On Practice: Legato!
By Daniel Roest

This Mini-Lesson is devoted to one of the most important qualities in your playing - as much as tone and rhythm: legato. It means "connected," and its better known opposite is staccato. Unless otherwise marked, the only way to play is legato. Think about it - you have four quarter notes in a row: each of those notes occupies an entire beat - the space from one the next.

Easy to say - not so easy to do. The object is to keep the string vibrating for the entire duration of the note. If your right hand touch is the least bit sluggish, you're stopping the string for the time it takes you to get the next note out. A model of how it should be is a bell being struck repeatedly with a hammer - the bell keeps ringing, the hammer strikes and bounces off, and the hammer doesn't waste any time resting against the bell. Your right hand finger has to approach the string with enough velocity, like the hammer and bell, to get through the stroke, impart new energy to the vibrating string, and approach the ideal of a continually vibrating string.

Other instruments have it easier - the violin bow moves constantly through a scale, the flute player blows continually while shifting pitches - but guitarists can achieve legato, too. Start with the aim of simply repeating tones on an open string legato. Keep the hammer and bell model in mind. Once you can put out legato quarter notes in perfect rhythm, you're ready to work on the left hand.

The left hand needs to behave as in ligados, a similar word meaning ascending or descending slurs: place a finger on the next note before removing the previous finger. And when you lift or place a left hand finger, do it crisply, quickly, and not the least bit sluggishly. Your right hand can be perfect, but if your left hand finger touches a string without holding it firmly against the fret, the string is dying.

If you have one, ask your teacher for help getting legato happening in your scales and melodies. Increasing legato in your playing will transform your sound and bring the music to life.

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