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Hammer-Ons & Pull-Offs

Welcome to the eighth lesson of the Lead Guitar Quick-Start Series. In this lesson, we’ll be learning legato technique. Legato is made up of two smaller techniques called hammer-ons and pull-offs. This technique gives your picking hand a break and smooths out lead lines. We’ll start by looking at the two techniques individually, then learn how to combine them afterwards. Finally we’ll use the full-blown legato technique with some of the scales you earned earlier in the series.

Let’s start with hammer-ons. We’ll be using the G minor pentatonic scale to perform this technique. When you hammer-on, you’ll need to come down on the next highest note in the scale. You don’t want to come down or hammer-on the string too hard, otherwise the note will go sharp. You also don’t want to hammer-on too softly otherwise the note may come out too quietly. Try to hammer-on just right so the note comes out at the same volume as the picked note, and watch to make sure you’re hammering-on right behind the fret. Practice this first half of the legato technique to get comfortable with it.

The second half of legato technique is pull-offs. To do this, you’ll pick a note then pull off of it down to the next note. Pulling away from the string should pluck it so it makes noise. Just like the hammer-ons, be careful to pull-off just right. If you pull-off too hard, the note will go out of tune, and if you pull-off too softly, the note may not play at all. Keep a good balance so the note you pick and the note you pull-off have the same volume.

Practice these techniques individually at first. It may take weeks or even months to get the hang of these techniques on their own.

Now let’s combine hammer-ons and pull-offs for the full legato technique. Head back to the same two frets we were playing. First finger on the third fret of the D string, pick that note, hammer-on to the fifth fret with your third finger, and right after you hammer-on, pull-off the note. So that’s a quick pick, hammer-on, and pull-off in a row, and once you have that down, you can keep alternating hammer-ons and pull-offs without needing to pick another note.

When using the legato technique with scales, the aim is to use hammer-ons whenever you’re ascending the scale, and use pull-offs when you’re descending the scale. Looking at the minor pentatonic scale, you pick the first note of the scale and then hammer-on to the second. Because this scale has two notes on every string, you’ll always pick the first note and hammer-on to the second note.

When you’re ready, you can pull up one of the jam tracks and practice your legato technique with all three of the scales you’ve learned. You can learn some of the licks available in the downloadable PDF and use those as well.

In the next video, we’ll be bringing together everything we’ve worked on so far to learn how to play a guitar solo.

Are you looking for more lead guitar lessons and relevant jam-tracks? The Academy is Nate Savage’s step-by-step video training system. It has some great songs for lead guitar and it also covers many other important styles of music including rock, country, fingerstyle, metal, classical, bluegrass, jazz, and more. Best of all it includes a huge library of original jam-tracks so you can apply everything to music.