Legato Playing Techniques ( Hammer-on & Pull-off )

playing legatoHave you ever wondered what’s responsible for the smooth fluid sounds produced by renowned players like Malmsteen or Satriani? Well, the answers lie in the use of legato techniques.

Legato playing is the direct opposite of creating hard and defined sounds by playing with a pick. It is usually achieved through a series of hammer-ons and pull-offs actions with your fretting hand.

What’s a Hammer On And a Pull Off

Both of these techniques DO NOT require the use of the picking hand to strike any notes.

Basically, a hammer-on can be performed by simply bringing down a finger with sufficient force onto the string in order to sound it out.

A pull-off is performed when a fretted finger pulls away from the string and in the process, plucks the string to sound the note.

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Unbelievable Way to Play a 2-Neck Guitar

Did you know it is possible to totally replace the picking hand by applying only legato guitar techniques (hammer-on and pull-off) in your playing? Take a look at this video.



Scary huh? Wouldn’t you believe this video until you see it with your own eyes? This is legato playing at its very best (at least that’s what I believe). With that, let’s move on with the lesson now and get those fingers moving.

Building Up Finger Strength And Dexterity in Your Fingers

One of the main problems I had identified in my students is the lack of strength in their fingers and the “fusing” of fingers while doing pull-offs. To help you develop control and in-dependency, I came up with this highly effective exercise for your fingers to gain strength.

For this exercise, we will only focus on using the 1st string. First, you need to adopt a classical playing position by resting your thumb at the middle of your guitar neck. Position your left hand such that the index finger is above the 5th fret, the middle finger is above the 6th fret, the ring finger above the 7th fret and the pinky above the 8th fret.

You can only use the appropriate finger on the corresponding frets. NO CHEATING. Pick only the 1st note of every bar before you commence your hammering ons and pulling offs. Also, make sure you are practicing along with a metronome to stay in time!

Legato Guitar Exercise1

Download .gtp5 or .mp3 file ( Right-click Save Target as… )

To illustrate how to play this correctly, let’s take a look at the step by step instructions:

1 ) Place index finger on 5th fret and pick the note.

2 ) Without lifting your index finger, hammer-on the 6th fret with index finger.

3 ) Without lifting your index finger, pull-off the 6th fret with index finger.

4 ) Repeat 2 & 3. Remember, steps 2 & 3 are purely played with the left hand to give it a nice workout.

Pointers to Help You Progress With Legato Techniques

#1 – Notes played with a hammer-on and pull-off should sound clear.

#2 – Don’t lift your fingers too high away from the fretboard during hammering to improve your accuracy.

#3 – Use the tips of your fingers and not the sides.

#4 – Be careful not to bend or change the pitch of the notes during a pull-off.

#5 – Stay disciplined and practice with a metronome. Otherwise, no matter how fast you can play, you will still sound like garbage.

#6 – Slowly increase the metronome by 4 bpm as you become more confident to build your speed.

#7 – It is normal for your fingers to feel a bit sore especially if they aren’t used to vigorous exercises. If you feel severe pain when doing these exercises, it’s not normal. STOP playing immediately and take a break.

Exercise For Vertical Movement Across the Fretboard

The next exercise is designed to help you further improve coordination and finger muscles. Play this exercise up and down the fretboard to get a feel of legato playing on the thicker strings.

Legato Exercise 2Download .gtp5 or .mp3 file ( Right-click Save Target as… )

Intensive Drill to Improve Your Left Hand Technique

The 3rd exercise is based on the G major key and focuses on stretching the left hand and helping you get used to shifting your hand horizontally along the guitar’s neck.

Legato Exercise 3
Download .gtp5 or .mp3 file ( Right-click Save Target as… )

While it may look simple, the 3 exercises I had just taught you are by far the MOST effective legato exercise to drill your left hand. Nothing else comes close.

Don’t believe me? Once you manage to do these exercises, you’ll notice how different your left hand behaves when fretting strings. Try playing “licks” from other sources or approach a passage of music that you previously found impossible to play. You’ll be surprised to SEE different results now.

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