Hammer ons and pull offs. Pull ons and hammer offs. Pull hammers and off ons. Two of which techniques which every guitar player under the sun uses every day…
And the other four just don’t exist.
So today I’ll be going over how to absolutely ace the hammer on and pull off technique for guitar, along with exercises and licks to put it into practice too.
The Hammer On Technique
A hammer on is basically a way of playing a note without having to pluck it.
So to visualize this, imagine a Blacksmith away in some isolated, soot-covered, Viking workshop in northern Scandinavia…
He’s been given orders by Erik to make him a sick-ass new sword that’ll get his wife back from Bjørn. So he heats the metal up, raises his hammer, curses in some Nordic gibberish as touches it and burns his pinkie, and then brings it down to hit the metal.
The result? A high pitch in the form of a chink. And a hammer on functions in the same way on guitar. We’ll want to think of our fingers as the hammers in this guy’s workshop, and the string as the metal we are hitting.
So to actually do this on guitar:
- Find a note that feels comfortable to you, and put your 1st finger there. For me, that’ll be the 7th fret of the G string.
- Play this note, and without plucking it again, slam down your 3rd finger on the 9th fret of the same string. Just like a Blacksmith’s hammer.
- Hear a noise? Congratulations! You’ve just done a hammer on.
So do this a few more times to get used to the action, and aim to get a clear sounding hammered note.
The trick is to not be too rigid or tense, and try to hit the area of the string closest to the metal fret. This’ll make hammer ons way easier down the line, and prevent any note buzz.
Then after that, you’re ready for the other one!
The Pull Off Technique
The concept of the pull off technique for guitar is similar to the hammer on technique. You’re making two notes out of only plucking a string once.
But because I’ve run out of
completely unrelated amazing analogies, I’ll just get straight to the technique on this one:
- Find a note that you feel comfortable playing with your 3rd finger. This’ll be the 9th fret of the G string for me.
- Place your index finger two frets behind it, on the 7th fret.
- Play the string, and flick your 3rd finger downwards towards the floor. Make sure you keep a relatively firm pressure down as you do this.
- Now the lower note that you index finger is fretting should be ringing out. At that point, you’ve just done a pull off!
The tips for this one are pretty similar to the hammer on tips. Basically, just aim to have your index finger next to the fret – and be forceful, but not tense. You’re gonna be doing these pretty regularly, and tension = not good señor.
Combining Hammer On and Pull Offs
Here’s for the fun part… Yup, you guessed it, combining them together! I mean, it literally says it right in big black bold writing above, so it’s kinda obvious, but still, well done!
One of the common ways you’ll see hammer on and pull off techniques combined, is like this:
Or occasionally notated like this, with each loopy arch broken up separately.
And the loopy arch indicates that every note connected to/within an arch, is a hammer on or pull off note. You play the string once at the beginning, then make the other notes by hammering on or pulling off.
It’s also worth noting that hammer ons and pull offs basically have the same tab symbol. The thing that matters is whether that loopy arch goes towards a higher or a lower fret. Loopy arch towards higher fret = hammer on, towards lower fret = pull off.
Anyway, to combine the hammer on and pull off guitar technique:
- Pluck the string, and do a hammer on with your ring finger like you did before. E.g. From the 7th fret of the G string to the 9th fret.
- Without playing the string again, flick off from this new note like you would when doing a pull off. E.g. From the 9th fret to the 7th fret.
- Try to do this a bit faster, making it more of a quick flurry.
And it’s also really easy to reverse this by starting with a pull off, and then hammering on again straight after.
And then you’ve got it! Easy, right? You can even push yourself by repeating multiple cycles of hammering on and pulling off without plucking the string again. After a minute or so, it’ll begin to burrrrnnnn! But that’s all part of the fun.
Hammer On and Pull Off Exercises
The hammer on and pull off guitar technique is pretty easy to get to grips with initially. Especially if you’ve got a spare hammer lying around.
But the bit that needs more practice is using different fingers on different strings and parts of the neck.
So here’s a few of my favourite exercises to help with that:
- Favourite Exercise No.1
Now that’ll get your other digits working! The trick is to make each hammer on/pull off sounds as clear as the last when having a go at this one.
- Favourite Exercise No.2
Do you know what? I hate chromatic exercises. I think they sound terrible so the thought of doing them every day to get better gives me makes my brain melt. Sometimes they can be very useful, but meh…
That’s why I much prefer doing an exercise like this which goes up a scale, and you can use in music too. So have fun with that.
- Favourite Exercise 3:
And finally, a nicely symmetrical lick for y’all there to get you shifting about the strings.
And if you can do all that and make it sound good, then it’s fair to say that you’ve got this technique nailed.
Some Mini Licks to Practice
Fancy putting those new skills you just learnt to use? Well, here’s some of the freshest new hammer on and pull of licks, coming right at ya!
Fresh new hammer on and pull of lick 1:
Now that, is seriously cool. It’s a descending lick that goes up the fretboard, so you can break music AND sound epic whilst you’re at it. Neat, right?
Fresh new hammer on and pull of lick 2:
The Pentatonic Scale and pull offs are just a match made in heaven. And that E string flurry at the end – with a non-pentatonic note – adds a pinch of zesty flavour to this lick.
Fresh new hammer on and pull of lick 3:
And that’s just a nice bluesy lick to show you how hammer ons and pull offs can create some groovy phrasing.
So have fun tinkering about with those, and customize them to your will!
Wrapping It Up
See? Hammer ons and pull offs are actually kinda nice. And that’s good because you’re gonna use them literally trillions of times in your shift as a guitar player.
The only thing that isn’t so nice is that they’ll wear out your fingertips a little quicker than playing notes normally. Darn those pesky wretches!
Anyway, I’ve been Sam Olverson.
Have fun hammering and stuff!