How to develop fast legato

I’ve been working a lot on my picking speed, all cool but how do I develop fast legato with my left hand? How do I approach practicing it and how much should I practice slurring?

Check these out. It should get you what you need at least on the mechanical aspect. Not sure if you’re asking for a routine but I can’t comment on that.

In my experience, while of course it’s important to practice slurs/legato itself, in terms of left-hand strength and dexterity I got a lot from playing or trying to play Bach on classical guitar (which I did for a few years). That and practising jazz voicings over standards - drop 2, drop 3 and drop 2 and 4 voicings on different string sets have been very useful in strengthening the left hand.

You could check out Tom Quayle’s legato teaching materials. I haven’t myself, but he’s a fantastic legato player so why not?

I write etudes, and by that I mean just a bunch of sequences and licks connected together.

I find it important to be able to do it well slow, with a metronome. Many guitar players struggle keeping time with mostly just the left hand. Rushing ahead or being unable to pull off or hammer on, on and off the beat, seems common, at least it was in the bands I recorded, and my own experience too.

So I do start slow and speed it up once I have control of it.

“Many guitar players struggle keeping time with mostly just the left hand. Rushing ahead or being unable to pull off or hammer on, on and off the beat, seems common, at least it was in the bands I recorded, and my own experience too.”

There’s a reason Brandon Acker calls this the most difficult piece he’s ever played.


I have, and they’re great. Both his legato techniques course and his workout course have transformed my legato playing. It took quite a while and a lot of concerted effort to learn his system and force my fingers to learn it, though.

His workout course has 4 videos of about 15-20 minutes you play along with him on and doing one or two of those a day or day per week is a great left hand exercise (and took me quite a while to even be able to play!)

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Haven’t seen this get specifically mentioned, but one thing to keep in mind is pull-off vs hammer-on sound. The player I always associated with scary legato is Allan Holdsworth, which I’m pretty sure used mostly hammer-ons.

I can feel Tom Gilroy’s neck twitching somewhere as I read this lol! He had some lengthy posts about this somewhere on here.

Holdsworth did have an all hammers technique but also he did pulloffs. Regarding timing concerns I can’t think of a better fretting exercise that doing all hammers though. I think doing the pulloffs can be harder since you have to plant fingers prior to playing them, which can cause sync issues.

I used to be pretty hardcore thinking pulloffs were a superior approach since I prefer that tone, but all hammers is definitely very cool. It’s a “different” technique. Different tool for a different result.

I think it’s the mixing of both that usually needs some attention. At least in my case.


Gotcha. That’s just “hard” since there can be various scenarios. In the classical context I learned it in, speed wasn’t really a big deal. Doing like Ritchie Kotzen or Rick Graham level speed (Rick also does all hammers. He just EVERYTHING lol) with true pulloffs and having to setup the lower notes first…I got nothing there lol!

Maybe if I conquer picking one of these years I’ll have a go at these type of legato concerns.

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Tom Quayles courses are great as mentioned earlier but Rick Grahams are fantastic too. He has a couple of legato specific legato packs with videos and tabs which helped me a lot. But both Rick and Tom also have a lot of free legato lessons on youtube so I’d recommend starting there.

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+1 for Rick’s Legato pack. It’s really cheap too I think I paid like $20 for it. I should work on that again…

I’m sure TQ’s is great too, but since I own Rick’s I can endorse it.

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Yeah the “all hammers” narrative is overblown when it comes to Allan’s playing.

I’d like to write up a detailed answer to this post, but I’ll be pretty busy for the next few days. I’ll try to write something up over the weekend.

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He’s really good. Great “home studio” sound for a classical too.

This reminds me why as of late I struggle finding a justification for keeping my classical chops up. To work up something like this, you’ve got to be really good. From a musical standpoint though…someone with about 6 months of piano lessons could play that lol! I know that’s not the entire point and I do love the timbre of classical AND it’s very fun/rewarding to play. But if you just take the music that’s possible on classical guitar at face value, it’s often very lacking in quality.

Just because we can play polyphonic music on it doesn’t mean it’s always super high quality polyphonic music. Often things transcribed from other instruments on on classical have to get way stripped down. Then of course, there’s the Barrios catalog which is of excellent quality. Written by a guitar master, for the guitar. Great form/composition, great voice leading, complex harmonies and elegant bass lines. Damned hard to play though.

John Williams pondered if Segovia’s act of pushing a standardized solo repertoire did more harm than good. So much would change if the default was like a guitar duo or trio. Then we could play anything on classical lol! As long as we had some buddies…


I can second Tom Quayle. This is an excellent video to check out and probably some of the most clear and concise instruction I have found on legato technique. Highly recommended.


Those posts and videos from Tom Gilroy are kinda blowing my mind. I started watching them because the subject is interesting to me but to be honest I had the first couple of them on while I was cooking. At a certain point, I had to stop and open the video on my computer and focus up and that was where the (1,2,4 vs. 1,3,4) concepts got into more detail. I wasn’t watching to learn as much as I simple enjoy the science behind what we all do here. It’s the same with the picking lessons. Even if I don’t need this or that particular lesson, I still like the discussions.

I have a pretty fast left hand but I’ve always had to play things differently because I’m missing a 1/2" off the tip of my middle finger. I can’t bend up with it (but I can bend down) and I can’t really stretch with it, so unless it’s a 1-fret difference from my first finger, I always use my middle. On the higher strings, since my middle doesn’t have a tip, I don’t often know if I’m even fretting it. The nail curves over the where the tip would usually touch the string. Occasionally, the string will slip on the nail and then slip off the fretboard entirely. Unfortunately, the nail isn’t slick enough or the right “texture” to be a slide, which believe me, I’ve tried quite a lot. If it was… That would almost make it worth it. On the lower strings, since the fingers aren’t as curved, it’s not as difficult, and as I said, I can bend down without a problem. I’ve had teachers and players over the years ask me why all of my 3nps scale runs were always (1,3,4) instead of (1,2,4) but have never heard why I should be doing that. I don’t think anyone ever gave it much thought. Tom’s videos really gave me a ton of insight and I thank you for that.

I don’t exactly know what to do with this new information but at least it can explain some thing I might run into in the future. I’ve never worked on legato or left hand speed specifically, even as a disciple of Satch, but the only lines of his that I didn’t have the speed for was the first one in Devil’s Slide and a bit in The Bells Of Lal Pt 2. At least for the ones I studied closely.

I do feel like my left hand is faster now than it was back in my heyday, which I don’t understand at all. It might be because I play with a much, much lighter touch than I did then. It doesn’t have the stamina, but it feels easier.

Anyway, thanks Tom!!


Another +1 to Tom’s efficient digital cycles discussion. I came into it thinking “that’s stupid, legato is just something you kinda figure out, it’s just practice, your fingers will figure out what works for you,” and, well, I was dead wrong. :laughing:

I’m not sure I’m much faster today for the ways he helped me rethink some of this stuff… but I think I’m definitely smoother and more even at those speeds.

The other thing I’ll suggest, in part based on conversations with him about this stuff then colored by my own experience, is the more relaxed you can keep your hand and wrist, the less you’re “preloading” muscles in your hand and the less inertia to overcome, and in turn the faster and more fluid you’ll be.


Tom Quayle is awesome and I have a huge amount of respect for him. I’m pretty sure some of the things he pushes in that video might be controversial among elite legato players though. A big thing that jumped out at me is his advice to keep the thumb opposite the middle finger. I’m sure there are situations it could work, but I think it can also cause some unwanted tension/cramping in the hand.

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Tom Hess used to say that too… I tried, it hurt!


my thumb barely goes that far