3 Tips To Write LEGATO Lines Like SATRIANI On Your Guitar

How To Write Long, Satriani-Esque Legato Lines

Tommaso Zillio

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legato lines guitar

It’s not a mystery that I’m a fan of long legato lines a la Joe Satriani. I’ve always admired his ability to wail up and down a scale and make it sound good and musical.

I guess now is a good moment to mention that what I just said is controversial.

In this modern world, you can’t say anything without a bunch of people putting up a stink because they don’t agree with you…

I mean, lately every time I say the guitar equivalent of “the sky is blue”, I get people answering:

  • “not true! If there are clouds the sky is gray”,
  • “But at dawn and sunset the sky is red”,
  • “But in some specific conditions the sky is more green than blue”,
  • “I live close to an industrial complex and the sky is yellow”… (Dude! Run away!)

Why is it controversial? Because for some people, long legato lines on an electric guitar are just “mindless shredding”.

… and it’s true that one can do too much legato, or play legato lines out-of-context, or not play them musically, etc etc etc…

… but they are also great fun.

And the most important point: I like them.

So I did a video on how to play long legato lines, that shows a few tasty and shreddy ways to blaze through scales.

Take from it what you like, make it part of your style… and leave the rest.

Here we go:


P.S – If you are having trouble with connecting scale shapes all over the fretboard, or with understanding modes – what they are, how to play them and how to move between them, you should check out my course Master of the Modes.

Much of the content covered in this article and video will be easier to understand and implement with a good understanding of the modes, and this course will help you with that.

Video Transcription

Hello, internet, so nice to see you! I got a great question in my comments and I want to answer this for you.

Please, can you do a video on how to create longer legato lines?

First of all, I’m gonna give you a cheeky answer. To make a long legato line, you need to make two short legato lines and put them together, which I know I mean, how it sounds, but that’s pretty much how it works.

But then, here’s the thing, let’s go on the practical stuff. Okay, how do we get long legato lines?

The first thing is to start seeing your scales – and again, I’m assuming you want to do legato through scales right now, but you start seeing your scales using the quote unquote: right pattern. Okay? There are several ways to see that scales on the guitar.

Okay, there is the CAGED system, the 3-note-per-string system, the 33131 system or something like that, and all these kinds of things.

I love the 3-note-per-string system. And one of the reason I love that is because it makes it way easier to make long legato lines. Okay, so far, so good? So, the first thing I would recommend is you to get familiar with those patterns.

Okay, let’s say for instance, you want to play a long legato line in C major. The first thing you should need to be able to do, essentially – and again, slow, don’t even go fast – is to be able to play:

To play this scale, in legato and on time. Okay, now I know this is not flashy, immediately, okay, but honestly, the flashy stuff comes when you can do the good stuff first.

There are seven of those patterns. So you don’t have to remember them by heart, as you will see in a moment, but it’s a good idea to run them so that you get them under your fingers. And again, you don’t have to have them fast, but run them so that your fingers know where to go.

Then, once you’ve seen those, the three-note-per-string system combine one after the other in a very interesting way. Essentially, you want to organize your scale, playing six notes on one of those patterns.

And then shift, use the the last note to shift on to the next pattern. Okay, these work out to be something like this. Let’s say I’m in G major, Okay, in G major we’ll have this scale, if I stay in position.

Okay, which sounds good, but, so what I’m gonna do is this, I’m gonna play, I’m actually gonna play this from string six. This is on the sixth string, 3, 5, 7 and 3, 5, 7. Then 4, 5, 7 and 4, 5, 7. Okay?

Nothing really hard here. Now I’m gonna play the same pattern, one octave higher, which means I’m gonna start two strings down and two frets up.

Okay, going then in the next pattern of the 3-note-per-string scales if you know them, but otherwise you just think on the fourth string: 5, 7, 9, then 5, 7, 9. Then on string two it’s: 7, 8, 10, and on string one it’s 7, 8, 10.

So essentially, what I’m playing here is pretty much the same as what I play here. Okay, or at least the shape I play with my hands are the same.

Now this sounds a bit choppy right now because I’m not connecting them yet. But that’s your first exercise in a sense, get this down.

Okay, then you start connecting them, how do you connect them? once you get the top of the first half,

Come back,

So what I was doing here is I get to the top of the first half, I started pulling off of those notes so:

Coming back to the fourth string fourth fret, when I when I came here, I slide my index finger up one fret to fret number five and then I can start with the second half of my lick.

Make sense?

And now it starts to sound like a long legato line as opposed to two short legato lines.

So, at the beginning don’t care too much about the timing, okay, because when you play these really fast, sometimes you can cram five notes in the space of four or seven notes in the space of six depending on what you’re doing.

Idea is to play them and just cram those notes into the time you have and try to land on the right note at the end. Makes sense?

Now if you don’t like this ending note, you can always shift up to the next note.


Okay, and again, I’m using a clean sound. So, whatever it is, if you want to do any sort of distorted sound, use a distorted sound. I’m just showing that this is possible, whatever you want, however you want to do it.

Now, is this not long enough? Well thats where it becomes something interesting; rather than playing just three notes per string, so this is a long legato line.

But how we can make this even longer? Well, the trick here is to not play just (italian nonsense) just don’t just go through every string straight, but you go back and forth on the string.

So for instance, rather than playing: I can play instead: So I’m going 3, 5, 7, 5, 3, 5, 7, rather than doing just 3, 5, 7. Okay, it already sounds much longer.

It could be too long, or too much of the same, so you don’t do it every time you do it only every now and then.

Or – if you don’t like: if you don’t like this, because it’s too it’s too much of the same at the same time, you go back and forth on two strings, what do I mean?

So you go 3, 5, 7, 3, 5, 7, And you come back: 7, 3, 7, 5, 3 – Sorry, 5, 3, 7, 5, 3. And then 5, 7, 3, 5, 7. So I’m going all the way through 2 strings, all the way back, and all the way through again.

Okay, so every time I was doing two strings, then I come back to connect

Okay, every time I do two strings, I go back and forth, those two strings.

Okay? Go wherever you want. And by the way, that’s one possible path and you could start from the next pattern, And work your way up there.

Okay, in the same way, essentially, you play first string on one octave first on the next octave, or something like that.

Okay, that’s one possible strategy, this allows you to create pretty long legato lines. Let’s see a different strategy right now.

Okay, always to play long legato lines. And again, it still helps if you know your 3-note-per-string patterns first. Then you organize your scale in a slightly different way.

You organize your scale, putting four notes on a string, and three on the next – which sounds strange at the beginning, okay, but think about it for a moment.

Three plus four is seven. Duh. Okay? How many notes are there, in this case, you’d use like major scales or modes, seven, which means that you are gonna play all the seven notes in two strings, four on one string, and three on the other string. Which means that when you get to the next two strings, the whole thing repeats.

The whole shape repeats because you have the same notes, just an octave lower. Let me show you that.

Let’s say I want to go down and I’m still playing in the key of G or E minor depends the same, I’m gonna play.

I’m gonna start at the E on the first string, 12th fret. And then I go down, 10th fret, 8th fret, 7th fret, always on the first string so: 12, 10, 8, 7. And then 10, 8, 7 on the second string, so it’s:

Right now I’m picking it, I’m just showing you the pattern. Okay, so: Then you memorize this little shape, you start on the next E, which is on the third string, fret nine and you do the same, you’ll see that 9, 7, 5, 4; 7, 5, 4.

It’s the same shape, exact same shape. And then you start with the E, at the seventh fret, fifth string, and it’s the same shape: 7, 5, 3, 2; 5, 3, 2. And if you want you can pull off again to the open.

Okay, I would suggest you guys get comfortable with this, picking it first, so that you know where your fingers are going – and oh yeah, right now I’m sliding with my pinky every time.

Okay, but if you want to slide with the index finger instead? Sure, up to you, it’s the same. And indeed depending on exactly what you play on this legato line, you may find yourself sliding with the pinky or sliding with the index finger, so it’s good to be able to do both.

Okay, it’s not something like one is right one is wrong. It depends what you play. You can play all this: Okay? You can legato this way.

It sounds a bit lame, because it’s just straight. So what we can do to make it more interesting? We go back and forth like what we were doing before, but we do it this way.

I’m gonna put my pinkie on the 12th fret here, and I’m pulling off the 10th, and then to the 8th. And I’m sliding to the 7th, hammering, to the 8th, hammering the 10th, pulling off to the 8th, pulling off to the 7th. So:

Make sense? Then on the next string, I’m just gonna pull off so I’m gonna do: 10, 8, 7.

Then I’m starting again on the next string. And I do the same for all the other strings, so it sounds this way:

That’s only one possible way to go through this! And the idea is just to not traverse the whole thing straight, but to do a little bit of back and forth, okay.

And what I’m using right now is simply to go back and forth with the whole end. But there are several different ways of doing it.

For instance, if you’re going up, rather than down, I prefer to do this new thing going up rather than going down, let’s say I’m going back to the, to my G scale going up, rather than doing the 3, 5, 7 going up, I do 3, 7, pull off to 3 again, 5, 7.

So! there are a few tricks to get a longer legato line. Take this slow, and if you have problems playing these in legato play it picking first, so that your left hand gets used to the movement and once you can do it picking first slow, then you can try and do it in legato.

I hope you like them and you can make some good solos out of that. If you are interested in how to see the scale all around the fretboard so that you can do these legato lines without thinking too much.

Okay, the beginning I understand you have to have those shapes in mind and know where to go. But if you’re interested in really learning your fretboard so that you don’t have to think about all that I do have a course about that, It’s called Master of the Modes.

And in that I’m showing you what are all the modes what are all the scale, how to play them in all the keys, how to play them all over the fretboard, and how to connect them in those ways so that you don’t have to spend half an hour figuring out what is the scale and then you’re left only two minutes to practice okay, you learn your scales once and for all overall the fretboard and it’s easier than you think.

Because those scales are very regular. Okay, so once you understand the patterns behind them, it’s really easy to move through them okay, and then you can play legato to your heart’s content as long as you can throughout all the fretboard, and it’s fun.

If you liked this video, smash that like button don’t forget to subscribe. If you have any questions, write them down in the comments. This is Tommaso Zillio, MusicTheoryForGuitar.com, until next time, enjoy!

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