Legato For Beginners - Mastering Hammers and Pulls

  • by Tom Boddison
  • 23 Jan, 2017
Guitar Player Close up of Hands

Find out how to make these vital techniques effortless...

Legato technique (also known as hammer-on and pull-off technique) is a guitar technique used to create fast and flowing runs all over the neck. Used extensively by killer guitar players like  Joe Satriani and  Steve Vai, it's a great way to increase your speed in record time.

How to Master the Basics

A 'hammer on' is when a note is picked and while it is still playing you use your left hand finger to quickly "hammer" onto a fret that is higher up on the same string. This makes the second note sound even though it wasn't picked, because of the force of the left hand finger "hammering" down.


Here's an example. Place your index finger on the 4th string, 7th fret, and pluck that note. While the note is ringing, and without moving your left index finger, use your ring finger to come firmly and directly down on the 9th fret of the 4th string. This note will then ring. This is a hammer on.


A 'pull off' is essentially the same thing, but in reverse. You use your finger to fret a note, and then pick that note. While the note is ringing, place another finger on a lower fret and then "pull off" your finger to the lower fret. The motion is slightly downwards - you are literally plucking the note with your left hand finger.


For example, you can put your index finger on the 5th fret, 4th string AND place your ring finger on the 7th fret, 4th string. You play the note on the 7th fret, and then 'pull' that finger off the string, which will sound the note on the 5th fret. This is a pull off.


Practice the two examples above until you've got the hang of the motions. The secret to getting them learned quickly is to exaggerate them so that your brain learns that legato is a separate technique. It's not the same motion as just fretting the notes - and until your brain gets the hang of that, its a good idea to exaggerate the movements.


Since many people find hammer-ons easier that pull-offs, it can be a good strategy to focus exclusively on hammer-ons until you have them down. Really exaggerate that motion at first to ensure that you get a nice clear note - see if you can make the hammer on as loud as your picked notes! Try it with all of your left hand fingers all over the neck so you can get a feel for what its like to play.

How to Play Fast Licks Using Legato

Once you've got the basic hammer-on motion down, we're going to go straight into some shred licks you can play with them! This is where it gets really fun...

The first one is in A-Minor and stays on one string to keep things nice and easy. Pick every third note.

E|--5h7h8-5h7h8-5h7h8-|

As you play this exercise, be sure to stay relaxed and play SLOWLY at first - see how many times you can play it perfectly in a row! Then, gradually decrease the size of your movements and make it more and more relaxed. You'll be shredding in no time!

The next exercise is a variation (also in A-Minor) that is on the two highest strings:

E|----------------------5h7h8-5h7h8---------------------5h7h8-5h7h8-|
B|--5h6h8-5h6h8----------------------5h6h8-5h6h8--------------------|

Again, start slow and gradually build up.

By this point you should have a decent grasp of hammer-ons, so we'll go to pull-offs. Start by using exaggerated movements again until you can get crisp, clear notes and then refine and relax the motions.

The first one is a reverse of the first hammer-on exercise:

E|--8p7p5-8p7p5-|

And another, this time covering four strings and still in A-Minor:

E|--8p7p5--------------------------------|
B|------------8p6p5----------------------|
G|----------------------7p5p4------------|
D|--------------------------------7~~~~~-|

Now, to combine hammer-ons and pull-offs to create some killer licks! This is where it gets really fun...

‚Äč E|--5h7h8p7p5------------------------------------------------------|
B|-------------------8p6p5h6h8p6p5------------------------------|
G|------------------------------------------7p5p4h5h7p5p4-------|
D|------------------------------------------------------------------7---|

That last exercise might look intimidating, but don't worry - if you've followed the lesson this far it will be easy. It's just a combination of all the skills you've learned so far, and if you can master that lick you'll be a damn good legato player!

I hope the lesson was helpful and keep your eyes peeled for more great content coming soon!

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