Legato technique for speed and phrasing

Most good players will mix up different techniques and use a combination of all the things they know to play lines efficiently but also with the best possible phrasing. It is important to realize that different types of legato techniques such as hammer ons and pull offs and slides have an important role in not only how to technically execute a phrase but also how it is going to sound.

In this lesson I will go over 3 lines and discuss how I play them and why to demonstrate how I apply several different legato and picking techniques in my playing. I will then give you some suggestions for exercises that you can use to combine several techniques in one exercise.

The lines

All the examples in this lesson are in the key of F major. THe first 3 lines are II V I lines with an altered dominant. The rest are F major scale exercises.

There are two reasons why  I might use a technique, it can be a question of phrasing so that the technique makes it easy to accent a specific note or it can be because it is helping me play the line.

It is very important to remember that both of these criteria are important. If you don’t choose the right technqiue you might not be able to play the line, and if you don’t think about how your technique makes the line sound you might ruin the line in that way. Both are very important considerations.

You can sum up bop phrasing in pretty much one sentence:

As I was taught by my teacher Peter Nieuwerf:  “In a bebop line notes that are higher than the following notes and not on the beat can have an accent”

Of course it is not completely black and white, but it is for the most part true.

In the first bar of example 1 the line is based on an Bbmaj7 arpeggio. The first hammer on is there to buy the right hand time to change strings. The pull off on the and of 3 is there for that reason too, but also because it makes the picked note (A) louder than the pull note (G). This gives the A a natural accent.

The Altered dominant line is also using two slides. The first slide on the and of 1 is there mostly for technical reasons while the 2nd from 4 and to the 1 of bar 3 is there to accent the 4 and over the 1. It is quite common to not accent the resolution.

Legato technique for speed and phrasing - ex 1

The 2nd example is using a cascading melodic idea, so it contains 4 descending parts which are all descending patterns. In this excample I am using small sweeps or economy picking where my accented notes are down strokes and the rest are played with up strokes or legato. This means that for the right hand each part of the line is started with a down stroke and then continues with up stroke sweeps of two or three strings. The most difficult thing with these is probably keeping it in the groove timing wise. Notice how this line does not actually fit in the bebop phrasing rule I talked about above, since most of the accented notes are on the beat.

Legato technique for speed and phrasing - ex 2

In the 3rd example it is really clear how you can combine slides and hammer on pull offs so that you can play a lot of notes with very little use of the right hand. This is really clear in the opening of bar 1 where the first two notes are picked but the following three are played with first a slide and then a hammer on followed by a pull off. This type of phrasing makes the lines more fluid and horn like in my opinion.

The rest of the 1st bar is pretty much just alternate picking. At the end of the 1st bar I slide from C to Db which serves to make it easy to play and also helps shift the position up one fret to play the C altered scale. The rest of the altered line uses a single pull of to accent the Bb in a similar way to example 1.

Legato technique for speed and phrasing - ex 3

As you can see in the examples I am not strict about down strokes on the beat or always starting on a down strokes. It is also quite clear that I mix a lot of techniques while playing lines.

Making good technique exercises

The technique that I base my playing on is for the biggest part alterenate picking, so the first thing that I try to combine any technique with is alternate picking. The first thing you work on is probably the standard way of playing a scale or similar with that technique, so if you are working on legato then work through a scale position with hammer ons and pull offs.

The next thing you could try is to use it combined with alternate picking. This can help you keep it in time and also help you already at this point starting to make it fit in your playing in terms of dynamics (mostly if it is hard enough compared to your alternate picking).

One way to do this is shown in example 4 where I play a 3 note per string F major scale and on each string I hammer on between the first two notes and then pick the 3rd. 3 note per string scales are useful for this because they are easy to go through with a system.

Legato technique for speed and phrasing - ex 4

You can of course play this way descending as well using first a pull of and then picking notes.

The reverse option is to pick two notes and then use a hammer on. This model is easier for your right hand since it has extra time to change strings.

Legato technique for speed and phrasing - ex 5

These two ways of playing a scale are useful because they both have a certain sound or flow and they can later become useful solutions because you need to start the next part of the phrase on another string with a certain type of up or down stroke for example.

The same two exercises can be done with slides instead of hammer on/pull offs. Since you are in fact changing positions when doing the slides this is a great exercise to open up how you play the scale and help you keep the overview when practicing.

Legato technique for speed and phrasing - ex 6

The sweeps or economy picking that I use are also useful to incorporate in exercises which mix it with  alternate picking. In example 7 I have written out the same scale position using this technique.

Legato technique for speed and phrasing - ex 7

With all of the exercises that I presented here I’d suggest that you don’t spend hours everyday working on this but more that you take one position and make sure that you can play it in a not too fast tempo with good time and that it sounds fairly equal in volume.

You should also take each of these technques and then just try to play lines over a slow turnaround or II V I focusing on using each technique to explore the way it can work melodically in your lines.

I hope you can use the ideas I went over here to work on your own technique and that you have a new perspective on the usefulness of the technques in phrasing and the advantages of mixing it up when playing.

If you want to study the examples away from the video or article you can download a pdf here:

Legato technique for speed and phrasing

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please feel free to leave on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make thme fit what you want to hear.

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