When you start learning how to play guitar, you’ll discover that there are many different ways to make sounds other than picking individual notes or simple chord strumming. When you start learning songs, you’ll also find that an extensive number of songs and riffs involve two things with weird names, hammer-ons and pull-offs. I told you they were weird, right? However weird the names, these two techniques are actually essential to any guitarist. They’re part of the foundation that you’ll build on throughout your guitar playing life. In this article, we’ll go over what they are exactly and very simple examples of how to play them.
First, let’s look at the easier of the two techniques, hammer-ons. A hammer-on creates a subtle but still noticeable sound that’s clearly different to a listener than if you just picked the two notes individually. You can play or practice hammer-ons on any string, on any fret and even with open strings.
A hammer-on is when you pick a note and then without releasing it and without picking again, hammer a different finger onto another fret letting a new note resonate.
Grab your guitar and let’s try. With your index finger on the low E string 3rd fret, pick that note, and then without picking another note, hammer your ring finger down on the low E 5th fret. Your picking hand should only
be used once in this exercise, to pick the first note on the 3rd fret.
That is a hammer-on.
Just like a hammer-on, a pull-off also creates a different sound for the listener and adds a different texture to a series of notes than if you picked them back to back. A pull-off is basically the opposite of a hammer on. It can be the more difficult of the two techniques to master in the beginning.
To do a pull-off, pick a note and then pull your finger off that note, leaving a new note in its place.
Sticking with a similar exercise as before, put your ring finger on the low E string 5th fret. Your index finger should be resting on or near the low E string 3rd fret. Now, pick the 5th fret and without picking again, pull your ring finger off the 5th fret and let your
index finger hold the note on the 3rd fret. Again, your picking hand should only
be used once, to pick the first note on the 5th fret, not the 3rd. Pull-offs require a smidgen more precision and hand strength than hammer-ons do. Take your time with this one and focus on letting the 3rd fret note resonate clearly after you pull-off from the 5th fret.
How to Practice
You can always just play hammer-ons and pull-offs at your leisure to practice them. Be sure to play on different frets and different strings using different fingers. You aren’t stuck only with the index finger. However, if you’re looking for a more exciting way to practice these, you should play songs that utilize them. As I mentioned, countless songs in nearly every genre use these, so if you have some songs in mind that you want to learn, you’ll likely be able to practice hammer-ons and pull-offs with them. If you’re not sure what song to search for to start off, I made a short list of 10 famous songs from a few different genres that are known for or have a lot of hammer-ons and pull-offs in them. You can easily find tabs, video lessons, or sheet music online to follow along to any of these songs.
The Ocean – Led Zeppelin
Day Tripper – The Beatles
Paranoid – Back Sabbath
Beat It – Michael Jackson
Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran
Spirit of Radio – Rush
Thunderstruck – AC/DC
Sweet Home Alabama – Lynard Skynard
Always on the Run – Lenny Kravitz
So It’s Like That – Joe Bonamassa
Hammer-ons and pull-offs are a necessity to play guitar. Don’t forget that you’re not limited to just your index and ring finger, you can use any finger that suits whatever you’re playing the best. If you have a wide gap between the frets that you need to play, using your ring finger might not be comfortable or even possible, you may need to use your pinky. Going the opposite direction, if you need to do a hammer-on or pull-off on frets right beside each other, you may need to use your middle finger instead of the ring or pinky.
As you get comfortable with these techniques, you’ll be able to create new sounds and add different textures to your playing. You’ll also able to play faster licks and riffs, one step closer to shredding, soaring solos! If there is anything specific you want to hear about next or if you have any questions about this article, please leave a comment. Happy playing.