Legato Licks Using Open Strings – Fretting Hand Guitar Technique Tips
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You’re about to learn how to improve your fretting hand guitar technique, using legato licks using open strings.
What’s so special about open-string licks for guitar?
The pull off motions on open-string licks for guitar are bigger than the pull offs you do in regular scale sequences (that go across strings). This temporarily makes your playing harder, forces your guitar technique to improve and (after a bit of practice) makes your regular licks feel easier.
Playing legato licks using open strings also forces you to integrate hammer ons and pull offs the way playing guitar scales vertically (from the 6th string to the 1st string) does not.
Not to mention, playing open-string licks for guitar also challenges your ear as you try to keep the open string in tune during the pull offs from fretted notes.
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All of these practically force your fretting hand guitar technique to improve quickly.
These guitar licks sound different from what most guitarists play in their guitar solos. So, when you use them – it becomes easier to create new lead guitar ideas that help you have more fun.
So, it’s worth your time to learn, practice and use these legato licks using open strings.
To begin, watch this video about playing legato licks on one string:
Want even more guitar technique ideas for improving your fretting hand legato speed?
Check out these advanced fretting hand guitar technique tips:
Fretting Hand Guitar Technique Tip #1: Find The Proper Fretting Hand Thumb Position
The fretting hand thumb position is quite possibly the most misunderstood element of fretting hand guitar technique. Wrong thumb position is a big reason why guitarists struggle with their guitar technique (and have a hard time playing open-string licks for guitar).
There are 2 things guitarists often do wrong when it comes to this element of their guitar technique when playing legato licks on one string:
1. Some ignore the thumb position entirely and just “do what feels natural”. (This is quite possibly the worst thing you can do for your guitar technique.)
It leaves your fretting hand at the mercy of your level of natural talent.) Which – for most people – means crippling bad habits and inability to play legato licks using open strings (or any advanced guitar licks for that matter).
2. Others try to follow some rigid “rule” about where to ‘always’ position the thumb. Like: for example: ‘always’ putting the thumb behind the middle finger of the fretting hand. This is also wrong... because this position isn’t ‘always’ ideal for ‘all’ guitar techniques. (And it certainly isn’t ideal for playing open-string licks for guitar that I showed you in the video above.
How ‘do’ you find the proper fretting hand thumb position for your guitar technique?
Simple: put your fretting hand fingers on the frets you’re about to play, but have the fretting hand thumb dangling in the air as you do it.
The goal is to get the fingers in position, exactly as they would be when playing legato licks on one string. Then, put your fretting hand thumb wherever it naturally lands to allow you to maintain the same finger position to play your guitar licks.
Question: “Tom Hess, what about bending and vibrato? Where should I position my fretting hand’s thumb when playing those 2 guitar techniques?
Answer: When doing string bends and vibrato, place the thumb over the top of the guitar neck. The index finger should act as the pivot point for you hand to rotate and bend strings.
Watch this video to see a more in-depth demonstration of the fretting hand thumb position. Use the insights within to help you master legato licks on one string.
Fretting Hand Guitar Technique Tip #2: Mute String Noise With Your Fretting Hand’s Index Finger
One of the secrets to playing legato licks on one string cleanly is knowing how to mute open string noise in your guitar technique.
And believe it or not – your fretting hand’s index finger plays a huge role in that.
How do you mute string noise with the fretting hand’s index finger when playing legato licks using open strings?
Answer: rest it across the higher (in pitch) strings as you play your legato licks on one string. For example: if you are playing open-string licks for guitar on the G string – the index finger (on your fretting hand) will be muting the B and high E strings.
This guitar technique (in combination with thumb muting for muting the thicker strings) is key to keeping your playing clean.
Also note: this means you cannot fret notes with the ‘tip’ of the index finger if you want to use that finger to mute string noise. Use the ‘side’ of the index fingertip to fret notes, so you can use the full length of the rest of the finger for muting.
Question: “Tom Hess, what about muting the lower strings with the palm of the picking hand? Can I use that guitar technique in place of thumb muting when playing legato licks on one string?”
Answer: You can of course do what you want, but to me – there is nothing better than thumb muting (especially when playing legato licks using open strings). Why? Because the thumb mutes much more securely than the palm... and more importantly; it puts the pick at rest inside the trench of the strings.
This last point not only makes it possible to keep your guitar technique free of string noise when playing open-string licks for guitar...
... it also makes it easy to switch between legato licks using open strings and regular guitar licks that require picking.
Bonus tip: use distortion when practicing legato licks using open strings. Not only will this make guitar technique practice more fun... it also will make it easier to spot and fix sloppy guitar technique (excess string noise) in your playing.
Question: “But Tom Hess, what about practicing open-string licks for guitar using a clean tone? Isn’t this good for improving the articulation of pull offs in my guitar technique?”
Answer: Yes, playing with a clean tone does help with articulation of your guitar technique. However, it is not ‘as’ good the next fretting hand guitar technique tip, which is:
Fretting Hand Guitar Technique Tip #3: Spend Some Time Practicing Unplugged When Playing Legato Licks Using Open Strings
Yes, just like it sounds, practice legato licks on one string with the amp off.
This is a fantastic way to develop fretting hand strength and it helps you increase your guitar technique endurance (and guitar speed).
Here is how:
Unplugged playing makes your legato guitar technique feel (temporarily) much harder for your fretting hand.
But conversely, when you go back to playing legato licks on one string using distortion, your guitar technique feels way easier. This means: you can play your guitar licks for longer before you become tired...
And it also means you can play legato licks on one string at a higher tempo than you could before.
Note: pay attention to the intonation of the open string during pull offs (when you practice legato guitar licks unplugged). If you’re not careful, you can bend the string you are doing pull offs on (making it go sharp). This makes the lick sound out of tune.
To avoid this, do the pull of motion by curling your fretting hand finger down towards your palm (rather than up or out and away from the fretboard).
This not only makes your fretting hand legato guitar technique faster and more efficient – it makes your open-string licks for guitar sound better and more pro.
For more tips on how to play legato guitar licks, check out this guitar technique video:
Fretting Hand Guitar Technique Tip #4: Control Excess Tension In Your Body As You Play Legato Licks Using Open Strings
No matter if you are playing legato licks using open strings or guitar licks that span all 6 strings, you’d better control excess tension in your body.
The more tension you play with – the harder it is to improve your guitar technique and build guitar speed. And this goes double for guitar legato licks on one string, where excess muscle tension can cause your fretting hand to cramp up.
Here are some ways to relax excess muscle tension from your fretting hand guitar technique (and the rest of your body).
1. Use a tension audit throughout your body as you play legato licks using one strings.
The parts of your body that are most likely to become tense as you play guitar licks are: your jaw, your shoulders, your tongue, your triceps and biceps, your stomach, thighs, calves and feet.
What you do to relax them is: start repeating one of your open-string licks for guitar over and over and as you do, relax one of the above body parts at a time. For example, focus only on your jaw for 3-5 repetitions of the exercise. Relax it as best as you can.
Then, rotate your focus to pay attention to only your stomach muscles as you play your legato licks on one string. Make sure you keep breathing normally and don't tighten your stomach (by holding your) and create tension in your fretting hand.
Keep going down the list until you are able to keep your entire body relaxed. By that point, your fretting hand guitar technique will have greatly improved.
Here is a video demonstration of this process in action:
Question: But Tom Hess, I try this and still can’t relax. Neither my fretting hand guitar technique, nor the rest of my body. What should I do if I want to play these legato licks using open strings?”
Answer: It’s a sign that you are practicing too fast for your brain to control your body. Slow down to the tempo where you ‘can’ relax properly and work up from there.
2. (Temporarily) Tense up even more the parts of your body you want to relax. Strangely enough, this will make them relax ‘more’ than they were at the start when you relax the extra tension.
3. Exhale right before you are about to play fast legato licks on one string (or any fast guitar technique). This will reduce your anxiety and reduce any excess tension in your guitar technique by a wide margin.
Fretting Hand Guitar Technique Tip #5: Alternate Picking With Legato To Build Endurance
No matter how good of a job you do keep the fretting hand (and the rest of your body) relaxed, your fretting hand will eventually become fatigued.
When this happens, you can still keep playing open-string licks for guitar... but give your fretting hand a break and alternate pick the notes for a few seconds instead of using legato.
After your fretting hand recovers, you can go back to playing your legato licks on one string using hammer ons and pull offs.
Now you know how to improve your fretting hand guitar technique with open-string licks for guitar. The next step is to transform the rest of your guitar playing (everything from your guitar technique to music knowledge, creativity, lead guitar soloing and more).
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