Hammer-ons and pull-offs are some of the first fancy guitar tricks we learn to spice up our guitar playing. Though they may be basic techniques, there are key details in execution that will elevate our playing from average to awesome. In this lesson, I'll be sharing 3 tips to ensure your hammer-ons and pull-offs are as great sounding as they can be!
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Tip 1: Left-hand thumb position
Let me be very clear: you NEED to place your left-hand thumb in the correct position to execute hammer-ons and pull-offs effectively. If you're just fretting chords, you can get away with incorrect placement. But when it comes to hammer-ons and pull-offs, you need as much strength and control in your hands - and that comes from a firm anchoring of your left-hand position with your thumb.
To achieve this correct position is simple. Just fret any barre chord (F major, for example), and your thumb will immediately fall into the correct position. Once you've gotten your thumb at the right spot, release your fingers but keep your thumb fixed where it was. You can proceed to practicing hammer-ons and pull-offs from there.
Tip 2: Hammer-on lightly
Many beginner guitarists have the misconception that in order to create a sound by hammering, you need to use lots of strength to get the string to sound. The reality is that you only need to hammer-on with just the right amount of strength to excite the string into vibration when it hits the metal fret.
Using excessive force will lead to problems such as poor tone, disjointed notes, and even sharpened out-of-tune notes.
Experiment with the amount of strength you use to hammer-on, and find the sweet spot where you can hammer with the least amount of strength to create a constant, sweet, un-buzzing note.
Tip 3: Pull-off downward
Many beginner guitarists also have the misconception that a pull-off is simply a hammer-on in reverse. However, pull-offs work a little differently than hammer-ons and it's important to understand the differences.
While hammer-ons rely on the force of the string against the metal fret to set it into vibration, pull-offs are essentially the same as plucking strings but with your left hand.
Just like regular plucking, you need to pull the strings in one direction and release it in order to set it into vibration. If you were to simply lift your finger off the string and expect it to sound nicely, you will be disappointed.
As the anatomy of our fingers makes pulling-off upward nearly impossible, we simply pull-off downward to create the sound we want.
When working on your hammer-on and pull-off technique, it's good to first work on each technique independently and thereafter combine them together. Practice tapping on its own to get the sweetest sound, then work on just pull-offs. Next, work on a consecutive motion of hammering-on and pulling-off, always checking that your left-hand thumb is in the correct position, you are hammering with the right amount of strength and consistently pulling-off downwards to excite the strings.
That's my method to one-handed tapping with hammer-ons and pull-offs, and one that has worked tremendously for me and other guitarists. Do you have any other tips, tricks, and techniques for hammer-ons and pull-offs? Let me know in the comments below!
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Until next time, I'll see you again!
By Neil Chan