that your brain can have a really hard time knowing the exact difference.


And since most of us practice legato with some amount of distortion it’s very hard for the brain to develop a clear and significant other powerful pattern that has nothing to do with fretting the notes, but everything to do with actually playing the notes with one hand only.


The result is that our legato technique never develops fully because the brain “forgets” to run the right pattern of movement and is only sort of doing hammer-ons and pull-offs. The same result at we discussed in my previous article.

This is the second reason why so many people who say they master legato has no clue as to how useful this technique can really become.

The trick to fixing this dilemma is to make sure you teach your brain that doing hammer-ons and pull-offs is NOTHING like fretting the notes. That it is a completely different and unique pattern with its own special little details very unlike the details of merely fretting the notes.

“The mind is pretty powerful. In skating, you learn to click into that zone and focus not necessarily on what you’re doing but if you’re doing it well”
Dorothy Hamill


Separation by exclusion
1. The trick is to separate the two patterns of movement when you practice by first refraining from practicing or playing using any other technique than hammer-ons and pull-offs and the occasional string shifting pick stroke for an extended period of time.

So try that for a week: Don’t play a single note with anything but legato. This is not a radical idea, this is just what works. Make sure you allow your brain to get fully used to all the details of pulling off and hammering on so it builds a high degree of familiarity with the technique and how it feels.

2. Separation by inclusion
Practice playing one sequence with legato and then with picking afterwards. Go back and forth between the two techniques playing the same sequence of notes. So you might be playing six notes down on two strings first with legato and then six notes down with picking immediately after without stopping. A simple circular loop that goes on and on.

But then as you practice shifting from one playing technique to another you keep an intense focus on really hammering on and pulling off those notes when you do the legato part, and then really refraining from doing anything like that when you pick the notes. You basically practice separating the two techniques and that’s it. That’s where you have your focus constantly.

These two simple strategies when used frequently has the power to shift the quality of your legato technique radically in a very short period of time.


Supercharge your legato practice

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