Legato – no not a kind of pasta, Italian composer or some kind of giant plastic building blocks.
Nope. For the initiated in Italian musical vocabulary (and for those that need a little reminder), it is the act of playing smoothly and connected with very little, if any at all, space between each of the notes you play. Think how a violin might play something, with its nice bowing action, able to make all the notes connected together. Not. A. Gap. Bet-ween. Each. Note. But-a-nice-fluid-phrase-notes-connected-to-one-another….
We have it a little more challenging on the guitar, as a plucked instrument, to get that nice connected, legato feel in our playing. It is certainly, by no means, impossible however. Like most things on the guitar it just needs a little awareness of what you’re currently doing, how you could change that up and do it differently and then practicing it!
Prepare your left hand
One of the key elements of playing nice and smoothly is getting your fretboard hand (left hand if you’re right handed, right hand if you’re left handed) prepared and ready, loaded up and ready to fire*.
What does that mean?
That essentially means putting fingers down before you need them. And I don’t mean just immediately, a nano-second fretting a note prior to playing it. To get that lovely, smooth, connected feel we need to pre-load fingers behind fingers – first, second or third fingers (depending on what you need) down behind a fourth finger, for example, before you need them.
OK, it’s a bit difficult to explain this kind of thing via the written word sometimes,s o I have recorded a wee video snippet for you (how exciting!). In this little clip you’ll see me playing just a simple one octave descending C major scale – watch how I have prepared, or pre-loaded, my fingers well before I need them. My fingers also don’t come too far away from the fretboard either. Less distance to travel = less time to get them back to where they need to be = easier, smoother playing.
Get prepared, get slurring
Taking this approach is also going to make things WAY easier when you come to play slurs.
Same dealio. Get the fingers pre-loaded and ready. Don’t try to start a slur with the finger you’re sluring to up somewhere in the ether. Get it down on the fretboard and ready before you play the slur. It will create a much smoother sounding slur and it will likely produce a stronger sounding slur too as you have something that you can counter the string movement with as you pull off.
Here’s another little video of me demonstrating that for you:
See if you can find the opportunities in your music to “pre-load” the fingers
Admittedly we don’t always have the choice or the luxury of putting fingers down or leaving them down to be used again, but it’s probably a good idea to get into the habit of looking through your music and seeking out places where you can comfortably do that. It’s such a tiny little thing, a tiny little movement really, but it can make such a massive difference in how a piece of music sounds.
*To play smoothly there is also certainly an element of ensuring that the right and left hand are well co-ordinated with one another (but that’s a subject for another time).