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Technique Essentials:Modern Legato (with Hybrid Picking) Technique

Part 1
Welcome to this tutorial on my approach to legato (with hybrid picking). Firstly let me thank
you for your support and for purchasing this video. I hope you enjoy it and it helps you in
some way with your playing. This extensive video tutorial is be split into two parts this
being part one. Part one deals with the basics of the technique, working with different subdivisions and note groupings, time feel, scalar playing, utilising arpeggios and
incorporating a hybrid picking approach for the right hand, providing you with a series of
lines to practice and help you develop your own ideas. Part two will expand on these basic
techniques using chromaticism, wide stretches, playing over changes, string skipping,
palm muted techniques and developing improvisational ability with legato. Each lesson will
be accompanied by a full practice session (available April 2012) that will give you a full
practice regime to develop your technique as well as your understanding. With that said,
lets begin!
I've always found alternate and economy picking to be my weakest areas of technique as
a guitar player. I'd be the first to admit that much of the technique I use these days has
come about as a direct result of frustration due to my lack of picking ability and the
inevitable search for other ways to perform the music I hear in my head.
Two techniques that came far more naturally to me were Legato and Hybrid picking. Both
favour a very relaxed right hand with very little movement meaning that I could pull of
complex and quick lines without affecting my time feel and dynamics. Through practicing
these techniques and developing them to suit my style I've come up with a fairly unique
approach to articulating my lines. In this tutorial I'd like to take you through my thought
process and the techniques I use, applying them to different musical situations as we go.
There are notated examples throughout with accompanying backing tracks for you to try
your own ideas and approaches on. I recommend that, rather then learn the lines in this
tutorial note for note, you should take the concepts and fragments of ideas, applying them
to your own playing as best you can, trying to make each line your own.
One of the first things I discovered when I began to really work at my legato was that my
timing was very poor. I could certainly perform hammer ons and pull offs more quickly than
I could pick but I couldn't play lines of 8th or 16th notes with a solid time feel, placing
accents where I wanted them to be. I seemed to be producing a triplet sound regardless of
which subdivision I actually wanted to play. For me, legato players seemed to fall into two
categories: 1 Those who use legato technique to play fast and fluid lines that seem to cross over
the time. Many different, subtle subdivisions are used in the same line as notes are
crammed into each beat more as a textural device than playing a specific
subdivision of the bar. Speed is more the issue than time feel and lines tend to be
very scalar/pattern based in nature. John Petrucci and Joe Satriani style legato
seemed to come from this catagory for me.
2 Those who play more solid, 'in time' legato, using specific subdivisions of the beat
with great authority and are fully in control of note groupings and accents within the
technique. Lines tend to be more sophisticated and arpeggio/scale based with
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chromatic passing tones and stick more solidly to 8th note and 16th note
subdivisions. This approach has the authority of picked lines but with the inherently
smoother sounds given by hammer ons and pull offs. Players such as Allan
Holdsworth and Brett Garsed are proponents of this school of playing.
Both approaches are very valid ways to approach the technique but it was always the
second method that appealed to me the most. As Allan Holdsworth is known to say, the
technique offers a more horn-like sound and smoothness than picking but the same level
of rhythmic control.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the problems I faced when I started to work on this style of
playing was caused by the way I was visualizing my scales. I saw everything using the 3
note per string (3nps) system. Any system that groups scales in fingering patterns such as
this will lend itself best to being played in the rhythmic subdivision that matches the
number of notes per string. In other words if you play 3nps youll usually create a triplet
feel where the rhythmic stress or accent is on the first note of each three note grouping.
This effect becomes more evident the faster you play as the control required to place
accents where you want them becomes less conscious and more sub-conscious. The
problem is further compounded by the likelihood that the first note on each new string is
likely to be performed with the pick, giving a harder attack and re-enforcing this triplet feel.
If you want a 4 note grouping such as 8th or 16th notes it requires a great deal of control to
keep these in time and feel/perform the accents in the correct place. Unlike picking, a lot of
left hand control is required to get these accents feeling good. The same rings true when
trying to play pentatonic scales 2nps and perform triplets or groups of 3 using legato. Youll
quickly find that feeling and performing the correct groupings is tricky when the scale
shapes dont fit comfortably into the sub-divisions youre using.
The way I worked on getting control over my ability to phrase and feel 16th notes on 3nps
scales was two fold. Firstly I slowed everything down a great deal, giving my fingers and
brain a chance to be fully in control of what I was doing. This way I could really focus on
mapping out both aurally and physically what the 16th note groupings felt like. The second
element was to iron out any discrepancies in my right hand where I was placing accents in
the wrong place. This usually occurred when changing strings as the first note on each
string was performed using the pick, giving a much stronger attack than a hammer on or
pull off. Again I slowed everything right down and worked on reducing the pick attack to
become closer dynamically to my legato notes. This is where the hybrid picking came in as
I quickly found that using my middle finger on the right hand to pick the first note on each
new string gave me results much closer to a hammered note. The hybrid picking has since
expanded a great deal for other reasons but well get into that later in another tutorial.
Once I had these exercises under my fingers I stuck with them for around 6 months trying
not to speed anything up at all. I am firmly of the belief that if you practice slowly enough
for long enough, the muscles and brain learn the required motor skills in a sub-conscious
way and the technique becomes easy for you. At this point your creativity takes over and
the technique has become part of your repertoire. One thing I have found is that once the
technique is in place at this sub-conscious level it really does feel easy and the speed is
just a by product of that ease. One of the most important things Id like to stress in this
tutorial is to keep things slow and be patient your fingers will know when the technique is
ready and one day youll find yourself using it as naturally as you do with driving, riding a
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bike or cleaning your teeth! Patience and dedicated practice is the key to success. But
then you knew that already!
Another hugely important aspect of playing legato is to develop a feel for how 16th note
lines (and triplet based lines for that matter) feel under the fingers when were not just
running scales or exercises. I really like to emphasize to my students an exploratory
approach to the fretboard where you play slowly and let the left hand go where it wants
within the diatonic framework of the key that youre in. Try starting off playing constant 8th
notes at a very slow tempo attempting to keep a line going no matter what happens. This
is a challenge unto itself and requires a lot of concentration and prepared fretboard
knowledge. There is no substitute for simply learning your scales all over the fretboard and
no magic to this it simply takes time and must be done in order to improvise freely. Try to
think ahead as much as you can and visualize where your line is going a few notes in
advance. As you get better at this youll be able to target notes well in advance of actually
arriving at them. Think about changing direction as often as possible and moving around
the neck using legato slides and position changes. If you find yourself repeating the same
lines over and over, drop the tempo and try again making a conscious effort to avoid
repetition as much as possible. Within the video and accompanying lines PDF Ive
provided you with a series of 16th note lines if you struggle to make your own. Theyre
relatively simple and should be seen as a starting point from which you can create your
own with the eventual aim of being able to improvise in the same manner. Using a difficult
technique improvisationally is often much harder than using the same technique on lines
that are learnt or written. A LOT of practice is required to make a technique freely available
to you in an improvised context.
After much practice this will become a great deal easier and youll be able to find and
visualize lines much more quickly. Now try the same exercise with 16th notes. Once you
feel comfortable move on and tackle triplet groupings. You can take the same 16th note
lines and play them as triplets. Youll find the lines feel completely different to play
requiring a different level of control as far as the legato technique goes. Your accents must
fall in different places and you must feel the lines in triplet groupings, controlling those
groupings with the left hand as well as the right.
Finally for this lesson, let me provide you with some technical tips that will hopefully
improve both your technique and time feel.
1 - Keep the thumb of the left hand in the middle of the back of the neck and behind your
second finger. This will allow the best support for the fingers and the largest stretch for
your legato playing.
2 Try not to move the palm of the hand whilst performing hammer-ons and especially pull
offs. The hand can move up and down in relation to which string youre playing but the
palm should not move in any way that changes the angle of the fingers in relation to the
neck. This means that there is consistency for the left hand and the muscles in the hand
can work at their most efficient.
3 Relax! On a guitar that is well setup you do not need much left hand pressure or
tension to perform good legato technique. In fact the opposite is true. You must be relaxed
and use small movements in order to maintain speed and stamina. This is especially true
when using all 4 fingers on one string or when performing big stretches or complex lines.
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4 Use the pick lightly or the middle finger of the right hand. In order to prevent unwanted
accents during your lines you need a great deal of control over your pick dynamics. The
pick is, by its nature, a louder sound than a hammer or pull off. You need to reduce your
pick attack or use a softer picking surface such as the skin of your middle finger in order to
prevent these unwanted accents.
5 Use the very tips of your fingers. I like the analogy of a Ballet Dancer going on point. In
other words going onto the very tips of their toes. As a legato player you should get used
to using the very tips of your fingers below the nail as this provides a much more accurate
and controllable surface than the flat part of the finger tip. Its surface area is less and
therefore provides a greater degree of accuracy and tone than any other part of the fingertip surface.
Good luck with your legato endeavors. I wish you all the best developing your technique
and look forward to hearing the results and look forward to seeing you in part 2!
All the best,

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