Improving Your Lead Guitar Phrasing—Part III Legato Guitar Phrasing Approaches

the guide to playing endless
killer arpeggio guitar licks
endless killer arpeggio guitar licks

By submitting your info, you agree to send it to Tom Hess Music Corporation who will process and use it according to their privacy policy.

Welcome back to part 3 of my series on improving your lead guitar phrasing. In parts 1 and 2 we explored what guitar phrasing is and why it is important for you to develop on your path to fully expressing yourself on the instrument. We last looked at the famous “Panama” solo by Eddie Van Halen as a prime example of all the great guitar phrasing concepts we’ve been discussing.

Now it’s time to stop talking and start working with some real musical examples. In this 3rd article we are going to focus on legato guitar phrasing. Before getting to the examples I want to be clear about exactly what legato means to us in the context of lead guitar phrasing. Legato means:  “In a smooth, flowing manner, without breaks between notes.”  As a rock guitar soloist utilizing hammer-ons, pull-offs, and sometimes tapping while picking very few notes usually creates this smooth legato sound. So, in essence, what we are talking about here is phrasing our solos and improvisations with mainly hammer-ons and pull-offs and picking as little as is necessary. Legato guitar phrasing sounds very different from staccato phrasing that has a sharper attack and usually involves picking the majority of notes. Neither technique is necessarily better than the other; they are simply different. Think of legato, and all techniques, as tools to explore and use in your own unique way. As mentioned in previous articles, self-expression is really the goal of developing your guitar phrasing skills. I think that you’ll find that the legato technique can be very expressive. So, let’s explore a few specific ways you can apply legato sounds to various scales, modes, and arpeggios.

the guide to playing endless
killer arpeggio guitar licks
endless killer arpeggio guitar licks

By submitting your info, you agree to send it to Tom Hess Music Corporation who will process and use it according to their privacy policy.

We’ll start with our old friend the minor pentatonic scale. This example uses the A minor pentatonic at the 5th fret. This type of phrase is fairly common and can be played very fast and fluid. It’s well worth your while to work on legato guitar phrasing sequences like this through all 5 pentatonic patterns. Experiment with picking as little as possible.

Example 1:  

Guitar Phrasing Improving Your Phrasing

Improvement On Guitar

Here is a more adventurous phrase using a different position of the A minor pentatonic scale with the flatted 5th thrown in for a little extra legato guitar phrasing “grease.”

Example 2:

Phrasing on guitarguitar phrasing example

example of guitar phrasingguitar lick

Many great rock players such as Joe Satriani, Randy Rhoads and Steve Vai have used modal sounds to create some great liquid legato guitar phrasing. This example uses a 3 note per string fingering from the E Aeolian mode to create a long run similar to what John Petrucci of Dream Theater might play. When ascending pick only when changing to a new string. See if you can play the last descending 7 notes only picking the first note. These kinds of phrases will get your pinky in shape in a hurry!

Example 3:

Guitar PhrasingRock Guitar Phrasing

Guitar Lick ExampleExample For Guitar Phrasing

This example is a long descending phrase in which only the first note is picked! Everything else is articulated with the fret hand. Runs like this require great fret hand accuracy and strength to play cleanly. Pay attention also to muting unwanted string noise. You might also experiment with legato guitar ideas like this on your front (neck) pick-up for an even warmer sound. This is also in E minor.

Example 4:

Rock guitar phrasingExample Phrasing On Guitar

Improving Your PhrasingGuitar Example

In addition to scales and modes we can also play arpeggios with legato guitar phrasing. Oftentimes arpeggios are played one note after the other without any deviation in the order of notes. This can happen a lot when sweep picking arpeggios because many times the arpeggios are simply played from top to bottom or vice versa. Here is an example of how you might sequence an A minor 7th arpeggio using legato guitar phrasing for a less predictable sound.

Example 5:

Improve Guitar PhrasingImroving Phrasing On Guitar Example

We’ll wrap up this brief look at legato guitar phrasing with an example from the first 10 bars of my solo on “Storming the Castle”, which is the title track from my latest album Storming the Castle. To download a free mp3 of the full track plus a bonus mp3 of the backing track for you to jam on send me an email here:

Trending Articles:
Guitar Playing PictureMaster Vibrato Guitar Technique
Learn how to enhance your lead guitar playing by using vibrato.

Guitar Player Playing InstrumentHow To Improve Guitar Phrasing
Find out how to play better solos
using  great guitar phrasing.

Image Of Guitarist Playing GuitarHow To Play Cool Guitar Phrases
Use these 5 steps to create cool
guitar phrasing ideas now.

Bars 1-3: The solo starts out with a bang with a fast sextuplet guitar phrasing that combines tapping and fret hand hammer-ons and pull-offs. For that exotic sound I’m using the E Phrygian Dominant scale. As always practice slowly and work up to speed at your own pace. Be sure to mute the open strings to keep this guitar phrasing clean sounding.

Bars 4-5: After the tapping phrase the fret hand shifts immediately up the neck to play the fast descending legato guitar phrasing before finally landing on the E note on the 3rd string with lots of vibrato! Notice the tension that builds at the start of the solo and the resolution that occurs at the end of this guitar phrasing lick. Tension and release is a big key to making your legato guitar phrasing sound interesting. I’m only picking when changing strings. Sometimes when I play this live I actually don’t pick anything and let the fret hand do all the work.

Bars 6-10: Notice the slithery legato guitar phrasing in bars 6 and 7. These are simple to play but require the proper accents to make the notes pop out a bit more. In bar 8 I use ascending trills that lead to a descending E major arpeggio in bar 9. Again, take note of how tension and release is used here. Finally in bar 10 I keep the legato guitar phrasing sound going with slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs, and a tapped harmonic to cap things off.

Phrasing exampleGuitar Legato Phrasing

Phrasing on guitar exampleImprove guitar phrasing with legato

exampleGuitar legato example

phrasing exampleguitar lick

To hear audio examples of many of the guitar phrasing ideas in this article as well as learning much more about what you can do with legato phrasing check out my downloadable 'Killer Rock Lead Guitar Legato Guitar Phrasing Course" now.

Learn how to develop great lead guitar phrasing for rock and metal with an online electric guitar tutor.


© 2002-2023 Tom Hess Music Corporation