Holdsworthian Legato

I usually use alternate picking for most of my playing. That’s great and I like it but it’s definitely beneficial (and probably necessary) for a musician to have control over different articulations. Since I usually pick notes, I surely lack prowess in legato playing.

Sure, I can do some hammer-on & pull-off type legato no problem. Normally, I would be content with this technique and I would just try to include more of these passages in my daily playing. No need to learn anything new. However, now that I have this Medium Attempt thing, I can go wild and try to learn something new. So, if I intend to learn legato, I want to learn the real deal. And I guess the most legitimate legato on guitar is the legato most often associated with Allan Holdsworth. That is, hammer-ons only (and slides). Meaning, no pull-offs.

Great! Sounds uncomplicated. Well, it is…but it wasn’t.

Learning journey

So I figured that there are three main requirements: sufficient finger strength, ability to change strings, and hammering notes going backwards.

I started with exercise to develop some finger strength. Pretty much straightforward.

Soon I realized that another two requirements include finger strength. So I could take on any other problem and it would improve my strength anyway. I chose to tackle string changing problem. I practiced every possible finger pair on two adjacent strings. It went ok. I had some problems but that’s normal.

Then I picked the last problem. Oh my, I was so stupid there. At first, I chose exercises that included too many fingers. Then I went full retard mode and added even more fingers. Then I observed myself getting worse and worse. Frustration followed soon after that. What’s more, every single exercise I practiced for this legato sound really boring and headache inducing. I started to doubt whether this legato is possible only because the use of effects like reverb and compressor. I also took notice that both Allan Holsworth and Brett Garsed use pick quite often when playing legato while I pursued pure hammer-on only goal. All this exasperation led me to take a break.

During the break I cooled off a bit and took a more methodical approach. My new plan was to become proficient in one pair of fingers before taking on another. I also didn’t care much about how smooth transition between notes sound. Instead, I would focus on making sure that notes have similar level of loudness. Luckily, this approach worked. I was able to get comfortable with every possible finger pair in only few days. Well, except that I lack stamina in my ring-pinky pair. Despite this, I surely can produce desirable notes for a short period of time using these two lazy fingers.

That’s when my planned two weeks have ended. Honestly, I’m really happy about this attempt. Once I got good enough with every individual pair of fingers, I felt like I can do this legato. Certainly, it’s not perfect yet. But it’s more than good enough for me. I don’t plan to work on legato technique anymore. I’ll just include it into my daily playing from now on and polish some recurring mistakes if there’ll be any.

Conclusion

Today I recorded an overly simple improvisation just to appreciate my progress and to see how it all feels when applied to a musical context. I played strictly in C major and I had few simple chords in my mind when playing. I don’t remember everything I thought but I certainly implied C chord, I accented few D and F notes which would give Dm chord, and I also tried to imply a perfect cadence (perhaps even two). Please note that I’m not an improviser, I don’t like it, and I suck at it.

All notes played here were hammer-ons and few slides. No picking, no pull-off. I’m really proud of that. No effects (except distortion) were used. I’m also proud of that. And I didn’t cheat. Meaning, I chose to play things that are difficult for me. Examples: high e string, ring-pinky trill, not avoiding descending notes, playing on few different strings. Guess what, I’m proud of that.

Be noted, that I recorded sound from environment which includes some percussive noise that was produced when hitting strings into frets. When I tried to play louder, it sounded much more legato. However, I position my camera in a spot where it catches all these tiny noises. I’m not going to do anything about that because it would require me to buy some better equipment or to do something fancy. No way.