Playing fast with legato techniques

One of the biggest struggles for guitarists when trying to build up speed on the guitar is to coordinate the left hand with the right hand. For me personally this was one of the most frustrating challenges I faced when practicing guitar. It needs a lot of patient and practice to get your both hands working together, especially when you are not advanced yet.


However if you don't want to wait for months or years to be able to play fast and have your both hands synchronized, there is a way to get around this problem. What I don't want is to stop you from practicing alternate or economy picking - you should keep on improving these techniques if you want to get good at them - but I want to show you a technique which you can add to your practicing routine, allowing you to play fast much quicker.

The legato techniques

When you are playing guitar with legato techniques, you are using your fretting hand to produce the sounds, by “hammer on” the strings with your fretting hand fingers, or “pulling off” your fingers from the strings. Therefore they are called “hammer ons” and “pull offs”. To apply them to your playing and to play fast scale sequences, you can do this in two ways:

  1. Ascending:


When ascending the guitar neck with 3 NPS (3 notes per string) scale sequences, you hit the first note on every string with your pick and “hammer on” your fingers on the second and third note, without hitting them with your pick again. See for a major scale example bellow:

legato pic.jpg


When descending the guitar neck with the same 3 NPS scale sequence, you are going to hit the first note again with the pick, but instead of hammering on the strings with your fingers, you are going to pull them off. In order to do that, you would want to have them laying on the strings before you hit the first note with your pick. When descending, you would want to use upstrokes with your picking hand, to make your movements more comfortable and efficient. See for a major scale example bellow:

legato 2.jpg

Playing 4 NPS scale sequences with legato technique:

If you want to play 4 NPS scale sequences, I have an additional technique for you to implement into your playing: Tapping!


When using tapping, you are “hammering on” the strings with the fingers of your picking hand. In this example you don't have to pick any notes with your picking hand, but playing “hammer ons” and “pull offs” with your fretting and with your picking hand. You will only use one hand at a time, so you don't have to worry about two hand synchronization at all!


Here is how you will play the same major scale as before with 4 notes per string, while using the additional technique of tapping: You “hammer on” the first note of each string with the middle finger of your picking hand first, than play a “pull off” with the same finger.

You do this, while on notes 3 and 4 of the string you are playing you have your index and middle finger of your fretting hand laying. So after playing the “pull off” with your picking hand, you are now going to release your middle finger from the string with a “pull off” and “hammer on” the string again with it. Repeat this process for every string.


In the example bellow you see the letter “T” (tapping) bellow the note, which is the “hammer on” of the picking hand's middle finger. The numbers above the notes are “2”, for the note being fretted by the middle finger of the fretting hand and “1”, for the note being fretted by the index finger of the fretting hand:

legato 3.jpg

I hope you found this article helpful for your lead guitar technique. My name is Marco von Baumbach, I'm teaching electric guitar in Wuppertal, Germany. You are welcome to check out my website about Gitarrenunterricht in Wuppertal