Electric Guitar Playing Techniques

October 5, 2022
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Guitar Playing Techniques Using Legato/ Staccato & Palm Muting

What is Legato

An Italian term for “Tied Together,” Legato is a technique where the musical notes are played to resonate together and have no break in silence, going from one note to the other as a form of musical articulation.

On Guitar, this is done using the left hand to play the notes, generally picking the first note with your right hand and following up using hammer-ons and pull-offs instead of picking each note individually.

What is Staccatissimo?

Another Italian term for “Detached,” Staccato is done by playing notes with separation and clarity, causing the notes to be separated from one another by silence.

Legato & Staccato On Written Music

Legato is identified with a curved line above or below the notes called a slur. (See image)

guitar playing techniques_Image of Legato on written music

Legato on Written Music -Imaged courtesy of sonormusicschool.com

Staccato differs from Legato in that Staccato notes are short in that there are pauses between each note; these quick, explosive notes are also a form of articulation.

To identify Staccato in music, composers write dots above or below the notes. (See image)

guitar playing techniques_Image of Staccato on written music

Image of Staccato on Written Music – Image courtesy of wikipedia.org

Playing Legato

Guitar virtuosos can perform complete and complex passages without the right hand, using only hammer-ons and pull-offs.

Legato & Finger Tapping

Listening to Legato and Two-hand Finger Tapping is sometimes quite similar, making the two techniques harder to distinguish by ear. Still, generally, Legato adds a more fluid, smooth sound to a passage.

Finger Tapping was made popular by Eddie Van Halen and is a process where you use your picking hand to aid in hammer-ons and pull-offs in the same way you would use your fretting hand, producing Legato passages that cannot be done with conventional playing.

There are many great videos on using Legato but let us look at a Master class by Steve Vai.

Steve Vai On Legato

Playing Staccato

The learning curve for this method is challenging. Learning how to play notes from different frets without holding the string for too long will be helpful.

The notes are to be played separately and distinct and can be done with individual picking and chords.

The left hand may remain on the strings throughout the technique, improving accuracy and producing crisp tones.

Learning to master this method is a process because of the attention to detail required; it sometimes requires minimal adjustments to get your technique down.

Do not be too hard on yourself if you spend a lot of time on this approach, for the Guitar is an ongoing challenge at every level of playing.

John Petrucci on paying attention to details like muting strings with your fingers to resonate only the notes you want to hear and implementing them into your technique…

“These little minut things you cannot see happening, but they become part of your guitar-playing DNA.”

Palm Muting

Palm muting is a guitar technique that is done by placing the side of your picking hand (not the palm) across the string being picked, generally on or close to the bridge, giving a damping effect and producing a muted or Staccato sound.

Used in many types of music but widely in…

  • Heavy Metal
  • Thrash or Death Metal

And is a basis for many other techniques, especially those specific to electric guitars, such as Sweep picking or Alternate picking.

Palm muting makes the notes sound shorter and more defined; applying pressure changes the sound of picking passages.

With light pressure and a palm closer or resting on the bridge, you get a soft muting sound, producing more apparent notes, whereas…

Heavier pressure or moving your hand further from the bridge results in a heavier muting and enhanced Staccato effect.

Such artists as Al Di Meola have effectively used this in their playing.

To identify the Palm muting technique and Staccato in written music. (See image)

guitar playing techniques_Image of Palm Muting and staccato technique

Image of what palm muted downbeat downstrokes and staccato upbeat upstrokes are represented in Sheet Music- Image courtesy of wikipedia.org. Released in Public Domain

A Video On Legato/ Staccato & Palm Muting

Valuable Techniques

For a Guitarist to spend time perfecting these techniques may seem like quite an endeavour. Still, these techniques are essential since no musician can vary the volume of their notes or express their sound without them, especially when playing such a touch-sensitive instrument.

Moreover, Legato/ Staccato & Palm muting allows you to get out of your comfort zone and try something new.

A solid rule of thumb while playing a tune with Legato /Staccato & Palm muting is not to get discouraged and “Go with the flow.”

Steve Vai recommends when trying to learn something new…

“If you get frustrated, stop and take a breath, relax. Go back and break it down, and you will eventually be able to play it effortlessly and sound great.”

Final Thoughts

It is widely known that a Guitarist’s sound comes first and foremost from the hands, which is how the process develops.

Many experienced guitarists use these methods for Exploration, Expression and Sonic Articulation. It is not something a complete newbie can take up quickly; however, learning Legato/Staccato & Palm muting is helpful whether you play Arpeggios, Chords, or Lead Guitar in a band or as a Solo Artist.

Did You Like This Article?

Guest Post was written and submitted by Max Alan.

Max Alan is an avid musician and writes on many musical topics for several different sites, and we appreciate his contribution to our community.

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