Legato Playing Part 1 (Guitar Lesson)

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Nick Greathouse

Legato Playing Part 1

Nick lays down the building blocks for legato playing. Strengthen and improve your left hand skills in Legato Part 1.

Taught by Nick Greathouse in Speed and Technique seriesLength: 12:53Difficulty: 2.0 of 5
Chapter 1: (0:53) Lesson Introduction Welcome to the first Legato installment in my “Speed and Technique” lesson series!  The term “Legato” in musical terms means to play “smoothly connected” and generally what that means to guitar players is using “hammer-ons” and “pull-offs” to play a melodic line.  This lesson covers some exercises you can use to develop your hammers and pulls with very minimal picking, and we’ll also cover a bit of two-hand tapping.
Chapter 2: (3:14) Legato Exercises For those of you familiar with the first Alternate Picking lesson (and you should be!), you’ll recognize that the fret-hand fingerings are carried over into this lesson.  This time around, however, you’ll be using little to no picking to execute the exercises.  Examples #1-6 are all 16th note rhythms (four notes per beat), #7-9 are triplet rhythms (three notes per beat), and the final exercise is written with a 16th note triplet rhythm (six notes per beat) because it’s a little easier to play more quickly.  All of these examples should be played by the left hand only (no notes are picked).  Though you can begin #1-3 by picking the first note, every repetition following will not be picked at all.
Chapter 3: (7:21) Effective Practice Similar to the Alternate Picking lesson, each exercise is only one measure long but should be repeated many times.  Just as you did with the Alternate Picking lesson, play each example for a predetermined amount of time.  Once again, one minute is good enough for each example, and if you’re not used to playing this many hammer-ons and pull-offs in a row you could go for an even shorter time period.

This technique is VERY stressful on the fretting hand so be careful to not over exert yourself.  If you feel any pain in your hand while practicing these DO NOT just “play though it”…stop, take a break, and come back to it later.

If you’re having problems sustaining a good volume and tone through these exercises, remember that most of the strength of this technique lies in your pull-offs.   Hammer-ons are a bit easier because all you have to do is fret each note a little harder than you would if you were picking.  Pull-offs, however, are a different story.  When using pull-offs you have to “pluck” the note with your left hand by pulling the finger downward off the string toward the floor, don’t just lift your finger off of the string.

Speed bursts can also be applied to legato playing.  You can use the same speed building method used in the first alternate picking lesson by just doubling the number of notes per beat.  Once again, 16th notes will become 32nd notes (eight notes per beat) and triplets will become 16th note triplets (six notes per beat).

When playing the tapping example (#10) you’re just playing a hammer-on and a pull-off with one of your pick-hand fingers.  I prefer using my second finger (so I can hold onto my pick), but you can use any finger you like.
Chapter 4: (1:24) Wrap Up As I said at the end of the first alternate picking lesson, be sure to have a good handle on this technique and these 10 exercises before moving on to any of the other legato lessons in this series. Have fun and don’t hurt yourself!

Video Subtitles / Captions

Supplemental Learning Material


Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

levirayleviray replied on January 21st, 2013

very helpful for playing thunderstruck correctly

matlundmatlund replied on July 17th, 2011

Thank you so much for this lesson. Now i know what to do for the rest of my vacation

misteroz10misteroz10 replied on December 27th, 2010

Good Lesson Nick!

gibstratgibstrat replied on February 4th, 2010

thx again nick, hey bucknasty, good luck with that paul gilbert style, he is an amazing guitar player and his songwriting is amazing as well. get out of my yard and spaceship one are incredible, highly recommended listening for everyone, just listen closely to all the instruments and the songwriting and production

fretweaselfretweasel replied on December 16th, 2009

I find when I'm doing pull offs with a long stretch that the string slowly slides out from under my index finger and the string ends up closer and closer to the next string. This causes me to lay my index finger down more flat to hold the string and this causes my index finger to fret the next string down also, so it sounds. O.o I'm wondering if it's because I'm using Elixir strings which are coated with teflon and are quite slippery? Or is it just my technique sucking? Any advice on this? Thank you!

fretweaselfretweasel replied on January 26th, 2010

It seems the comments on lessons are not being used, at least they aren't being answered. Perhaps questions would be answered if JamPlay had a method for notifying teachers when there are new posts in the lessons comments.

tom474etom474e replied on June 3rd, 2012


tom474etom474e replied on June 3rd, 2012

I think the best thing to do is ask him about any questions you may have during live chat.

nessanessa replied on January 26th, 2010

The general comment section for the lessons isn't ideal for questions. I would strongly recommend posting your questions on the member forums or, even better, joining a live Q&A session (which is specifically meant for questions) for better results. Nick Greathouse holds live Q&A sessions on the weekends, so be sure to look for his upcoming sessions. You can find the session schedule on the front of the main members page. Hope this helps!

overdriveroverdriver replied on April 20th, 2009

in this lesson and in the alternate picking lesson it seems like you are keeping the lowest note in the pattern fretted instead of fretting it each time. is this the way i should practice it or am i wrong? great lessons. thanks.

limo1028limo1028 replied on January 8th, 2009

i seem to be hitting the string below when i pull of, what am i doing wrong?

hayes grayhayes gray replied on January 10th, 2013

Nick explains it very well at the end of Scene 3. I was/ am having the same problem. Good luck.

garyguitar68garyguitar68 replied on October 27th, 2008

My pinky wants to curl inward whenever i do a hammer-on. Is this normal? It keeps on the side of my pinky tip.

dripmandripman replied on September 10th, 2008

i'm having trouble with pull offs with my pinky, what would you suggest?

jboothjbooth replied on September 10th, 2008

From my experience the only way to get better at pulloffs with your pinky is to practice. That finger is probably pretty weak now and it's gonna take time before you can get the 'flicking' motion down, so try not to get frustrated and keep at it.

BuckNastyBuckNasty replied on July 22nd, 2008

Paul Gilbert is one of my favorite guitar players and this series seems to help me aim towards his style. Thanks Nick. Looking forward to a lot more lessons I hope.

Speed and Technique

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

This exercise-heavy series serves to improve your playing dexterity, coordination, synchronization of your left and right hand, and speed building in the techniques of alternate picking, sweep picking, and legato.

Lesson 1

Alternate Picking Part 1

Nick starts his series with Alternate Picking part 1. Improve your timing, speed, and execution with this important lesson.

Length: 21:23 Difficulty: 2.0 FREE
Lesson 2

Legato Playing Part 1

Nick lays down the building blocks for legato playing. Strengthen and improve your left hand skills in Legato Part 1.

Length: 12:53 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 3

Sweep Picking and Arpeggios Part 1

Nick lays down the building blocks for sweep picking. Precision and relaxation are crucial when it comes to this technique.

Length: 21:27 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 4

Alternate Picking - Part 2

Alternate Picking Part 2 will build up your technique by adding a second string.

Length: 21:23 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 5

Legato Playing - Part 2

Nick takes Legato playing a step further with more advanced examples such as full scale patterns.

Length: 33:43 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 6

Sweep Picking and Arpeggios - Part 2

Nick teaches you some new sweep picking licks and demonstrates how to connect arpeggios together.

Length: 24:48 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 7

Alternate Picking Part 3

Nick covers 5 practice sequences in the key of A major that will beef up your alternate picking technique.

Length: 36:18 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 8

Sweep Picking part 3

Nick teaches the basics of sweep picking with exercises that have helped him.

Length: 22:18 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 9

Pentatonic Sequences and Techniques

Nick teaches exercises and techniques for the B Minor Pentatonic scale.

Length: 21:10 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only

About Nick Greathouse View Full Biography Nick Greathouse was born on December 11th, 1980 in Canton, Ohio. He was exposed to many different musical styles from a very young age. Growing up in the "MTV generation" some of his earliest memories involve watching Van Halen, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, and Guns n' Roses with his brother and cousin. His mother played piano, sang and filled the house with the sounds of singer-songwriters Cat Stevens, Jackson Browne and Elton John and his father was always listening to country music along with classic rockers Tom Petty and Bob Seger. He never had to look far to hear great music.

Though he was constantly surrounded by music, it wasn't until Nick heard his first Beatles album (Revolver) when he was 10 that he became interested in being a musician. Shortly thereafter, his older brother got an electric guitar which Nick began to play (while his bro was out of the house!). The moment his fingers touched the strings for the first time, he was hooked and had to have one of his own.

Throughout high school Nick took guitar lessons and would jam with his friends as much as possible, his skills on the instrument improved significantly. He would spend hours with his cd player learning Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix songs by ear. But after hearing Steve Vai's album "Passion and Warfare" guitar playing became an all out obsession.

After high school, at age 18, Nick began teaching guitar lessons at a local music store. He also entered the music program at Kent State University where he studied classical guitar with George Bachmann. During this time he performed many solo guitar recitals and also played with the guitar ensemble. When he honed his reading chops to a high level he started playing in pit orchestras and band for local theaters.

Nick took a break from Kent in 2004 when he moved to Hollywood, California for a short time to study at Musician's Institute (GIT). While there he had classes with Daniel Gilbert, Joy Basu, Tom Kolb, Carl Verheyen, and his private lesson instructor Jean-Marc Belkadi.

Nick returned to Ohio in order to finish his college education. He joined a local metal core band called Last Second Decision which was formed by his brother. During his tenure with Last Second Decision Nick began taking lessons from one of his heroes, Cleveland based guitar virtuoso, Neil Zaza. They became fast friends and since then Nick has gone on to perform with Zaza numerous times including television appearances, local club gigs and the holiday spectacular "Neil Zaza's One Silent Night" at Cleveland's Playhouse Square. Nick also appears on the 2007 CD "Neil Zaza's One Silent Night: A Night at The Palace".

Nick is a graduate of Kent State University (BA Music) and continues to teach privately at a music store in Kent, Ohio and also at his home. He is very excited to be a part of the JamPlay team!

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