Rusty Cooley offers up some exercises to perfect your legato technique

Hey, welcome back for another dose of guitar insanity. This month we are going to be to looking at some basic legato development in a one octave A Natural Minor scale. Am consists of A, B, C, D, E, F and G, resolving again to A. For those of you who might be new to the legato concept, think of a violinist playing a long string of notes without changing the bowing direction; for guitar it’s a fancy way of saying hammer-ons and pull-offs. By definition a hammer-on is when you have two or more notes on a string and you pick the first note and then hammer-on to the next note or notes just using the strength of you fingers to sound them, or “hammering” them “on.” A pull-off is kind of the opposite; you pick the highest of the two or more notes and, using a downward pulling or plucking motion, you “pull” your fingers “off” to sound the lower notes. Now, when I play these examples I only pick the first note of the ascending string and play 100% legato on the descending line— that means I don’t pick at all as I descend. As I descend I do what is called a hammeron from nowhere and use the strength of my finger to sound the first note of each descending string instead of picking, which gives it a purer legato sound. However, if you’re new to this it’s okay to pick the first note of each string. As a general rule, you only want to pick once per string no matter how many notes might be on that string.

Example 1 is the initial A Natural Minor scale position that we are going to be using for all of this month's examples. Take it slow and memorize it before attempting to play it fast. Also make sure you keep your thumb behind the neck; it shouldn’t be poking over the top. Also keep a slight bend in your wrist and keep each joint arched in each finger for maximum legato fluidity. One last thing: don’t let the palm of your hand touch the bottom of the neck either; it should just be finger tips against the string and the thumb on the back of the neck.

Example 2 starts you off with a very small bite to get you going. Memorize it and start your chops building.

Example 3 builds a little more, continuing along the same process while getting a little more challenging.

Example 4 and 5 build into longer lines. Again take it slow, memorize and shred away.

I highly recommend practicing each example five minutes a day until you feel like you have mastered it. These ideas will help you develop smooth connected legato lines that seamlessly flow together. You can also try these ideas in every position of the key and on multiple string groups.

Rusty Cooley
Rusty Cooley has been playing and teaching for over 20 years, and has recorded as a solo artist, with his band Outworld, and keyboardist Derek Sherinian. He has six instructional DVDs and a signature model 7-string guitar, the RC7 by Dean Guitars.
Visit Rusty online at

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