30-day guitar challenge, day 21: Improve your legato soloing

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30 day guitar challenge day 20 Legato masterclass
(Image: © KCS Presse/Splash News/Corbis)

30-day guitar challenge: Legato is an Italian music term meaning 'tied together', indicating that lines of notes should have a smoothly connected sound.

On the guitar, legato means that notes should be played with hammer-ons and pull-offs – a great way to bust out your most rapid licks without the added pressure of picking at speed.

Legato is most useful when there are multiple notes on one or two strings. The technique is almost synonymous with Joe Satriani, who explored the limits of legato on tracks including Surfing With The Alien. Players such as Steve Vai and Allan Holdsworth are also considered masters.

Benchmark test

Start this Joe Satriani-inspired lick slowly and aim to gradually increase tempo with each practice session.

Remember, this exercise is designed to challenge you, so make sure you persevere, even if your starting tempo is slower than you had hoped. Hone problem areas with the following legato practice exercises.

Benchmark test tab (right-click to download)

Essential tip

The key to rock-solid legato skills is making every note the same tone and volume.

Work on fretting finger strength to make your hammer-ons and pull-offs louder, and play picked notes gently to make string changes inaudible. Start each exercise slowly and play to a metronome or drum loop for 30 seconds, before increasing your tempo in 5bpm steps.

Hammer on then pull off

Repeat this small fragment of the benchmark lick and be sure to lift your third finger at the same time as your fourth finger lands.

Picking volume

Repeat this part of the benchmark to make picked notes sound at the same volume as pull-offs. Ideally, you shouldn't hear the string change.

Fourth-finger dexterity

Alternate between your third and fourth fingers to develop independence. Focus on making all the notes the same volume.

Play it!

Now's the time to have some fun with the technique and apply legato to three different styles of music. The licks get faster, with more notes per beat.

The blues lick is phrased with three notes per beat, the rock lick is based on four notes per beat, and finally the challenging shred lick has six notes for every beat. The licks are designed to sound musical, so we've added other ideas such as vibrato and string bends.

Blues lick

This lick uses the A blues scale (A C D E b E G). Play the three notes on the third string with your first, third and fourth fingers, and the second-string note with your first finger.

Resist the temptation to barre with your first finger; moving from string to string will give you a cleaner sound.

Blues lick tab (right-click to download)

Rock lick

This lick combines the A Dorian scale (A B C D E F# G) with the blues scale to produce a hybrid scale with these notes: A B C D Eb E F# G.

Focus on playing the notes as evenly spaced 16th notes, as well as keeping the picked notes and pull-offs at the same volume.

Rock lick tab (right-click to download)

Shred lick

Learn the first six notes of this lick and repeat them at speed to create the entire lick.

Use your first, second and fourth fingers to make the stretch up to the 16th fret more manageable. After picking the first note, keep the lick going using only your fretting hand.

Shred lick tab (right-click to download)

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