I’ve always been interested in legato playing, because its smooth tone. Perhaps because I play single-coils (not compressed like high-output humbuckers), when I try to pick every note, the pick attack just come through too strongly and the resulting sound has a jagged impression.
But it didn’t all make sense to me until the last few months, when I stumbled on this video by Marshall Harrison:
At about 3-minute mark he reveals that this approach relies on notes all hammered-on and no pull-offs.
Aha! A lightbulb moment there.
All hammer-on approach just makes so much sense, and here are the reasons:
- As Marshall says, the tone is more uniform. Pull-offs have a brighter edge that’s hard to control, while hammer-on results in a rounder, smoother tone.
- Hammer-ons can be executed with a single finger, while pull-offs require more than one. This is huge when trying to pull off a faster passage, because if you’re gonna do pull-off you have to leave fingers in position for that, while with all hammer-on, fingers that are “done” playing a note can move on to get ready for other notes.
- Better control over dynamics. Once again, pull-offs are hard to control — it’s so easy to play it loud. Hammer-ons, once practiced, are like piano playing. You can begin to control how hard you strike the string.
So I’ve been working on replacing pull-offs with hammer-ons. It’s a slow process but it’s a major step forward for me, as I struggled with legato playing for years. I do have some piano background, so being able to approach guitar with the same motion and feel comes so much easier. The only place where pull-offs are allowed are fast trills.
I highly recommend it, if you’re drawn to that smooth sound of legato playing. It’s easy, too.
(I realize that this post really calls for a clip or a video demonstrating the difference — perhaps I’ll record them and add later.)