Guitar lessons (opens in new tab): In music, you may well have seen the term ‘legato’. This simply means ‘play smoothly’, which, on the guitar, generally means using hammer-ons and pull-offs to get the job done.
Hammer-ons are played by dropping a fret-hand finger on to the string to sound a note. Pull-offs are slightly trickier and involve ‘flicking’ your finger off of the string in a downward and outward motion, effectively ‘plucking’ the string with your fretting finger to produce the note.
Here we have two examples for you to try: first a legato-based bluesy lead lick and, secondly, a smoother flowing Joe Satriani (opens in new tab) style line.
Essential skills: hammer-on and pull-off
Hammer-on (opens in new tab): The idea is to ‘hammer’ down forcefully with a fretting finger to sound a note without picking it. This photo shows a third finger hammer-on.
Pull-off (opens in new tab): Essentially a hammer-on in reverse. Pick the string then pull your fretting finger away, re-picking the string as you do so.
This lick can be divided into two halves: the first part, where you’ll be using your first and third fingers; then the second half where you’ll introduce your fourth finger.
Remember, your fretting hand does most of the ‘picking’, so the actual picking directions below the tab are really only a guide.
Surfing with the legato
There’s a lot going on here in our Satriani-style lick, so, if you’re struggling to get it down, try practising short, bite-sized pieces instead of the full line.
You’ll mainly use your first, second and fourth fingers but keep an eye out for the 12th fret B notes, where your third finger comes briefly into play.