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In musical notation the Italian word legato (literally meaning "tied together") indicates that musical notes are played or sung smoothly and connected. That is, in transitioning from note to note, there should be no intervening silence. Legato technique is required for slurred performance, but unlike slurring (as that term is interpreted for some instruments), legato does not forbid rearticulation. In standard notation legato is indicated either with the word legato itself, or by a slur (a curved line) under the notes that are to be joined in one legato group. Legato, like staccato, is a kind of articulation. There is an intermediate articulation called either mezzo staccato or non-legato.


Classical stringed instruments

In music for classical stringed instruments, legato is an articulation which often refers to notes played with a full bow, that are played with the shortest silence, often barely perceptible, between notes. This may be achieved through controlled wrist movements of the bowing hand, often masked or enhanced with vibrato. Such a legato style of playing may also be associated with the use of portamento.


In guitar playing (apart from classical guitar) legato is used interchangeably as a label for both musical articulation and a particular application of technique - that of playing musical phrases with predominantly hammer-ons or pull-offs instead of picking. The use of legato technique to provide legato articulationon electric guitar will generally require playing notes that are close and on the same string, following the first note with others that are played by the techniques just mentioned although some guitar virtuosos (notably Allan Holdsworth and Shawn Lane) developed their legato technique to the extent that they could perform extremely complex passages involving any numerical permutation of notes on a string at extreme tempos and particularly in the case of Holdsworth demonstrate a tendancy to eschew pull-offs entirely for their detrimental affect on guitar tone as the string is pulled slightly sideways. Although the origins of term are unclear when crossing strings and relying solely on fretting hand strength to produce a note the term "Hammer-ons from nowhere" is commonly employed. Many guitar virtuosos are well-versed in the legato technique, as it allows for rapid and also "clean" runs. Multiple hammer-ons and pull-offs together are sometimes also referred to colloquially as "rolls," a reference to the fluid sound of the technique. A rapid series of hammer-ons and pull-offs between a single pair of notes is called a trill. When playing legato on guitar, it is common for the musician to play more notes within a beat than the stated timing, i.e. playing 5 (a quintuplet) or 7 (a septuplet) notes against a quarter-note instead of the usual even number or triplet. This gives the passage an unusual timing and when played slowly an unusual sound. However, this is less noticeable by ear when played fast, as legato usually is. There is a fine line between what is legato and what is two hand finger tapping, in some cases making the two techniques harder to distinguish by ear. Generally, legato is used to add a more fluid, smooth sound to the passage being played.

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