killer arpeggio guitar licks
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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.
killer arpeggio guitar licks
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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.”
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!
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.
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.
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: email@example.com
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.
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.