5 Guitar Practice Tips That Clean Up Sloppy Legato Playing

By Tom Hess

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Legato playing gives your guitar licks an awesome fluid sound…but many guitar players struggle with this technique. You are about to learn how to master legato the easy way and stop feeling frustrated.

This video shows effective ways to practice legato and accelerate your progress:

There are 2 guitar technique elements that make your legato playing feel harder than it should:

  • Weak articulation that causes your notes to sound sloppy and unclear. (This is easy to solve, I explain how to do this below).
  • Excess muscle tension in your arms and fingers that makes guitar playing feel like a struggle. When you release that tension, guitar playing becomes effortless (more below).

You can improve your legato technique with any exercise you practice when you know what to focus on and how to focus on it.

Make Your Guitar Playing
Feel Incredibly Easy

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These guitar practice tips help your legato playing improve and make your guitar technique feel effortless:

How To Clean Up Sloppy Legato Playing On Guitar


Legato Guitar Practice Tip 1: Articulate The String More Often With The Pick.

Do this as part of your warm up to make the lick you are practicing feel easier and sound cleaner at faster speeds.

Articulating the string more often with the pick helps to articulate hammer ons and pull offs that happen right after the picked note. This sets a benchmark for how articulate the notes need to sound.

Watch the video to see this tip in action.

After the benchmark is established, begin to pick the string less to challenge your fretting hand more. 

Maximizing power of your legato playing requires a high level of fretting hand finger independence. When your fingers move independently of each other, you can play faster, cleaner and with a lot less effort.

Want to improve your fretting hand finger independence? Download this free eGuide to master fretting hand finger independence for guitar, so your playing starts to feel effortless and you stop struggling to play guitar the way you want.

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Legato Guitar Practice Tip 2: Increase The Difficulty Of The Hardest Parts Of Your Legato Licks

Make any legato lick harder to play by:

  • Repeating the challenging part of the lick twice. 
  • Practicing the lick unplugged. 
  • Moving the lick to a lower part of the fretboard where frets are further apart. 

Note: Don’t overdo unplugged guitar practice. Too much guitar practice without an amp makes it hard to notice sloppy mistakes caused by open string noise.

Schedule some of your practice time to play with distortion to get used to controlling open string noise  and make your legato playing sound clean.

At first, use 50% of your legato practice time to practice unplugged and the other 50% to practice with distortion. As your technique improves, spend less time playing unplugged and more time practicing with the sound you actually use in real-life playing. 

Legato Mastery checklist

Download free Practice guitar checklist

Legato Guitar Practice Tip 3: Create Variations From The Original Legato Exercise

You don't need many exercises to master legato technique. That said, having a collection of strategically selected exercises helps you to:

  1. Minimize boredom. You are human, not a machine. You need some variety in your guitar practice to keep practicing fun.
  2. Practice legato in a variety of contexts. 

Here is how to create variations from your legato exercises:

Identify the specific technical challenge you want to improve in your legato playing. Then create new legato licks that contain that challenge. Make your exercises as diverse as possible, while focusing on the main guitar technique element you want to refine. Vary elements such as:

  • The scale used.
  • Area of the fretboard where exercises are played.
  • Rhythm of the notes.
  • Strings the exercises are played on.

Group your exercises based on the challenge they help you overcome. This gives you freedom to select any exercise from a particular group, focus on the specific problem you want to work on and have fun in the process. 

Legato Guitar Practice Tip 4: Alternate Between Playing The Exercise Using Legato And Picking Every Single Note.

Play your exercise one time using legato (pick as few notes as possible) followed by playing the exercise once while picking every note (no legato).

This helps you in 2 ways:

  1. You get to hear how clear the notes of the exercise sound at full power (when every note is picked). Your intention must be to make your hammer ons and pull offs as articulate as your picked notes (even though this is not physically possible). This intention helps you refine the power of your legato playing.

I call this style of legato practice: Legato Accuracy Confirmation TM

  1. You can practice the exercise many more times by alternating legato and picked notes than you can with legato only. Your fretting hand gets a bit of a break between legato and picked notes. This helps you play longer without becoming tired. 

Legato Guitar Practice Tip 5: Practice Trills With Pairs Of Fingers That Are Least Independent Of Each Other

Finger strength gadgets do not help your finger strength for legato. Trills (rapid alternation of hammer ons and pull offs) do. Trills also help you control excess tension in your fingers and make your fingers more independent of each other.

Set aside 5-10 minutes per day to practice trills with pairs of fingers you want to make more independent.

Now that you understand how to practice legato, your next step to becoming an awesome guitarist is to master finger independence, make everything you play feel easy and stop struggling to play what you want on guitar. Download this free eGuide to master fretting hand finger independence, stop feeling frustrated and start playing guitar the way you've always wanted.

Tom HessAbout Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher, music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He teaches rock guitar lessons online to students from all over the world and conducts instructional live guitar training events attended by musicians from over 50 countries.

Learn how to reach your musical goals with the best online guitar lessons for rock and metal styles.

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